ROUNDTABLE: Safe and sound

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector's experts, how do we keep kids safe when using the latest edtech?

CONTRIBUTORS:

  • Carmel Glassbrook, Helpline Practitioner, Professionals Online Safety Helpline
  • Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre
  • Mhairi Hill, eSafety Coordinator, Deputy Designated Teacher for Child Protection, Ballyclare High School
  •  Tony Anscombe, Senior Security Evangelist, AVG Technologies
  • Steve Baines, International Business Development Manager, Groupcall
  • Dr Mike Beverley, Head, Washington School, Sunderland.
  • Daley Robinson, Head of Marketing, Stone Group

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

 

Carmel Glassbrook: The Professionals Online Safety Helpline supports professionals working with children with all online issues. We hear from many teachers and schools, and feel that over the years e-safety awareness has risen and staff are recognising these issues as important. Pupils, however, often only seek help from teachers once they are at crisis point and they feel they have exhausted all options. It would be good to see more non-teaching professionals becoming e-safety aware: for example, a child may feel happier telling a sports coach what has happened before it gets worse. 

Will Gardner: Childnet turns 20 this year and in that time we’ve seen levels of awareness about e-safety issues among school staff improve dramatically. The majority of schools now have policies in place to prevent and respond to e-safety concerns, and most will cover e-safety awareness too. It’s great that e-safety is now part of the computing curriculum for primary and secondary schools. However, technology is constantly changing, and it can be challenging for schools to stay on top of the latest trends. While staff may be aware of (and may have been affected by) e-safety issues, they may need support to have the practical knowledge to respond to these issues and to talk to pupils about their use of technology – particularly when it comes to challenging topics like sexting and pornography. This is why training for all staff is so important, though we know it is consistently one of the weakest areas for schools.

Mhairi Hill: Effective e-safety provision requires consideration of practice and policy in equal measure, and for successful implementation, whole-school buy-in is essential. Where school leaders have not identified e-safety as a priority, their staff are inadequately protected from the risks attached to the social web. An excellent way to identify areas in which e-safety awareness can be nurtured is through use of a self-review tool, such as the NAACE or 360 Degree Safe.

Tony Anscombe: Teachers are largely aware of the increasingly prevalent role of the internet in children’s lives, observing first-hand how it has revolutionised the classroom and learning techniques. They’re also aware of the associated threats, with the UK’s anti-bullying alliance revealing that more than half of kids surveyed saw cyberbullying as a part of everyday life.

That said, AVG research has shown that nearly two thirds (63%) of teachers have not received any formal training to teach internet safety, with many feeling ‘insufficiently equipped’ when approached by students for advice on such issues. While e-safety is a recognised priority, more certainly needs to be done to ensure staff are as prepared as possible when it comes to e-safety. 

Steve Baines: 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. 

Mike Beverley: Yes, certainly, our staff are well aware of e-safety issues. The school has invested a great deal in raising awareness, explicitly linking it to the anti-bullying policy. Our anti-bullying group is very active and crucially student led. What they focus upon is largely decided by students across the school; discussions and decisions are subsequently reviewed with staff. This has certainly conveyed the messaged to staff that our students take the issue of e-safety very seriously indeed.

Regarding emerging e-safety issues, obviously we’ve got more to do. Formulating strategies for dealing with new e-safety risk areas is an ongoing thing. For example, at the moment for a relatively small number of students, misuse of texting outside of lessons is the issue. Procactive monitoring and regular group discussion about the impact of such behaviours is helping us to progressively minimise this issue across the school. More recently we have started working with other local schools to promote inter-school e-safety and prevent on and offline conversations that could escalate into bullying.

Daley Robinson: I think people in general are much more aware of the basic principles of e-safety than they were two years ago. However, people’s attitudes to e-safety could be compared to their attitudes about the rules of the road – there are always going to be differences in the levels of risk that people think are acceptable before danger becomes likely. But, despite their own attitudes, staff in a school are simply having to understand what e-safety boundaries need to be set for a child to remain safe whilst a school is responsible. We’re seeing the vast majority of our schools’ customers stepping up to this responsibility with an encouraging keenness.

