E-safety in schools: Beverley Smith

The Director of Friendly WiFi talks online safety

Teaching our children not to talk to strangers has become an everyday part of life. I had it drilled into me by my parents and teachers. It’s something I have instilled into my daughter and the message continues today. Not nice – but absolutely the right thing to do.

But, amazingly, today is a different world than my daughter – now in her teens – would have recognised when she first walked through the school gates.

Beverly Smith

WiFi is everywhere. It’s a huge blessing, and swiftly emerging as a basic service – up there with water and electricity. People expect it. Leaders in all industries make a fuss about their ability to deliver it, and then improve it.

Schools are no exception. Indeed, I’m told the switch to e-learning and device-based lesson planning – including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – has been one of the defining changes in teaching practice of recent years.

Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure their school or college has appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place

But while the school gates may be safely shut and security protocols well-rehearsed, WiFi access threatens to throw open a door to the outside world.

So just as we teach our children not to talk to strangers in the street or in the park, we must also educate them of the need to be safe online.

The online risks are well documented. Aside from the most immediate and chilling danger of active grooming by predatory criminals is the ready access to pornography and indecent images of children that the internet poses.

Schools are, of course, well aware of the risks and Child Sexual Exploitation risk management is a feature of all good governance.

Governing bodies and proprietors should be doing all that they reasonably can to limit children’s exposure to the above risks from the school or college’s IT system. 

As part of this process, governing bodies and proprietors should ensure their school or college has appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place. Whilst considering their responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and provide them with a safe environment in which to learn. 

Considerations include the age range of their pupils, the number of pupils, how often they access the IT system and the proportionality of costs vs risks. 

But the challenge is establishing a certified standard of filtering which everyone can agree meets a minimum threshold, one which provides a base level of security which still satisfies industry and consumers.

Just as we teach our children not to talk to strangers in the street or in the park, we must also educate them of the need to be safe online

In a speech to the NSPCC in July 2013, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for the creation of a symbol to establish the safety of public WiFi.

The Friendly WiFi symbol was created and launched the following year in partnership with the The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).

That vision became Friendly WiFi, the national service of which I am now director. It is the first – currently the only – such service anywhere in the world.

There remains no replacement for vigilance, realism and good practice. But a Friendly WiFi approved venue will block access to pornography and web pages known by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to host indecent images of children.

That removes a huge level of risk at source. The danger, however, is a moving target and a ‘block list’ is updated twice a day.

The list comes from the IWF, and integration with the online safety industry is a feature of our history. Indeed, Friendly WiFi was developed with some of the world’s largest WiFi providers.

They not only support this initiative, but work closely on communicating the standard to their customers. They also provide Friendly WiFi with the latest technical support and policy guidance.

The presence of a government-recognised symbol – the Friendly WiFi symbol – provides all stakeholders but especially parents with the reassurance that their service meets the best standards, and their children are as safe as technology allows.

It can also provide the start of a conversation between us – as educators and service providers – and parents. The conversation is about online safety, how best to approach an issue which only adults can understand, but where the risk is exclusively to children.

No single programme, no single tactic can close the risk to zero. But the clarity which Friendly WiFi provides is a valuable step towards closing the gap between risk and action.

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