E-safety in schools: Stella James

The Founder of Gooseberry Planet talks keeping children safe when using the latest edtech

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

There is such a big debate with these questions and the truth is it is all our responsibility to protect children both off and online. To be effective in doing this there must be cohesive approach that involves children, school staff and parents. A school community ethos with all parties working collaboratively together. It is no secret that parents expect schools to deal with problems that are created online outside of school. This is now expected and accepted as the way it is but it is not and must not be the only way. It is time for everyone of us to adjust the way in which we view and use the web and adapt to the changes that are happening around us. 

It is a fact that many parents cannot or will not step forward to help themselves or their children when there is a problem online or adjust their own behaviour to protect themselves from online threats.  Many believe that ignoring the problem and pushing the responsibility elsewhere forces our schools to educate our children, parents view online safety as a problem for schools to solve, leaving some parents totally unaccountable and free to remain blissfully unaware of the threats they and their children face online.  The truth is our schools need support and guidance about teaching online safety effectively. To improve the health and wellbeing of everyone online we must all accept that it is a collective responsibility and should support our schools in recalibrating roles and responsibilities when it comes to teaching and modelling positive and safe behaviour online.  Effective communication is a two-way street and in order to educate we must first be aware of the needs that are to be met.

To improve the health and wellbeing of everyone online we must all accept that it is a collective responsibility and should support our schools in recalibrating roles and responsibilities when it comes to teaching and modelling positive and safe behaviour online

What risks exist for children online?    

Children are sharing and exposing so much personal data and using tools online such as live video streaming with no guidance or effective education.  These tools, apps and websites are great for adults, but can make our children targets without supervision or a secure set of skills and the knowledge to use the web independently. 

Online gaming and any app that can connect with other people is landing children in hot water.  Even those children who we think are street wise and sensible fall victim to grooming, scams, phishing, gambling and other online vulnerabilities.  With the average age of a gamer placed at 32 years old, we wonder why children are easy targets.  

Evidence is suggesting that by blocking their access to the web; this will create an underground instead of an open conversation culture. In short, we (and that is everyone who uses the web) should be teaching our children how to behave positively online and the skills to prevent, identify and respond safely when faced with threats online.  The key is effective education for all. 

The very nature of growing up involves a certain amount of curiosity and children these days look to the web to fulfil their interests and seek out new opportunities to connect

Which risks can school’s most help mitigate? 

With the appropriate support schools need to take a long hard look at the curriculum that they provide for their learners.  It is important that they can use modern concepts and understand the terminology that children use to help contextualise the learning.  We all need to be aware of the terminology and concepts used and rethink approaches that perhaps we ourselves grew up with.  Online, the concept of ‘stranger danger’ is outdated.  Children are at risk from everyone and anyone online for the purposes of sexual grooming, befriending, exploitation, radicalisation and online bullying and all in the safety of their own home. The very nature of growing up involves a certain amount of curiosity and children these days look to the web to fulfil their interests and seek out new opportunities to connect, even seek employment or job opportunities.   Some children are aspiring vloggers, online gaming experts and programmers and look to find people online to help them achieve this.  Let’s start being honest with our children and develop their digital literacy.  Talk about grooming, sexting and online bullying as these are common online threats faced by all children.  One of our school’s biggest challenges is staying up to date with the current threats online and knowing how to best support children and advising parents.  Make online safety a key focus as part of school ethos, build capacity within (an already bulging) the curriculum and provide more frequent and quality lessons.  The big question is how on earth can you teach such a complicated area without the knowledge and guidelines to go with it.  

Are teachers and educators aware of all the risks?  Is there enough training and CPD provided for teachers? 

A high proportion of school safeguarding issues relate to those derived online.  To support schools, putting greater emphasis and awareness about risks online will help them to respond more effectively as part of their safeguarding duties.  I do believe that most teachers have a raised awareness of online issues and do know some of the risks, but are not aware of how close to home they are. I think schools only know a fraction of what is happening and it is always enlightening when speaking to teachers how unaware they are of the digital literacy and online habits of their learners and how far out their perceptions are of what their learners experience and are exposed to online, until sadly it is too late.

We have apps like Music.ly, Roblox and Live.ly.  Online Safeguarding cannot simply be a box ticking exercise.  Signing a piece of paper saying you have read the contents of a policy is not training.    An annual staff INSET is not effective training, it is informing.  In other professions CPD must be a minimum set of hours over a period and this needs to be completed once a year.  Shouldn’t this be the same within schools.  A teacher might have attended a CEOP course 3 years ago and be expected to deliver a workshop to a whole staff group with no up to date knowledge of how to be safe online themselves or of the current threats and preventative methods.  Something as complicated and important as online safeguarding should be on going, with regular updates.  Keeping safe online is a life skill and part of lifelong learning.  Through no fault of their own, some members of staff have no idea how to change their own privacy settings let alone showing a child how to do this.

What are schools obliged to do for safeguarding?    

Safeguarding isn’t a subject in itself and it comes in so many different forms that include policies and embedded approaches and processes to keep children safe and respond in a timely and measured manner when an incident occurs.  PSHE is a subject that provides opportunities to addresses many topical aspects of life both off and online and lends itself well to teaching children about the emotional aspects of online life, but as we all know this is not compulsory for schools to teach this. There are explicit requirements for online safety to be taught as part of the Computing curriculum, as it is now statutory for schools to teach online safety.   ALL STAFF within a school need to have safeguarding training at least once a year.  Schools need to make sure they have filtering and blocking with their broadband and manage 3g and 4g connection.  Schools should also have a child centred approach to learning about online safety and need to include parents for this to be fully effective.

