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Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education

First published:
5 February 2019
Last updated:

This was published under the 2016 to 2021 administration of the Welsh Government

Today we are proud to join the global celebrations to mark Safer Internet Day (SID).  As an official SID supporter, the Welsh Government recognises the great importance SID has in inspiring a national conversation about online safety. 

This year’s global theme is ‘Together for a better internet’.  We know that partnership working is critical in this area. Just as safeguarding is ‘everybody’s business’, we must remember that we all have a role to play in online safety.  A huge amount of work has already been undertaken across Wales to help keep our learners safe online and today brings about the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of that work.  

This year, the Welsh Government has worked in partnership with the UK Safer Internet Centre (which consists of the expert organisations South West Grid for Learning, Childnet and the Internet Watch Foundation), to coordinate a number of activities to support SID.  These included hosting a SID stakeholder preparation event and the development of bilingual SID education packs, including a specially commissioned SID preparation pack for schools in Wales.  These packs are widely accessed via Hwb and have been viewed over four thousand times.

In November, I visited Porthcawl Comprehensive School to officially launch the Online Safety Action Plan for Wales.  The action plan comprises of 46 commitments which aim to enhance online safety provision, policy and practice.

Working with partner organisations, the plan sets out the various activities and programmes which the Welsh Government is undertaking, with the main objective of safeguarding children and young people online.  It provides a focus for the online safety work across the Welsh Government and will be updated annually.

Today also marks the second birthday of the Online Safety Zone, a dedicated area on Hwb providing a source of guidance, support and an extensive suite of resources on online safety issues.  To date, the zone has received over two hundred and seventy five thousand page views and has seen the publication of over one hundred resources which cover a wide range of topics such as; the impact of the internet on body image, screen time and new resources examining the impact of pornography. The zone continues to go from strength to strength, and has been further enriched by partnering with organisations such as the NSPCC, MEIC Cymru and School Beat providing a broad range of creative and stimulating resources for learners, education practitioners, parents and carers and governors.

The Welsh Government continues to work with South West Grid for Learning to deliver an extensive online safety programme.  As part of this programme we have rolled out training sessions across Wales to up-skill practitioners, most recently, focusing on GDPR and the impact of the internet.  

Another key part of the programme has been the development of the Online Safety Resource for Wales which consists of five lesson plans per year group, from Foundation Phase through to Year 13. Covering eight key areas of online safety, the lesson plans are now accessible via playlists and are available in Welsh.  A roadmap will be published in April outlining the activities for 2019-2020.

Late last year the 360 safe Cymru tool, a bilingual, award winning online safety self-assessment tool for schools, was updated and refreshed.  Hosted on Hwb, the tool has been designed to allow schools to judge and review their own online safety practice and provision. To date almost 90% of schools in Wales have registered with the tool.

The new curriculum will have more emphasis on equipping young people for life. Now more than ever, young people need to be adaptable to change, capable of learning new skills throughout life and equipped to cope with new life scenarios. Digital Competence will also be a cross curriculum theme, together with literacy and numeracy, within the new curriculum.

The Digital Competence Framework (DCF) has been available to our schools since 2016 as the first element of our new curriculum. The DCF supports learners to protect themselves on-line by embedding the digital skills, knowledge and attitudes across the whole curriculum that enable the confident, creative and critical use of technologies and systems.

It brings together the skills that will help children thrive in an increasingly digital world, for example how to stay safe online and also understanding the importance of balancing game and screen time with other parts of their lives. The framework also covers issues such as online behaviour and cyberbullying and how to share information appropriately, to help prepare learners for the positive and negative aspects of being a digital citizen.

In addition to Digital Competence, our new Curriculum for Wales for 3 to 16 year olds will include computation as a strand of learning within the Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience.  While this is focussed on developing understanding of the key concepts that underpin computer science, within that I fully expect the issue of online safety to be covered. 

From an early age, it is essential that all our learners understand the importance of keeping information safe, with that building to more sophisticated understanding on the implications of online safety to themselves and others.  This is key to learners’ own well-being, as well as developing broader understanding on system security and data handling.  We will be making the draft Areas of Learning and Experience available in April for wider feedback as part of our next phase of co-construction. 

One of the four purposes of the new curriculum is for learners to develop as healthy, confident individuals who know how to find the information and support to keep safe and well and form positive relationships based upon trust and mutual respect.  The Health and Well-being Area of Learning and Experience will support learners to: process and respond to experiences online; make safe decisions when engaging online and to recognise unhealthy or harmful relationships online.

Online safety is firmly a safeguarding matter. The Welsh Government is committed to safeguarding and promoting the well-being of all children and young people in Wales. We expect all staff and volunteers working with children to share this commitment. Each school must identify a Designated Senior Person (DSP) who will ensure that staff, learners and parents feel confident that they can raise issues or concerns about the safety or well-being of learners, and that they will be listened to and taken seriously. Our statutory guidance, Keeping Learners Safe, is currently being reviewed. A revised draft will be published for consultation this spring.

Online bullying is often a key concern for children and young people and parents alike. The current anti-bullying guidance, Respecting others, is currently under revision. The draft guidance was published for consultation in November 2018; the consultation closes on 15 February.  Accompanying the guidance is an online resource toolkit to support practitioners, parents and learners, which will be available on Hwb.  Significant engagement has been undertaken to understand how the guidance can best support the needs of learners and teachers. This will help build a strong and inclusive school system committed to excellence, equity and well-being. 

Further afield, ensuring the Welsh Government is represented on a UK level, Chris Owen, Head of the Digital Learning Division, is the Welsh Government representative on the newly reconstructed UK Council for Internet Safety.  Having representation on UKCIS allows us to challenge and influence policy decisions at a UK level ensuring that the Welsh context is appropriately considered. Officials in education have worked with DCMS and the Home Office to contribute to the Online Harms White Paper which follows the Internet Safety Strategy government response that was published last year.

With the internet integral to life today, digital skills are critical to ensure our success in education, the workplace and in our broader lives.  With the enormous potential and the many benefits of the internet, we must always be aware of the risks that come with it. 

This is why I am committed, both as Minister of Education and as a parent, to ensuring education is preparing our children and young people to live within this digital world confidently and successfully.