A CAMPAIGN led by Birchwood High School’s head teacher is attempting to help protect children in schools across Warrington from social media and unrestricted mobile phone access.

Emma Mills has started leading a mobile phone campaign, called Disconnect to Reconnect, across 31 different schools in Warrington to help inform parents of ways to protect their children from unrestricted internet access.

Last week, the campaign was started with a presentation given to parents at Gorse Covert Primary School in Birchwood on Friday.

It is the first of many presentations set to be given across Warrington in the coming weeks, informing parents of what can happen if their children have unsupervised access to mobile phones and how to implement safety measures.

“We’re not telling them what to do, we’re just giving them the information about what dangers are there,” said Emma.

“We don’t want it to sound like a lecture, it’s more that we’re trying to help them and support them.”

Emma hopes by giving parents the tools to help protect their children online, fewer issues caused by social media access will be brought into schools, and more children will be able to use the internet safely as they get older.

“We don’t have a big problem with phones in school, it’s what they do out of school,” she said.

“We’re saying they shouldn’t have social media until after they’re 13, and we’re saying that you should put parental controls on it.

“If you choose not to do those things, then if things happen due to social media and phones, that’s your responsibility as a parent and don’t bring it to the school to deal with.

“It sounds like you’re being harsh, but it is a bit of a wakeup call, that if someone’s sending horrible videos on a Saturday evening, that isn’t our responsibility, and as a parent you should know that’s happening on your children’s phones.”

Warrington Guardian: The first presentation was given to parents at Gorse Covet Primary SchoolThe first presentation was given to parents at Gorse Covet Primary School (Image: Birchwood High School)

Some of the information that will be given to parents attending these presentations will be about apps that can be downloaded onto children’s phones to monitor their internet access.

One of the apps, Ontaro, uses AI to help track what children are looking at online and sends an alert to the parent’s phone that is linked to it when they are looking at worrying content online and offers advice on how to talk to children about what they’re viewing.

The campaign will mainly focus on primary schools in an attempt to help implement the measures while children are still young.

“We did a survey across primary schools and a lot of the parents were saying ‘we don’t want to give them smart phones, but we don’t know what else to do’,” said Emma.

“Nationally, people aren’t seeing them as a great thing anymore, people do want things to change.

“But it’s helping the parents and supporting them and saying, ‘yes this is your responsibility, but it can be quite overwhelming, so here is what we think you should do’.”

Warrington Guardian: Emma is hoping that the presentations will give parents the tools they need to help protect children across Warrington from harmful content onlineEmma is hoping that the presentations will give parents the tools they need to help protect children across Warrington from harmful content online (Image: Birchwood High School)

The presentations will be working in conjunction with Esther Ghey’s community interest company, Peace and Mind, which is campaigning to see child friendly mobile phones be sold across the UK, after her child, Brianna was brutally murdered last year.

One of Brianna’s killers, Scarlett Jenkinson, had been accessing the dark web on her phone for months before carrying out the brutal attack on the 16-year-old in Culcheth Linear Park last year.

Using her phone, she had been watching torture videos online, and messaging Brianna’s other killer, Eddie, to plan the attack.

“Loads of people said to me afterwards ‘well what have you learnt from this’ but the only thing I think that would have made a difference is if there were greater restrictions on the phone,” said Emma.

“If there was a parental control app then those messages between Eddie and Scarlett would have been picked up.

“His fascination with weapons, that seemed to go beyond what anyone thought, would have been picked up.

“Her going onto the dark web – she obviously had inclinations anyway – but that’s been fed by being able to watch torture videos and if that had been picked up earlier, could she have got help for that that would’ve ultimately stopped her from doing what she did.”

Emma, who is a director of Peace and Mind UK, has been working with Esther on her national mobile phone campaign, and is hoping to kickstart the process closer to home.

“Me and Ester have talked about it and even if the government turned around tomorrow and said ‘okay we’re going to ban social media and bring in child friendly phones’ – realistically it could be years to get to that point” she said.

“So, we want to do something now to stop more and more children being given them in the first place, which is why we’re focussing on primary schools.”

From September, Birchwood High School will be implementing different rules for students, including only letting year 11s who have parental control apps on their phones bring the devices into school.

The campaign is also setting up an online form called Pledge to Protect – where parents can sign and promise to protect their children by not giving them a mobile phone or ensuring that parental controls are installed on it.