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

 

Mhairi Hill: E-safeguarding should be considered to be of equal importance to safeguarding. Annual whole-staff training incorporating digital footprint, use of social media, online bullying and harassment, online communications, school policy and practice should be planned for. I have attended many external courses and some, unfortunately, have failed to hit the spot. A nominated person, or persons, with a responsibility for safeguarding should attend a rich variety of external courses to ensure a breadth of effective information and strategies can be brought back to school and disseminated to all staff. Many companies and agencies advertise packages to schools to boost the in-house e-safety practice, but without an in-house leader in e-safety the school will struggle to achieve a coordinated approach. 

Tony Anscombe: According to our research, 50% of UK teachers agree that their schools should provide better training to teachers on using the internet as an education tool, while 63% haven’t received any training at all. With this in mind, it’s clear that schools need to place increased importance on ensuring that their staff are provided with all the necessary resources to tackle the online challenges they’re being confronted with in the classroom.

Steve Baines: 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.

Mike Beverley: At Washington, it’s part of our induction programme for all new staff. This is part of our statutory responsibility which we extend to our supply teachers. The revised safeguarding guidance came out in March and we are currently taking all staff through this, requiring that they ‘sign’ to confirm that they have read the guidance and will commit to adhere to the policy. This is not necessarily a ‘failsafe’ approach but we are committed to maintaining the safety of all members of the school.

Daley Robinson: When it comes to the dangers of communicating online with both known and unknown people, schools like Washington are forming pupil-led task forces and organising charters which commit staff and students equally. At Stone, we feel the big gap in both education and training on e-safety is around the technology and services that keep the school and its data safe. More needs to be done in schools to understand the importance of systems and procedures for this.

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

 

Carmel Glassbrook: It is commonly accepted that sometimes engaging in risky behaviour is a part of growing up, so while most children are aware of the dangers online, they may still take these risks. It is important to balance perception of the risks with appreciation of the opportunities, and understand that risks do not equate to inevitable harm. Giving them the space to explore, the tools to do it safely and support should they need it, is the best approach. Adolescents are going to push boundaries and some may even seek out risk, we need to acknowledge this and provide them with resources and information to help them make informed decisions. 

Mhairi Hill: In addition to external agencies and personal experience, the greatest source of information is our young people. Given their age, they are still very much risk-takers by nature and are aware of some of the dangers. They are perhaps less aware of grooming and the risk of exploitation – and even at that, perceive this as ‘stranger danger’ rather than clever manipulation – and are more aware of issues such as online bullying and over-sharing.

Pupils like to hear e-safety messages from their peers, so involving pupils in the delivery of e-safety awareness sessions and the development of resources is essential. Wall displays and videos in key areas of the school help to raise awareness in a more subtle way. Communicating e-safety messages via social media can help pupils to connect when outside the school, when they are more likely to feel vulnerable and exposed to the risks of the social web. 

Steve Baines: 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. 

Mike Beverley: Very much so. Whether children view e-safety at the same level of danger and peril as we do, I don’t know. I don’t think the concern is as great amongst the student body, because they have more faith in digital relationships and technology, as it’s always been part of their communications mix.

Daley Robinson: Children are the most aware stakeholders in the school environment, although they may not be the most ‘willing’ to follow the rules and make the right decisions. Young people understand the importance of safety online both inside and outside school.

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

 

Carmel Glassbrook: Participation equals ownership. If the pupils at your school are involved in the creation of the policies we believe they will have greater respect for the policies in place and are more likely to support them. This will then hopefully give them a good understanding of how to conduct themselves online in and out of school. This could be initiated in whole class discussion/ mind mapping session and written up as a literacy project. We also provide templates for these policies that can help you create the policy that is right for your setting.

Will Gardner: We think it’s essential to include young people in shaping all aspects of your school’s e-safety provision. Not only are Ofsted looking out for this to identify outstanding practice in schools, it means that schools will develop policies that are meaningful, alive and evolving – rather than collecting dust in a filing cabinet somewhere!

