Advice for deaf trainee teachers on a PGCE

A brief(!) summary of advice points for deaf trainee teachers

1) Preparation is key. Essential. Just like any other hearing teacher trainee, find out all the information you can about your course, what you’re going to need (materials).

2) Make contact with your DSA (Disability Student Allowance) at your University ASAP. With 1. you’ll have all the information on your course when contacting the DSA team that they need to know. If you’re starting in September/ October, ideally, meet with your DSA team as early as March onwards. The reason for this is simply because of logisitics.

They do an assessment on your needs (what you need, computer, interpreters, notetakers, radio aids etc) and then this order gets placed, but often the application process for the DSA and the ordering process just takes FOREVER. In my case, I only had the assessment in September prior to starting in October, even though I put the application in as early as March/April (there was a hold up with the application because of my irish passport, even though I’ve studied at the University before!). So I didn’t get the radio aids until after Christmas, when 70% of the lectures/seminar for the whole year was completed!

3) Know what your needs are. I’m profoundly deaf, but wear a cochlear implant (5 years since switch on) so I was aware my listening had greatly improved to that of a mildly deaf person (but I still need ‘training’ as this level of hearing is still new to me) so I didn’t use an interpreter for my lectures or seminars because I strongly felt confident I could follow (seminars were slightly difficult when there were contributions from coursemates), and had a notetaker. I had an interpreter on Friday afternoons for my English seminars because the tutors were interchangeable, and by the end of the week my listening abilities were shot to pieces! Seminars would last 3 hours (and I had about 4 a week) on top of lectures.

Notetaking: My notetaker was a girl on the PGCE who was already taking notes, so it was ideal she did my notes. All she had to do was continue with her normal notes (and include information that was spoken that was important to remember as well as contributions from coursemates during seminars) and just photocopy them for me, and get paid. 

This arrangement came by chance though, because the freelance notetakers I had were just a bit ‘lost’ on the course, and weren’t sure what to write, and I found that it was timewasting explaining what was needed and giving feedback; I only have 9 months on this course, and each lecture/seminar is important. Some notetakers writing wasn’t very clear to read either. So I spent the first 3 weeks of the course getting notes that I couldn’t always read, and one of my friends on the course suggested she do my notes, and we went from there. I agreed quickly because I knew her notes were good + her writing was clear (it has to be if you’re going to be a Primary teacher!). I suggest getting a freelance notetaker but keeping an eye out to who on your course does good notes + approaching them to do them for you professionally after the initial few weeks (or keep your freelance notetaker if they work for you- as I said; know your needs).

Obviously, you don’t want anyone to do notes that they don’t do normally anyway, because they are on the course as well as you.

Interpreters: if you need interpreters for the majority of your commuication, get them booked in ASAP. I decided early on from past experience at the the University, I would not rely on them to get me interpreters and I stated this on my assessment. They have to agree, because the budget is for a fully qualified MRSLI interpreter (and you need to state this as well). I had a list of interpreters I was going to use, and it was a case of emailing / texting to see who was free, and then let the DSA team know who I booked, and letting the interpreter know who to send the invoice to. Later in the year, Remark! sent me a few interpreters (I have a friend who is in charge of the interpreting team at Remark! and I know the company well) who I have not used before, but were but were very good.

It re-affirmed my belief- stick with interpreters you know and stick with companies you know + don’t let the DSA persuade you that they will take the weight off you to sort it out- because you could end up with no interpreter , or worse, very frustrated and having to deal with the after effects of a ill qualified interpreter! My course leader was also excellent in chasing up the DSA team by email or phone for delaying payment of invoices as I didn’t really have time to chase them up.

Radio Aids an absolute godsend for someone who relies on listening. It meant I could ‘relax’ more in the seminars and the lectures and process the information in more depth while listening. Get this if you are a listening lover like me. I once told my History tutor who asked how helpful the radio aid was that it was so good I didn’t have to constantly look at him anymore, to which he thought, “thanks!” but he got what I meant. Opps!

