Council creates innovative game to teach children with special needs how to stay safe online

Teacher Thomas Boardman with pupils from Stony Dean School, learning about online safety with the new game.

Buckinghamshire Council has led the way in developing an innovative, interactive resource to teach children with SEN about online safety. In partnership with colleagues in France and Sweden, the free resource helps children to navigate the internet safely and learn how to protect themselves online.

Aware of a significant gap in the market for educational resources to teach children and young people with special needs about internet safety, the council applied for European Union funding under the Erasmus+ programme. In partnership with Gothenburg Region Utbildning in Sweden and Rectorat Montpellier in France, the council developed the concept and collaborated with tech industry experts Adeptly, to scope out costs and buIn the game, Bao: It’s A Jungle Out There, players are introduced to Bao the panda who lives in the jungle. Bao is a keen explorer and wants to share information and photos of his adventures online but is unsure how to do it. Players are asked to help Bao navigate his way safely through the jungle which, like the internet, poses risks and challenges along the way. As players make decisions on what Bao should do when faced with each new challenge, they are given scores to indicate whether it was a good or bad decision. The game is designed to be played with teachers or parents and includes guidance on how to discuss the issues raised and support young people in knowing what to do when faced with real-life interactions online.

The game was piloted with children from Stony Dean School in Amersham who tested the concept and gave feedback which was used to further develop the resource.

Thomas Boardman, a teacher at Stony Dean School who helped test the game said: “Online safety is an integral part of the ICT/Computing curriculum at Stony Dean. Pupils are taught about the unpredictability of the internet and discuss the best ways to cope with this along with how this can affect a person’s mental health or wellbeing. There is a real lack of SEN-based resources that are readily available for teachers and most resources have to be made in-house.”

Council staff and the school held a number of meetings with colleagues from Sweden and France to create the game that allows pupils to make decisions when using the internet. The game is broken down into four different components (social media, cyber-bullying, stranger danger and critical thinking).

Tom continued: “The great thing about Bao is that it can be used by pupils, teachers and parents and is easily accessible on all devices.

“Here at Stony Dean we have trialled the game in a number of different ways. We have used the tool to hold whole class discussions, working in small groups and individually. Feedback from pupils has been incredible and we hope that Bao can be used by other schools and the best thing is, it is FREE!”

Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services said: “For many young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), the internet can be a place where they feel safe, calm and in control. Like all of us, it opens up a whole new world but that world can contain dangers and risks that they may not realise. This game helps children to understand the consequences our decisions can make and allows adults to discuss issues relating to online safety in a way that the children can understand and relate to.”

Anita added: “Although the game is primarily aimed at children and young people with SEND, it can also be used with primary school aged children in mainstream schools.”

The game has achieved international acclaim having been chosen by the French government as one of the best education projects of 2021. It is currently being used in mainstream schools in France and Sweden and is being rolled out to schools in the UK.

Bao: It’s a Jungle Out There is available online.

Guidance for parents and teachers is available on our website.