E-safety in schools: Mark Bentley

Mark Bentley, from London Grid for Learning Safeguarding Board talks keeping children safe whilst using the latest edtech

Whose job is it to keep children safe online? Where do the responsibilities begin and end for the educational institution?

The first part of the question is an easy one – it could not be made clearer in the key DfE document ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ that online safety is a safeguarding issue and that it is everyone’s responsibility. As for boundaries between school and home, these are indeed blurred, and that is not likely to change. 

To take one example, technology allows bullying to continue seamlessly beyond the school day and gate. While there are limits to what schools and teachers are able to do outside the classroom, there is more educators can do in providing a safe place for young people to air concerns and seek advice. At LGfL we are building a centre of excellence in safeguarding to help schools more in this area.

What risks exist for children online? Which risks can schools most help mitigate? 

Schools can’t take away risks any more than parents can. The key is that we equip young people to face them, help to avoid risks where possible, and crucially make sure they know where to go to for help, advice and where to report when something goes wrong. Teaching critical thinking in the online arena is very important so children can analyse the motivation behind what they’re being told or asked to do by individuals or organisations. The open-access ‘Trust Me’ resource from LGfL and Childnet is very useful in this respect.

There is no offline and online life anymore

How can schools educate children to behave with respect and consideration online? 

It is much easier to be rude to someone online than face to face (think twitter trolls!), so one challenge worth tackling is teaching young people that if you know how to behave offline, then mirror the same respect and courtesies online. There are many excellent resources to support this aim – why not check out some anti-bullying materials at bullying.lgfl.net for example.

How is it best to discuss online safety with children? 

All the time! There is no offline and online life anymore, so limiting online safety to a specific time or teacher is not appropriate – it needs to be threaded through all we do. A top tip to build our credibility in this area as adults is to be open about the mistakes we make online and show young people we are ready to learn from them as well as vice versa.

How can teachers encourage wellbeing and healthy habits? 

There is a wealth of wellbeing resources available to help on the curriculum side of things; toolkits such as Adolescent Resilience from LGfL and Public Health England give valuable signposting in this area. But an interesting question to ask at the same time is – do teachers model wellbeing and healthy habits to their pupils? Given the framework in which they work and the average work-life balance of a teacher, this is a tricky one. 

There will always be new apps that add new twists and dangers, and of course opportunities, which young people tend to embrace before educators become aware of them

Does BYOD help or hinder online safety? 

BYOD is a fact of life, and whilst current usage is patchy (some schools embrace it; some schools ban it), the direction of travel is clear. 

When considering implementing a BYOD policy schools should consider what the opportunities and challenges are. In an age of austerity for schools, opportunities for cost cutting are significant; BYOD is an easy way to bring new devices into school without the costs of purchasing or maintaining them. 

The challenges are manifold, but the primary one relates to the behaviour of the users and the fact that switching from wireless to mobile networks immediately bypasses school filtering and monitoring systems. The answers are neither simple nor static, but whilst there are increasingly technical solutions, clearly defined and enforced policies and behaviour expectations are key.

Where can teachers turn for help?  What advice or resources exist for educators? 

LGfL has collated resources, advice and guidance from a range of providers into a one-stop portal at osresources.lgfl.net. There are materials for the classroom, for policymakers (such as templates for acceptable use policies) and for parents. And if you need to talk to someone, you can’t go wrong with the Professionals Online Safety Helpline – helpline@saferinternet.org.uk.

Will children always be one step ahead? 

Yes and no. There will always be new apps that add new twists and dangers, and of course opportunities, which young people tend to embrace before educators become aware of them. However not knowing the name of every new app does not mean that we are behind the curve in terms of safeguarding. The issues are often behavioural at heart, and we can and must stay up to date with them.