Whose job is it to keep children safe online? Where do the responsibilities begin and end for the educational institution?
The traditional approach is that a school’s safeguarding responsibilities start and end at the school gate. With online safety it’s not as simple. The lines of responsibility are blurred, especially if children are bringing their own devices to school, or using the internet at home to do their homework.
In school, teachers should do everything they can to keep children safe online. Obviously they have very little control of what their pupils do outside school, but they can educate them and their parents of the risks and how to mitigate them. Good practice in leading schools around the world shows that there are consistent policies between home and schools.
What risks exist for children online? Which risks can schools most help mitigate?
The risks at home are many and varied, and can include accessing age-inappropriate material such as violent or sexually explicit imagery, engaging in risky or illegal behaviour such as online gambling, or falling victim to fraud, ID theft, blackmail, online grooming, child abuse or religious radicalisation.
To eliminate these risks altogether is simply not possible, but schools can takes steps to mitigate them. These efforts fall into two categories, educational and technical.
In terms of the education approach, schools should be educating children about the risks, how to spot them, how to avoid them and what to do if they have concerns. In short, schools need clear structures and systems in place to ensure safety.
Schools’ IT networks must have filtering and blocking software to stop children accessing harmful content and monitoring systems that can quickly spot any inappropriate material or behaviour. In most cases this will be administered at a local school level as well as local authority network level.
Are teachers and educators aware of all the risks? Is there enough training and CPD provided for teachers?
Teachers definitely need more training in this area. I doubt many are aware of even a small percentage of the potential risks and unfortunately too few see it as their responsibility as their main role is to develop teaching and learning opportunities.
Online safety should be an integral part of every teacher’s initial training and an ongoing area of their professional development. Teachers need to be equipped with the tools they need to support their pupils in today’s digital world.
How can schools educate children to behave with respect and consideration online?
The purpose of school is to educate children and prepare them for life in the real world.
As part of this mission teachers already teach children how to treat others with respect and consideration, reinforcing positive behaviour and reprimanding poor behaviour.
There’s no reason this approach can’t be transferred to their online activities too. Pupils have to be taught that their actions have consequences, even in an online environment.
How is it best to discuss online safety with children?
It’s never too early to start talking to children about online safety. There’s a good chance that by the time they start school most children will have already been exposed to some form of online activity, such as playing games or watching videos on their parents’ devices.
E-safety doesn’t have to be delivered to pupils in a warning lecture or as a list of rules to obey, it can be done in an open and constructive class discussion encompassing appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and risks and consequences.
I think it’s essential schools tailor their approach for each age group.
How can teachers encourage wellbeing and healthy habits?
Teachers can encourage healthy online habits by encouraging an open and honest classroom discussion about the issues involved. Rather than frame the issues in negative terms such as ‘banned websites’ or ‘restricted content’, teachers should reinforce positive online behaviours and advocate personal responsibility.
A lot of it comes down to trust. Pupils have to be trusted to use devices and the internet responsibly, but they have to earn that trust and then repay it.
Does BYOD help or hinder online safety?
Bring your own device is a policy that is increasingly being implemented by schools. Although this is often for cost reasons, it is also a pragmatic approach to manage the fact that pupils are increasingly bringing their own devices to school, whether smartphones, tablets or laptops.
If schools have a detailed policy to manage BYOD use and systems to ensure compliance then there should be no additional online safety issues to using the school’s own devices.
Schools should have an IT system that only allows guest devices to join if they comply with the e-safety policy.
Will children always be one step ahead?
Teachers should always assume their pupils are going to be one step ahead of them both in terms of having the latest technology and in their knowledge and experience of using the internet.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it helps to keep teachers on their toes and motivates them to keep developing and improving their own knowledge and capabilities. In fact they should see this as a very positive thing as it allows teachers to demonstrate to pupils their commitment to being lifelong learners and they can engage them in creating and maintaining an effective digital strategy at their school or college.