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Digital skills

96% of practitioners feel more confident talking to young people about social media

Young man listening to music on a mobile phone adjusting the earbud in his ear for better sound against a white stone commercial building wall.

Late last year, a pilot of The Social Switch Project – a multi-layered social media education programme that aims to build the digital resilience and literacy of young people and the trusted adults around them, to reduce the chances of online risks becoming online/offline violence-related harms – was run in four schools in Salford.

Funded by Greater Manchester’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), and co-delivered by charities Catch22 and Redthread, the pilot aimed to empower and educate a range of stakeholders around social media and link into schools, early help, and the primary-secondary transition.

By the end of the training:

  • 96% of practitioners felt confident about talking to young people about social media (up from 52% at the start).
  • 100% of Year 10 champions felt sure about supporting Year 7 students to navigate social media at the end of the training (up from 34% at the start).
  • 100% of parents felt confident to support their child in managing the risks online and to discuss what happens on social media with their child.

With the pilot now complete, Henry Stratford, Project Lead on The Social Switch Pilot in Salford, shares his reflections and the programme outcomes.

We are now living in a world where social media is an intrinsic and inevitable part of growing up – in how we learn to interact with one another and how we develop and express our identity.

From learning resources to entertainment, it is a source of unparalleled opportunity that previous generations could have only dreamed of. However, it has also brought about numerous pressures and risks – from the large volume of harmful content online to the potential to exacerbate and incubate conflict. And whilst social media might not always be directly causing some of these issues, it often exacerbates and amplifies.

The recent Online Harms bill is a good step in the right direction to safeguard children better online. It looks to hold social media companies accountable for their platforms and the content that is on them and encourage action from those companies. However, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all of the issues.

As well as technological changes, we need programmes that look to build the digital resilience and literacy of young people and their trusted adults to reduce the chances of online risks and issues becoming online/offline harms.

Online risks will almost always exist, but it is in our power to prevent them from becoming harmful to children and adults alike.

We need high-quality education programmes; this means we must do better than adults showing outdated videos talking about the dangers of e-safety and apps.

Through our pilot of the Social Switch Project, we wanted to help imagine, design and trial what a radically different social media education might look like. We worked with the Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit and Salford City Council to run a social media education pilot that focused on three main elements:

  1. Peer to peer approach – young people listen best to young people, particularly on this topic. So, what if we could empower older students to educate younger ones?
  2. Holistic programme – many social media education programmes focus on youth-facing practitioners, parents, or young people. But what if we could upskill and engage all of them, to help to facilitate the right conversations between young people and their trusted adults?
  3. More than e-safety – The online and offline worlds are not separate but part of the same blurred picture, with young people’s identities, relationships, risks and opportunities split across both of them. What if we could design content that reflected and engaged with the whole picture, rather than just “e-safety”? What if we could also look at the opportunities, not just the risks?

The pilot programme in Salford worked with four secondary schools and involved frontline practitioners who work with young people, Year 10 students to enable them to act as peer champions for younger people, Year 7 students to improve their digital literacy and resilience, parents to enhance dialogue around social media and a celebration event to help create shared social media guidelines

The programme ran between July 2021-January 2022, during challenging times for schools because of Covid-19 pressures. Regardless, over 40 practitioners, eight practitioner champions, 50 Year 10 champions, 500 Year 7s and 60 parents were engaged through various virtual and in-person workshops, assemblies, and form-time activities. Core to the approach was six weeks of Year 10s heading into Year 7 form-times to run a themed activity.

Other learnings from the pilot include:

  1. A peer-led approach is effective – Empowering Year 10s as champions helped them to reflect on their own social media usage, ensured that the training was relevant and up to date so they could use recent examples, and resulted in better Year 7 learning outcomes because of the respected Year 10 messenger.
  2. Virtual engagement works – Virtual engagement worked well for certain sessions and going forward could make the resourcing of the project more efficient, for instance, the practitioner and parent training could continue to be ran virtually.

In Greater Manchester we are exploring what the next phase of the programme might look like. Primary to our thinking is how can we make the programme sustainable, so that it remains embedded in Greater Manchester in the future.

– Henry Stratford, Project Lead on The Social Switch Project pilot in Salford