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

This is all about quality education.  It takes time to teach and learn these types of behaviours and therefore we need to, along with the support and expertise of parents, model positive and safe behaviour online and make more of a consistent effort to teach our children the same values we hold and apply to daily life and transfer them to our lives online, across a sustained period.  You cannot expect to change mind set and influence behaviour with a one-off lesson and a lack of positive role modelling to follow.  Like swimming it takes a while to be good and you certainly wouldn’t throw a child in the deep end on lesson one!   We need to teach children to be positive and confident users of the web, to block and report behaviour that is unsafe and unacceptable.  We shouldn’t be scared to show the scary stuff but must show this in context and with the correct follow up and support.  Let’s not forget that this could potentially save their lives one day.  

Keeping safe online is a life skill and part of lifelong learning

What products and technologies exist to help teachers? 

Ultimately teachers are busy people and don’t have the time to plan yet another lesson so quality resources are vital.  I am going to say Gooseberry Planet.   We are the only company that offers 12 weeks of education for each child in each year of their primary education.  We join parent, teacher and child together at the same time using technology. The NSPCC, Childnet, SWGL, ParentZone all have resources for one off lesson plans which are very good and there are some great products that are comprehensive and offer consistent learning. E-Cadets is another good example.  We do need to come away from all the one-off’s.  Children need to progress and build upon their experiences and learning in the same way as Maths, English and all the other main stream subjects.

Are parents fully aware and what products and resources could help them?

Parents are aware, but in most cases, are the worst culprits.  There are so many websites out there and technologies to help parents and unfortunately a very small percentage go and look.  65% look at their school for help and 41% want more help. You have Internet Matters, Parent Zone which are all great, but again Gooseberry Planet is the only company that using technology to engage with the parent and provides them with real time feedback about how their child is responding to real life online scenarios.  Our system emails the parent every time the child plays and the parent can see the response and follow it up with that all important conversation.  We offer videos and information on the exact area that their child might need to improve.  It all helps with the vital open conversation.  We are even going to create a game for the grownups.  Why should all the children have all the fun? 

We need to allow our children to talk about their experiences

How is it best to discuss online safety with children?

Conversation, conversation and more conversation.  We need to allow our children to talk about their experiences.  So many schools and adults, just want to block, which is so wrong and not actually that helpful if we want our children to be responsible and independent users of technology.  We do not have the attitude of never allowing our children outside because of the dangers, we don’t lock them away. We teach, we embrace and we guide. Online safety is no different. Why not sit children down and show them Facebook, my own son thinks it is boring and a bunch of old women sharing rubbish.  He might well be right!  I want him to be completely aware of all the do’s and don’ts before I let him loose.  

How can teachers encourage wellbeing and healthy habits?

Being open is the biggest key to any child’s wellbeing.  We often create mystery and stigma against being online and are almost scared to discuss certain subjects.  Children should be allowed to talk, give their views and maybe even lead the way in helping with the seriously big issues.  We need to get rid of all the barriers, embrace the technology, create boundaries and ultimately be positive.  We are all human, we all make mistakes, it is part of learning.  Let’s create a culture of being open and honest, it starts with us, the grownups, we need to talk openly about our experiences.  I was sitting having dinner with my 15 year old son the other day and we got onto the subject of gangs in our local area.  I really didn’t like what I was hearing, but made no comment or judgement. I just listened.  It would have been very easy for me to say you are never going into town again. Instead we talked about body language, what to watch out for and what would he do if he got into a situation?  It was a lovely moment.  My son has had his own issues with being online and these are not little ones.  He was so embarrassed by something he did, that he nearly got on a train to run away.  Thankfully he didn’t.  I haven’t closed the internet down, but we talk, we also include my 10 year old son in these talks.  Once a year is not enough and don’t be frightened to talk about grooming, so many children are being targeted at a young age with all the latest apps.  My son came home from internet safety day.  I asked him what he had learnt-  He replied with ‘nothing new Mum, we talked about stranger danger and respect.  I wanted to bring up grooming as it wasn’t covered.” Why are we not asking our children what they want to and perhaps need to know?  

We need to get rid of all the barriers, embrace the technology, create boundaries and ultimately be positive

Does BYOD help or hinder online safety?

It does make me smile when I hear schools saying, ‘oh we block everything, no one can use their phones and definitely don’t go on our network’.  I do agree that devices are a distraction in a lesson, but on the other had so many schools struggle giving all the children access to technology, their own devices are limited, so why not allow children to use theirs.  Times have changed and I do believe we need to change with it.  Why not even use their devices and change their privacy settings in the apps that are being used?  Why not show them how to make themselves safe?    

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

Teachers have such a tough job, not only do they have to be experts in the main subjects, but also need to be experts in the pastoral care of children.  There are so many resources out there, but unfortunately so are so out of date.  All the charities give away free resource CEOP have just released some good videos.  I am going to be biased and say Gooseberry Planet is the only programme that offers 12 weeks of online safety education for each and every child in primary school education.  Our resource is very comprehensive.

Will children always be one step ahead? 

No I don’t think they will be, ideally it would be great to walk alongside them.  We all just need to take responsibility for ourselves and our own children. With the support of government, schools need to update what they are doing and do it more frequently.   It will take time but as we evolve with our technology and tech providers evolve there will be more controls put in place to protect the children.