Tony Anscombe: When developing any kind of policy, it’s always important to involve those directly affected. In this case, schools should be taking the time to talk to students about how they use the internet and what they enjoy doing online to ensure that any policies implemented complement and safeguard these activities. This way, educators and students alike can reach a mutual understanding of the online dangers affecting us all today – after all, internet safety is something we need to work towards achieving together. The current internet generation has already indicated they wish to become more private and share less in their rapid adoption of apps that are purely image-based or that restrict access to content by time. When engaging with a student council on policy, the faculty staff may well find that the students could be well placed to become the educators on some elements of safety online.

âž™ How can schools educate and support parents with online safety?

 

Carmel Glassbrook: There are a multitude of activities and functions a school can engage in, but also that this is an ever-changing and dynamic area of work. This should not be a one-off engagement with parents! Unfortunately the most common calls we receive on the POSH Helpline are from schools about the online abuse of staff, abuse usually coming from a parent at the school. We have seen countless cases of parents taking to social media to air their grievances with the school or its staff. Whilst this can obviously be very distressing for the teachers, it can also pose reputational risk for the school as a whole. Parents try to be good role models in every aspect of life, and online should be no different. In this situation we advise asking parents to come in to the school to talk about the issues they are having face to face, we find when they feel they are being listened to they are generally willing to remove their comments, especially when they realise the impact that their behaviour could have on their child. Incorporating online safety as part of the routine dialogue between schools and parents would seem to be most prudent.

Will Gardner: Schools provide a hugely important role in helping parents to get to grips with their child’s digital lives. Schools could send parents advice and reminders, run a parent session, invite them in to your school’s Safer Internet Day activities, or why not encourage pupils to host a drop-in social media advice clinic for parents? It’s a challenging area for parents and carers, but the most important thing they can do is have an open dialogue with their children. Schools can play an important role in providing the spark to ignite these conversations. 

Mhairi Hill: Again, pupil voice is a powerful tool here. We ran a pupil-led e-safety workshop for parents where pupils presented on privacy and protection features of the most popular social network platforms. Feedback indicated that parents valued hearing the thoughts of the young people. Using online tools for communication such as an e-safety section of the school website, an official school Facebook and/or Twitter page enables parents to keep up to date with e-safety issues. The inclusion of e-safety in school newsletters also helps to raise awareness. Pastorally, where a young person has been directly involved in an online incident we would invite the parents in for support and guidance on ways in which they can support their child. For example, parents can bring in their devices for assistance in setting parental controls appropriate for the age and stage of their child.

Tony Anscombe: Children spend a large amount of time at school, so naturally teachers have a big role to play when it comes to supporting and educating parents on online safety best practices – communicating a consistent message to children (whether at home or in the classroom) on the topic is key. Just as teachers have to, parents must take responsibility to continue their own online education – and schools can help accommodate this. However, our own research revealed that only a third (33%) of teachers said their school had arranged events to educate parents about online safety, 40% of which were ‘unsatisfied’ with the parent turn out for the session.

While it’s clear that UK schools are heading in the right direction, their attempts only matter if parents are willing to try too. Teachers need to encourage parents to seek involvement by stressing the importance of such events and sharing relevant resources and top tips to help aid their education in this area. It’s important that parents are not complacent in this and rely only on the education system and government to provide this generation with the guidance they need to be the safe digital citizens of the future. Only by working together will this issue truly be tackled successfully.   

Steve Baines: 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.

Mike Beverley: We’re in the early stages of this journey with parents of our pupils. As a school, we think we are responsible for helping the parents, but it’s an issue that attracts many opinions, especially from staff. 

Daley Robinson: From a technology perspective, investment in a solid infrastructure and the right management services for any BYOD or one-on-one device schemes is the best way of supporting parents’ efforts to educate their kids about online safety. With a decent infrastructure and strong policies to support it, parents have a very good baseline from which to reassure their kids, and themselves about e-safety within the school environment.