3) Meet with your course leader prior to starting the course: either email as early as June to meet before the Summer, or meet a couple of weeks before the course. It is good for them to get to know you personally, as well as find out what your ‘basic’ needs are. Mine from the start was that tutors were aware they had a deaf person in the class and to speak clearly (they should already be doing this), staying up at the front and not wandering about, as well as repeating contributions from the class so that I could follow 100%. My course leader was great with this, and in every new seminar / lecture I was in, I would make myself known so they knew they had a deaf person, and I always got the impression they were ‘prepared’ for me, and not suddenly going into a cold sweat! A really excellent thing my course leader did was get in touch with Deafworks, who provided a ‘consultation/advice’ for her in dealing with deaf students like me. The irony was that I had been doing part-time work for Deafworks all year!  Talk about a small world. So I recommend course leaders getting in touch with Deafworks, simply because it takes a load of the deaf student who is there for an intense 9 month course.

Meeting with your course leader gives you both the chance to sing from the same hymn sheet. I felt very comfortable approaching her about ‘deaf’ niggles to do with the seminars/lectures (even as small as to remind tutors about repeating what classmates contribute) and she would immediately deal with this. She was so good that I actually felt the majority of my PGCE was all about me as a teacher, and developing my skills in this area, and not me as a deaf teacher.

4) ENJOY!! It is going to be sheer hard work. You can say goodbye to the following; your social life, the idea that teaching is a relatively easy job with nice holidays and having a nice lie in at the weekends / holidays because your body clock adjusts to waking up at 6am to get in early! But nothing, I repeat, nothing is a sweeter feeling than completing the course and saying you are now a teacher, with new skills, knowledge and experience as well as making new friends for life. Many of mine want / are learning British Sign Language because of me and I embrace my deaf identity around them.

Take it ONE week at a time. Have a diary to hand with plenty of room to write a weekly / daily “to-do” list and tick them off. Have treats and mini celebrations for every little milestone.

2nd placement

I started my 2nd placement, and things got so busy I didn’t really have a chance to process my thoughts and feelings on this blog. If I had to sum it up, I would say that first and foremost, and most importantly, I feel the 2nd placement shaped me up to be a really good teacher. Never mind the fact I’m deaf (I’ll come onto that bit in a mo) but I actually got on with lots and lots of teaching.
It was hard. Very hard. Draining every day listening to 30 11 year olds all day. By the end of the day the listening part of my brain was calling out for a break and just would go on strike. One of the boys said to me “Rank You” and I thought he was using some slang that I didn’t know about. I went “Rank you? What? ” thinking he was asking me to rank him as a student or something….

 

Erm. He spoke a bit more clearer. “Thank You”. Oh! Had the class in hysterics though. Another time, when we were talking about a clip, Flatlife, and a student was saying “I liked it when he hammered the chef to the wall”, I took a second glance and went, “chef?! he hammered the chef to the wall?!” the class was in hysterics again. “Shelves” , she repeated. Oh dear lord. Usually in the morning I can work out what was really said, like my listening processing part of the brain is fresh and raring to go, and working like hard to get things to make sense for me, and work out for me what they really said and not what my listening part of the brain thinks they said. But by the afternoon, the listening processing part is worn to the ground, and does a rubbish job, which is where most of my listening mistakes occur. But it gives the class some humour, which I know they appreciate.
One thing I found really interesting was the use of my speech. I’ve always known I can speak pretty clearly, but I know I get some words wrong. 95% of people who hear me speak for the first time will ask if I’m Irish or, “Where are you from?” because of my Irish accent (The other 5% will tell me I sound like I have a cold, or I sound like an ‘acquired’ deaf person). When I am in the deaf community where the main form of communication is sign language, I do tend to relax with my speech more, but I have noticed that when I am in the hearing community this ‘relaxation’ approach is making me forget how to correctly pronounce some words. As a result, I am conscious not to develop a lazy approach to my speech- as a deaf person I know this requires a lifetime of ‘speech therapy’ !

Listening to 30 hearing children say things in a particular way has helped me to realise I’m saying some things wrong. Take “honest” for example. I keep saying it with a H. I hadn’t really realised/heard it as “Onest”. I will constantly ask other teachers if I’m saying a word correctly, and I get them to say it repeatedly so that my audiological memory can retain it enough for me to copy it. A lot harder than speech therapy where I could rely on the syllables!! I find it hard to merge the two, it’s almost like my audiological memory and my visual memory with syllables are at battle with each other and only one will be in use at the time, not both.

