Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has said her department will be actively encouraging schools to sign up with a new online safety app.
Safer Schools NI was launched at the headquarters of Belfast-based safeguarding group INEQE on Tuesday.
A digital library of age-appropriate safeguarding resources for teachers, parents/carers and children and young people, the app provides a digital safeguarding communication toolkit helping schools engage with their communities.
“In today’s society our children and young people are spending more time using digital devices. As the lines between their lives offline and online become more blurred, it is important for all of us in education to make online safeguarding a priority,” the Minister said.
“The digital world can be a great place to chat with friends, family, play games and learn. However, there are also risks and this app is designed to provide protection from potential harm. I want young people to learn how to protect themselves from those risks and know what to do if something goes wrong online.
“This really adds to a lot of the work we have already been doing about safeguarding. It’s critical in a technological age,” the minister said.
“We are always becoming more aware of the dangers young people can be exposed to, not just within the realms of bullying.
“I encourage all schools, parents and carers to download and make use of this free app. Keeping our children safe and ensuring their mental health and wellbeing is looked after has never been more important.”
The Safer Schools NI app is customised for every school, meaning teachers and staff will find their own relevant news feed as well as a calendar to keep track of important dates.
Jim Gamble, chief executive of INEQE Safeguarding Group, said anyone downloading the app will also get access to the Teach and Home Learning Hubs where there is a wealth of resources and lessons for teachers, parents and carers.
“This is full of useful information to help educate, empower and protect school staff, parents and carers and pupils,” he said.
“School staff can access contemporary safeguarding information and a range of resources relating to safeguarding in the context of social media, including digital imagery, bullying, sexting and gaming. Parents and carers can access information on the popular social media platforms used by their children.”
The Secondary Students’ Union NI have been involved in consultation over the app and that input has been reflected in the content.
“The pupils’ app is split into primary and post primary versions which provide access to age-appropriate information, advice and guidance on how to be safer online,” said Mr Gamble.
“Topics include image sharing, bullying, how to manage personal information and privacy considerations.”
The launch builds on similar apps available for schools across the UK, with over half of schools in England already registered and using the resource.
The Safer Schools NI app is free to download at the App store and Google Play store.
Schools can access the Schools Registration link at www.saferschoolsni.co.uk