Children’s Commissioner, Education Minister and Local MP Visit Local Academy to mark Safer Internet Day

Rachel De Souza, Will Quince and Meg Hillier speak to Students at Mossbourne Community Academy about online safety

Students at Mossbourne Community Academy (MCA) in Hackney, part of the Mossbourne Federation, were visited on Monday by the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel De Souza, Education Minister Will Quince, and Local MP Meg Hillier, to speak about online safety.

On Safer Internet Day, De Souza, Quince and Hillier sought to gain insight into the issues facing students at MCA when it comes to mobile phone use, social media, and pornography to inform their policymaking moving forward, specifically on the Online Safety Bill that is currently being worked through parliament.

Across two sessions, the first with students from Year 7 – Year 11 and the second with sixth formers, the visitors listened to students’ stories and anecdotes. Younger students relayed personal experience of how social media creates unrealistic standards of beauty for young women, while older students noted their concerns about the lack of a push to stamp out online racial abuse on social media. Across the board, students expressed concern about the addictive nature of scrolling through Instagram and Tik Tok and were highly aware that social media impacts their behaviour and relationship to the world.

Among the questions put forward by Dame Rachel De Souza was whether social media companies should do more to ensure that people accessing their sites and apps were of an appropriate age. Some younger students were hesitant to voice support for more stringent measures, but older students felt more comfortable with the idea of having to prove their age. Most students also felt that the appropriate age to receive a smartphone, as opposed to a ‘brick’ phone that only allows calls and texts, is upwards of 13 years old, with some even suggesting that 16 is the lowest appropriate age.

De Souza plans to feed these comments back to social media companies directly in her bi-annual meetings with the ‘Big 8’ tech companies, including Meta, Instagram and Tik Tok, while Minister Will Quince and MP Meg Hillier are also using these discussions to help inform the Online Safety Bill and produce world-leading legislation that protects children from online harms.

Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“I was delighted to join the Children’s Minister and Meg Hillier MP on our visit to Mossbourne Community Academy. To mark Safer Internet Day, it was so important to hear from pupils about their experiences online. It was a privilege to visit such an outstanding school with an engaged and articulate group of children, and I was further impressed by the school’s commitment to getting back to as normal a school environment as possible after the past two year’s disruption. I know from what children have told me in my Big Ask survey that that is very much what they want.”

Will Quince, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, said:

“It was great to visit MCA to support Safer Internet Day. It was really insightful to listen to pupils’ online experiences and so important to hear about what they want to see more of so they enjoy the online world safely and responsibly.”

Meg Hillier, Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said:

“It was a pleasure to visit Mossbourne and hear the candid views of young people about how they interact on line. I was pleased that the Children’s Commissioner and the Government is listening directly to children about their experience as Parliament is about to debate changing the law to protect young people. Some of the comments were very inciteful and a reminder of the powerful voice of young people in Hackney and why we must listen to them.”

Rebecca Warren, Principal of Mossbourne Community Academy, said:

“We were delighted to welcome Dame Rachel De Souza, Minister Will Quince and Meg Hillier to MCA today to discuss online safety with our students.  This was a fantastic experience for our students to have a voice and contribute directly to future legislation and be active members of our democracy – an experience I know they will take with them as they continue to develop into actively engaged citizens.

“The topic of online safety is also of great importance to us. At Mossbourne we know that the internet and technology is a part of students’ everyday lives, but we seek to balance the implications of technology as far as possible. We limit the negative impact of mobile phone use during school time and have regular PSHE lessons dedicated to discussing how to interact safely online.

“We look forward to welcoming Dame Rachel, Minister Will Quince and Meg Hillier back to our academy soon.”