 

I had a few moments where I was frustrated with the education of deaf children in my class, but that’s a much longer story. I was touched by how many of the professionals would make themselves known to me and would ask for advice. Despite being deaf, and with my experience, it doesn’t mean I know everything, and I was conscious to ask the ToDs for their advice as well as hearing people. One in particular was largely very helpful for my interview for my job. I was sure to put across an impression where I am not there to make them feel undermined, but rather, bring something fresh to the table like anyone else. Hopefully that was the case!
 
I was largely involved in their deaf awareness week and even got them to raise money for UK Deaf Sport, yay. GB Football will definitely appreciate that for the European Championships in Denmark. I got to teach the deaf children (and 2 hearing children) Maths, which I really enjoyed. It was partly because it was a smaller classroom and my hearing could rest a bit. I realised that I wanted to enjoy teaching and do it to the best I can, but perhaps teaching a class of 30 day in day out was a lot more tiring than I expected it to be. I enjoyed the experience, certainly, and it taught me a lot more about teaching and the levels of hearing children which I will no doubt make use of when I start teaching my class in September.

 

Yes, you read that right, some school is mad enough to take me on! I was anxious as it was my first interview, and hearing from some of my mates on the course, they hadn’t fared well in their first interviews but did well on their seconds and thirds and secured jobs, so I wasn’t going to expect much. But I did over-prepare. I think this paid off, as I found out afterwards a number of Teachers of the Deaf applied and weren’t even invited for an interview. Thanking my lucky stars!
I’ve had a few deaf friends ask me about the PGCE, and the first thing I will say to them is, how do you communicate with hearing people on a daily basis? If they say they can hear pretty well, then I recommend getting the radio aid and a notetaker, and making sure the TAs in the classroom are aware you might not hear the child at the back of the class respond so need to listen for their response and feed it to you to keep the pace of the teaching going. If you use interpreters, then bring them in. Make your course leader fully aware of the support you need, and make the school aware too. I was fortunate to be placed in a hearing school with deaf units, so I could just get on with the job in hand.
I left my placement feeling I had learnt a lot. I owe a lot to my mentor who was incredibly helpful and honest. (“onest!”) Now to embark on my NQT….

Radio Aid… a godsend

Am back at Uni for 5 weeks before going onto my second teaching practice. My radio aid arrived AFTER I finished Uni for Christmas, where I had the bulk of my seminars and lectures.

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Having worn the radio aid for 5 weeks, I only wish I had it before Christmas for the Autumn semester. I realise now how tiring listening to the class/tutor was without it. Without realising, when one of my History tutors asked me how helpful the radio aid was, I replied, “So much better, I don’t have to look at you anymore”, which provoked some laughing from my coursemates. Opps!

I had obviously meant that I could relax a bit more, and think about what is being said, mull it around a bit, rather than spend my efforts trying to listen to what is being said. I am not as tired as much, which is such a huge bonus.

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The radio aid is definitely of use to those who rely on their hearing to follow seminars/lectures. If you’re a full on deaf person who lipreads, you’re better off getting an interpreter.

I did have to email round a few reminders about how to use the Radio Aid appropriately as one tutor had a large chunk of jewellery on her chest and the noise it made…

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All tutors were really nice and helpful about it, and made little fuss.

End of placement…thoughts

I’ve recently just finished my placement at the school, and gosh, I had a quick read of my last post… and boy, have I got a little more to say!

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Firstly, I need not have worried so much about my deafness affecting my ability to teach. Sure, there were times I couldn’t follow the kids, but the other hearing teachers told me they also sometimes couldn’t follow the kids. I was being a little hard on myself; as the kids I couldn’t follow were usually very very quiet, or the environment was  noisy, or they were not quite pronouncing the word properly. Hearing people can’t follow kids in those conditions, how could I expect to? If anything, I could rely on my lipreading skills more than they could.

I mastered a little trick though, I would say yes or no and then watch what they did. If it was something I would genuinely said yes  to (ie, getting the glue/getting a book to read) then I would leave it there, but if it was something I wuold normally say no to  (ie, taking their busy book and doodling it in during Maths) then I would approach the child and say “I’m sorry, but I thought you asked if you could read a book”,  and make it look as if I misheard and explain they know they are not allowed to use their busy books during Maths time, and could they put it away please. Happily, this “no” section doesn’t happen too often!

