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E-safety: ignore at your peril

Schools need to recognise e-safety issues at an early stage and act to intervene as soon as possible, says Steve Baines

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | June 15, 2015 | E-safety

Do you think most teaching and non-teaching staff can now recognise and are aware of e-safety issues?

I believe the majority of teaching and non-teaching staff are aware that e-safety is a major concern and that it needs to be taught in school, but I feel that there is still a lack of awareness around recognising issues of e-safety and measures that could be put in place to minimise risk to children. With children’s ever increasing use of mobile technology, the risks increase too. It is easy to view a child’s smartphone as just that – a phone.

However, it is actually a very powerful piece of technology that enables the user to communicate with others, access the internet, download apps, games, films etc. It is also a small device, that is easily concealed, but also very easy to use to share whatever has been downloaded or viewed with others. Staff in schools need to have sufficient training to both understand the issues around e-safety but also to be able to identify potential dangers and take action to minimise the risks to all involved. 

Equally, use of the internet for education is at its highest, which in turn can offer opportunities for harassment, bullying and inappropriate online behaviour. Unless schools are effectively monitoring the use of their systems, this will continue unabated with the likelihood that it will increase or escalate. Schools need to ensure they monitor usage, recognise issues at an early stage before they escalate and act to intervene as soon as the behaviour is noticed, no matter how minor it is perceived to be.

How can schools ensure that all staff receive appropriate online safety training?

As well as ensuring that all staff receive suitable initial training on online safety, schools should regularly ask the staff themselves how they feel about online safety. Do they feel confident in their abilities to recognise the dangers, monitor usage, intervene where necessary or report behaviour to senior leadership in more serious cases? What areas do the staff themselves feel they would like further training on? How would they like the training delivered? How often do they feel they need refresher training or updating on new technologies and dangers? 

Once armed with this information, suitable additional training can be devised to address all the issues raised. Schools also need to be aware that the training may need to be differentiated since not all staff will be at the same level of understanding and confidence around online safety and their role in supporting the school, pupils and parents around this area. The most important aspect of this is never to become over-confident about your school’s ability to ensure online safety for all – there is always room for improvement in this area just as there is in all areas of school life. 

Would you say that most children are now aware of the online dangers? What can we do to highlight them further?

Many children still remain blissfully unaware of online dangers. Despite receiving education on this through PHSE, ICT and other curriculum areas, children will still believe things they read online, hear from others online etc. For example, the vast majority of children, from a very young age, will have some form of social media presence. It becomes a large part of their social life and the pressure to respond to communications, friend requests etc. is immense. The fact that they have several hundred ‘friends’ on social media makes them feel confident, well-liked, popular etc. but as we all know, these ‘friends’ may be anything but.

Schools need to ensure that they embed online safety throughout the curriculum, with regular sessions aimed at educating pupils of all ages on the dangers posed whilst at the same time ensuring they also understand the huge benefits from technology. Asking questions of pupils such as ‘How many of your online friends have you actually met in person?’, ‘How many of your online friends have your parents met in person?’ etc. can highlight to them that they do not really know very much at all about many of these so-called ‘friends’.

Involve the children themselves in the development of policies and agreed behaviours around use of technology and online safety - if they help to put together an acceptable use policy, they are more likely to adhere to it. Ensure that any acceptable use policies or online safety policies are provided to parents so that they too become involved. Let them feedback on the proposed policies and sign up to them so that they also support the school and the children from home. 

Is it important to involve students in the development of any new e-safety policies? How can we do this?

Absolutely it is. As mentioned above, schools should involve the pupils in developing their acceptable use policies, online safety policies etc. right from the off. If the children themselves are involved in developing and agreeing the policies they are far more likely to understand the reasoning behind them and to comply with the guidance and rules within them. 

Start by asking the pupils what they understand about online safety. What are the dangers from their perspective? What do they feel is acceptable and not acceptable? How would they feel if someone was rude to them, harassed them, bullied them online etc? What do they feel could be done to prevent this?

Use their answers as the basis of any policies and build upon it so that they believe that what the school is putting into place genuinely addresses their own concerns as well as their desire to be able to use technology in a confident and safe way. 

How can schools educate and support parents with online safety?

Ensure that the parents are actively involved in this area. If the school does, as suggested above, ask pupils for their thoughts on what online safety is, why it is important, what are the dangers etc. from their perspectives, share this with the parents in an anonymised form so that parents can see for themselves how the children feel about this. 

Ask the parents the same questions and see how the answers align or differ from those provided by pupils or staff. Share the differing perspectives and suggest policies that address as many concerns as possible in a way that also allows all parties the confidence that technology will be used in school in a confident, reliable way with appropriate safeguards in place.

Make sure the parents are aware of the staff training that the school puts in place and in the best case scenario, offer online safety training sessions to parents as well.

 Steve Baines is International Business Development Manager at Groupcall

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