Around 80% of local authorities (LAs) in Britain advise schools to block dangerous websites as opposed to monitoring internet use. According to e-safety pioneer, Jonathan Valentine, CEO and founder of Impero, these outdated e-safety policies could be leaving thousands of children at risk of cyber bullying.
Freedom of Information requests sent to British local authorities regarding their online blocking policies reveal a mixed approach; all LAs in Scotland and Wales claim they advise schools to block sites, while only 70% in England do the same. None of the LAs questioned offer their schools an alternative to blocking and 86% of English LAs claim they only act in an advisory capacity. Aside from the use of inflexible blocking software, only 7% of LAs play a part in other aspects of school e-safety policy.
Valentine believes this isn’t enough: “Seeing just how many local authorities still advise schools to block websites is worrying. We’ve shown in previous studies that British students admit to bypassing school-imposed blocks, and the same amount again have suffered from online bullying, which shows it just isn’t effective. It’s easy for children to circumnavigate these blocks which results in nefarious online activity going undetected.”
Schools have a duty of care to their students and Valentine believes that simply making it more difficult to access prohibited sites or take part in illicit activity is ineffective. He says: “Putting in place a system of monitoring enables teachers to keep an eye on in-class activity and deal with any incidents in real time. It also gives students the chance to report inappropriate and offensive behaviour and content at the click of a button.
“Some children see blocked resources as a challenge and therefore spend time trying to bypass them. If they were monitored instead of being blocked, they are less likely to view it in this way.”
A surprising 86% of English LA’s asked do not have control over individual school e-safety policy or have opt-in services – this is in stark contrast to Scotland’s LA’s who are overwhelmingly in control with only 5% of schools not controlled centrally.
Valentine continues: “Technology, and particularly the internet, is an incredible learning resource. It’s time education policy was updated to make sure that kids have the opportunity to harness the power of technology within school but are equipped with the ability to keep themselves safe and act in an appropriate manner – a joined up consistent approach needs to come from central government if LAs are to properly support the schools in their jurisdictions.”