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I made the most of opportunities to teach them sign language for key things they always asked for; the toilet and a drink. They also poined out that they tend to ask for the tissues too! By the end of my placement with them, the majority of them could sign what their name was, where they were from, how old they were, the numbers up to 100, signs for subjects, the colours, and of course, ask for the toilet, drink or tissues! Quite a few of them starting using sign language with the deaf children in Year 1 which was great to see.  It made me think about sign language in general; do many children/teenagers know that you can make a career out of sign language? (ie, become a sign language interpreter) if not, how can this be incorporated in careers day at schools with deaf children/teenagers amongst the mainstream? But that’s for another blog… !

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My course leader was my link tutor, which made sense as she was aware of my issues so it was easier to continue that transition. She was really helpful in providing feedback on observations (I had 3, while everyone else on the course would have 1, although I was told I was lucky to have more than 1 because they felt they could do with the extra help/feedback). Although the feedback was really helpful, I probably didn’t look like I appreciated it at the time I was given it! I always felt I was being observed for my worst lessons and not the best ones which go by unseen. It’s only now in hindsight after the placement and now that I’ve seen my course mates face to face to know that it’s all part and parcel of developing as a teacher. I don’t have the advantage of ringing them up at the end of the day to discuss notes, but I know that many of them don’t ring each other either mainly cos we’re so busy we don’t have the time to!

There were times when I was upset after observations mainly because I wasn’t always sure if I was capable of becoming a good teacher and was constantly stressing on what to improve on, and there seemed to be about 100,000 things to improve on. That’s the teaching side of it, nothing to do with my deafness, which is the main positive thing I’ve taken out of it 🙂

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There were times in my KS1 class where I did not have a TA with me to repeat some of the things kids were saying, but I found that I had good management of the class in explaining that it was very rude to be talking when the teacher or someone in the class has been asked to speak. They responded well to this (apart from on a Friday afternoon when they knew it was the weekend!) and usually spoke clearly. I used my drama sessions especially to encourage them to develop confidence and skills in speaking clearly. Most of the time I could follow the kids, and where I didn’t, I would get it the second time they repeated it, but looking back, it wasn’t a major issue for me as I thought it would be.

My next placement also has a deaf unit which will be good. It means the same as the first placement; I can go in and hit the ground running without having to explain what my deafness means and so on. However, I am aware KS2 don’t get TAs, so I am slightly worried. I have already thought up a strategy to have a ‘special interpreter’ appointed from the class daily who will repeat things for me that their classmate is saying. This will mean that they need to be listening to everything that is going on (so I won’t necessarily be choosing the ones who are always sensible!). But you can’t plan things until you meet the class themselves. I’m preparing myself for the worst though, just as you should for anything.

I should mention that my partner on my placement was really nice and really helpful. Unfortunately, we were so busy on our placement I didn’t get to teach her as much sign language as she would have liked (and I would have liked to). We worked together quite well and had a good rapport.

Teaching placement

I’ve now started my first teaching placement at a primary school near where I live. It has a deaf unit, which has been great because there are some people at the school who can sign. Only two can sign really well, one who is the BSL teacher.

I’ve  been quite anxious about the teaching placement mainly because I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the children. Granted, there will be times I cannot follow them, so I know I will be able to enlist the help of the TA. She is already aware of the fact she will need to repeat things for me, and she does this for the teacher herself as some of the children are EAL or are sitting near the back where their voices can’t always be heard.

There is so much paperwork to do though! It seems this is the biggest hurdle, and not the teaching itself! What was I worried about…

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However, I’ve had a few problems with my Cochlear Implant- the batteries keep cutting out every 5 minutes even though I’ve just put a fresh pair in. I found my old CI and have started using this but it’s an old one, in that the programme on it isnt as updated as the other one was, so I know I’m going to miss out on some things. Have already made a note to get in touch with the CI hospital ASAP and get this sorted. I just have to try to get down as soon as I can after school sometime this week. I started panicking a little bit every time I was changing the batteries, only for it to cut out again- it made me realise how much I rely on the CI, and if it wasn’t working at all, I wouldn’t be able to teach as easily. Stress I don’t need on top of the paperwork!!

