Smartphones, Schools And Online Safety

Issue 102

By Mr Will Scott, Principal at Dame Allan's Schools, Newcastle.

I’m sure most workplaces are familiar with the distractions and challenges that too much tech access can have (I would be willing to bet that you are not far from your smartphone as you read this).

However, how far should organisations go in policing tech use? Do you implement online policies that limit employee access to social media sites? Ensure personal phones are stored away from the workplace? It can be a considerable challenge in ensuring that your organisation has a safe and healthy relationship with technology.

The educational landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade or so, with one of the most key changes being the exponential rise of smartphones and access to digital platforms. Pupils have never before had so much opportunity to weave together their digital and ‘real’ lives.

And so, schools face real technological and educational challenges, with a responsibility to teach pupils about online safety, to ensure that technology is not distracting them from their learning, to make sure they are using technology well in their social lives, and to make sure that their online use within the school is safe.

The recent decision by messaging service WhatsApp to reduce their age restriction from 16 years old to 13 years old has caused considerable controversy, adding to the current discourse around the safety of social media for younger children. From cyberbullying, to dangerous influencers, and increased pressure on teenage body image, it is well-known that social media can have a very negative impact on our young people.

So, how can schools – and families – help the children under our care to use technology and social media safely?

For me, I believe a lot of this comes down to communication, education, and healthy boundaries.

Boundaries: At Dame Allan’s, children all have a Chromebook on which to conduct their schoolwork and communicate with teachers when required. Chromebooks are protected via our IT department to ensure no harmful content (or social media channels) can be accessed. Phones are also absolutely not allowed in classrooms in our Senior School and entirely banned in our Junior School. Encouraging your loved ones to have a tech break can be important for sustaining real life connections. Could you look at encouraging offline time during an evening?

Education: Are you aware of the latest social media platforms? Do you know how to personalise security settings on your child’s Whatsapp account? As with all things, information is power. Our Senior School staff have completed online safety training, and our dedicated Pastoral team help educate pupils on how to keep themselves safe online. Topics such as body image and the impact of social media are often explored in PSHE lessons, or via our regular pastoral newsletters.

Communication: Open communication is so important as we all make mistakes and, with ever-evolving algorithms and AI, it is easier than ever to stumble upon content that you might not have wanted to see at any age. All of our pupils are encouraged to reach out should they be struggling with something they have seen on social media, or if they are noticing worrying viewpoints amongst their friends or peers. This open attitude means that pupils know they can come for help, without judgement, should they feel unsafe or unsure about anything they might have accessed or been sent.

Whether or not you work within education or look after children, educating yourself about online safety and healthy habits is something that pays dividends in this constantly changing online landscape. I am by no means an expert, but I endeavour to keep abreast of the digital environment, as both educator and parent.

And for the adults – the next time you reach for your smartphone, why not take a second to consider what you want to achieve with it – phones are addictive after all. Pausing for thought might just lead to a welcome break for your brain, or at least a reduction in mindless scrolling – something that we all could undoubtedly benefit from.

To find out more about Dame Allan’s Schools, from Nursery to Sixth Form, please visit

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