More than half of teachers are aware of incidents of children sexting at their school, including primary-school pupils as young as seven, according to a study by one teaching union.
A quarter of teachers who responded said they were aware of 11-year-olds sexting, which involves using social media to share messages, pictures or videos of a sexual nature.
However, the majority of incidents involved pupils aged 13 to 16, the report by the NASUWT said. In one typical incident, a girl pretended to fancy a boy and persuaded him to take a picture of his genitals, which she then shared with others.
In another, a year 9 pupil, aged 13 or 14, took explicit selfies of herself for a boy at another school, but classmates got hold of the photo and shared it, thereby distributing child sexual images.
A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said it was worrying that so many children were sharing explicit images. “Many young people see this activity as part of everyday life, despite the severe risks involved.
“When something goes wrong, the consequences can be devastating. Apart from exposing them to bullying when images are shared, it could make children targets for sex offenders in some cases.”
The counselling service ChildLine dealt with more than 1,200 cases last year of young people worried about indecent images they had shared, or who felt pressured into sexting.
The NSPCC said: “Children and young people need to understand the risks of sending these images and know what to do to get the support. If a child has lost control of a sexual image, they can get in touch with ChildLine who will work with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to get the image removed. The charity is calling for sexting to be included in age-appropriate sex and relationships education which the charity says “should be on every curriculum as [schools] are at the frontline of child protection”.
The NASUWT study, which is being launched at the union’s annual conference in Birmingham on Friday, also revealed that half of teachers who took part had come across pupils using social media to send insulting, bullying or sexist messages to each other. Half said they were aware of pupils sending homophobic or racist messages.