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On the bright side, the staff at the school are really nice and welcoming, and helpful. Me and my partner have been stressed with the amount of information we need to get for our files (medium term planning has been the bane of our necks this week!) and we’re aiming to get it all done before the middle of the week. My class are a sweet lot, and the kids seem happy to see me, and they’re happy to tell me things. They are adjusting to the fact they need to make sure they speak clearly, and they also ask me questions about my implant. Obviously, they don’t possess that quality that adults have, where they’re too afraid to ask you about your disability incase it’s offensive to the person, so it’s refreshing to talk to the children about my CI and what it means. They’re quite accepting, just as all children are. I just hope they won’t take advantage of it while I teach! (but I have a plan to use my TA as my ears!)

Disability Support… a little rant

Unfortunately, it is now January, and sad to say, I’ve only just got my new computer. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had a notebook to keep me going with the assignments I had for the PGCE (4 essays and a presentation to do by 17th December wasn’t easy on a notebook that doesn’t have Microsoft Office!).

Communication with the Disability Support at the University itself sometimes isn’t smooth. My notetaker, who is a student on the course, still hasn’t been paid for all her notes she did for me from October onwards. Luckily she takes notes for herself anyway so it was no skin off her nose, but it’s the first time she’s officially taken notes for someone else, and get paid for it, so for this not to be as straightforward as I hoped it would be, is disappointing. I keep emailing my disability officer to raise this issue, and my course leader has been as well. Unfortunately, we keep getting the same usual emails in return that I’ve seen before, that they are aware of it/they’ve done their bit, it’s someone else’s fault/they know my needs, etc. Or they don’t even reply. It’s only when I or my course mate emails, we don’t get a reply, but when my course leader emails or phones, something happens. Quite annoying, we’re the ones who need the services! I’m very lucky that my course leader is very involved with my needs. If she wasn’t, I would feel a lot more stressed with the office, and with a course leader who didn’t understand what I was dealing with.

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The reason my computer took so long to arrive was because during my assessment I said I didn’t need a computer monitor as I had one already and could use that. The company that got the order were confused and had rung Student Finance who were supposed to ring my Disability Office to find out…. obviously this never happened because when I rang (in December) they told me all this, and I told them straight why I didn’t need a monitor. From there on the delivery was sorted, but even this was a bit of a cock up, but I won’t say anymore about that. It just seems that these kind of companies pass the buck onto someone else regarding the services/equipment that I need, and don’t use their common sense – communicate effectively! How ironic is it that communication is the hardest thing that deaf people have to do…

I’m now on my teaching placement, and go back to University in March, so I look forward to facing the whole debacle of disability support again!

I also got a sign language interpreter to support my English seminars, mainly because it was on a Friday afternoon, and I didn’t realise how tiring listening could be on a PGCE, especially given that it is an intense course.

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Anyway, I was lucky, because she is a Teacher of the Deaf herself, so it was nice to have her support me, as well as discuss teaching ideas/experience so it was an extra bonus. She also proof-read my work which was great. Although, when I emailed the disability office to check that this was OK (as my DSA would pay for this) I didn’t hear anything back.. and I’ve just read an email from my sign language’s company to my Disability officer to chase up a payment for her services. I know this company really well and the last thing I want is non-payment/very late payment to make an arrangement go sour as they could refuse me to use their services again. On the plus side, having her there on the English seminar has made a lot of my course mates realise how deaf I am and how fluent I am in BSL, which they hadn’t quite realised cos I can hear and speak pretty well. So, they’ve been able to see that other side to me. Just like they’d hear someone speaking fluently in Spanish and they’d realise how hard they work at listening in English and speaking in English when Spanish is their mother tongue. For me, it’s just that little bit harder because I can’t hear all that well, and sign language provides 100% access, even though English is my mother tongue!

A little deaf awareness goes a long way

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My course leader had a consultation with a company called ‘Deafworks’, who I actually did part-time work for prior to starting my PGCE. Small world!

Some of the great advice they gave was for the course leader to “check in” with me every so often to see how I was getting on deaf wise. As every now and then there will be obstacles during the course because of my deafness. I’ve been meeting with my course leader every 2 weeks, and we’ve only had 2 so far, but it’s been good. Especially when I was having trouble with the notetaking situation. I think this is a really good thing for all deaf students to have on their PGCEs, as every deaf person is different, so will have different needs to accomodate to.

I met with my course leader 2 weeks before the PGCE course started to see what changes could be done to accomodate my needs. Since I can hear quite well with my cochlear implant, I wasnt going to need a sign language interpreter, but I would request one if I felt the session needed it (I’ve only felt this once, with PE, as the hall’s acoustics make it difficult for me to follow). I told her what I would need from the tutors during sessions in order to follow.

She then gave the tutors a little ‘deaf awareness’. I definitely needed the tutors to ensure I could see their face most of the time, because their voices would be new to me and I would need time to get used to listening to them without looking at them. All tutors have made themselves known to me since the beginning and have asked if what they are doing is OK (all of them have been great at making sure I can see them while talking, which is absolutely excellent). I havent felt uncomfortable, and it’s been useful for my course mates to see exactly how deafness can impact on you (they might have deaf children in their classrooms in the future!) Meeting my course leader prior to the course starting has paid off dividends in the long term, as otherwise I would have had to make a point of making myself known at every session, but this was in place already from the word go.

A little deaf awareness goes a long way…

Notetaking for a deaf student

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I’ve been asked by my course leader to make a little ‘diary/journal’ of my experience of the PGCE as a deaf student, good points and bad. I’ve decided to use this blog that I was assigned to set up for ICT so that I can kill two birds with one stone. Plus the fact I can type really fast, and write very slowly, meant the blog was appealing.

I knew when I started my PGCE I was going to need a notetaker. Unfortunately, my DSA was a bit slow, with my assessment only being done two weeks before the course started. It was a given that I wouldn’t get anything in place until November at least. So it was good news that I was able to follow the first few weeks quite easily, but as the 2nd week came, it was getting heavier and I definitely needed notes taken for me. A temporary notetaker was found for a couple of my sessions in the week and she was very good.  However, she was replaced by a notetaker who was going to do my notes full time. Unfortunately, this arrangement very quickly went sour, as he admitted he had never taken notes before for someone else other than himself. This was really disappointing because I havent got time to ‘train’ a notetaker. I’m on a post graduate course, not a degree in my first year. My course mates were very helpful while all this was going on, ensuring I could understand homework/vital information being given out. It was then through seeing a class mate’s notes that we came to an arrangement that she would do my notes for me. Essentially, all she had to do was carry on as normal, except photocopy her notes at the end of the day. Perfect. The course leader was excellent at pushing this arrangement through with the disability office (they kept muddling up my times/days of lectures to the temporary notetaker to get her to come back to do notes for me but it was too late by then) and all was sorted by the middle of week 3.

For a PGCE it is certainly worth getting a student ON the course to do the notes for you. Mainly because they know themselves how to organise the notes, what notes are important and so on. But you still need to pick the right notetaker. My notetaker is very upfront, which is why I thought our arrangement would work. I’d be the first to know if there were any problems! And her notes are really clear and concise. I’d be lost without her notes for sure.

E-safety concerns among Primary children

In today’s world where children growing up with readily access to the internet, there are a vast number of e-safety concerns with regards to Primary children using the internet. I have highlighted a few of the major ones below; 

  •  Inappropriate contact; being in contact with inappropriate people and giving details to inappropriate people
  • Inappropriate/harmful content on the internet; website with sexual content, violent content, abuse/cruelty, bad language, self-harm/suicide, extreme/racist comments
  • Computer security; downloading content that will harm the security of the computer and allow hackers easy access to details, illegal downloading
  • Social Networking; giving out inappropriate details, posting inappropriate comments/pictures, advocating inappropriate behaviour/language
  • Cyber bullying; being bullied online/bullying someone else online.

Obviously, the lessons we learnt at school “Stranger Danger” have to be updated to reflect the dangers of today’s world for primary children with regards to technology changes. Teachers have to stay ahead with children likely to be approached online by strangers as well as face-to-face outside of school.