Why restricting access isn’t the answer

Blocking or restricting access prevents kids from learning to navigate the online world safely for themselves, says Sam Pemberton

Do you think most teachers are aware of and can recognise cyber bullying threats?

The anonymous, not to mention ubiquitous, nature of the online world has undeniably improved learning. Just as it has enhanced the educational landscape, however, it’s important to acknowledge the array of risks it can present. Cyberbullying is just one of the many risks young people face online and falls under the broader safeguarding umbrella. Real-time monitoring software allows teachers to identify cyberbullying incidents as they occur in the classroom and deal with them as they would a ‘traditional’ face-to-face bullying encounter.

What proves most troublesome for teachers is knowing not just how to act, but when. Concerns around cyberbullying stem from its 24/7 presence and the potential anonymity of tormentors, which means it can occur outside of the school boundaries. When this happens, a student’s wellbeing is affected inside school, too; it’s therefore important that teachers consider the wider context of a student’s behaviour to establish whether they are at risk, and provide a safe way for young people to voice their concerns to a member of staff they trust. 

How can schools ensure that all staff receive appropriate online safety training?

Ofsted recommends that online safety should be viewed as a whole school issue, where all staff members share the responsibility. In order for schools to effectively adopt this approach, education staff need to be equipped with the tools to monitor online activity and the processes to ensure they feel confident in dealing with online safety incidents as and when they occur – just like any other safeguarding incident. To help improve staff knowledge, there are a number of fantastic organisations which offer online safety training for schools, designed to empower staff when it comes to protecting students online. Some training providers even offer 5 minute ‘bite size’ video e-safety training sessions, which are ideal for weekly staff meetings.

Would you say that most children are now aware of potential online dangers? What can we do to highlight them further?

Simply blocking or restricting access not only hinders educational value, but it also prevents young people from learning how to navigate the online world safely and assess risks for themselves. Our research has shown that while they may feel confident online, young people are still vulnerable to a multitude of risks, including adult content, grooming, homophobia, sexting and more. Children are often very good at acknowledging and providing answers when quizzed about online safety, such as ‘don’t give out your password’, but they aren’t always adept at applying them. Technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated; we now see connections between different applications (and applications requesting access to certain personal user information), which heightens the complexity of setting up privacy settings.

When it comes to potential online dangers, our software monitors in real time to identify risk, with glossary definitions of key words and screenshot or video captures helping staff to put the incident into context. This helps schools to pinpoint any online safety trends, which can then inform PSHE lessons or be addressed in assemblies. 

How can we get children more involved in anti-bullying campaigns online and offline?

Incorporating the technology students know and love is a great way to inspire children’s involvement in anti-bullying causes. Childnet run an annual film competition for students across the nation and the UK Safer Internet Centre organises Safer Internet Day every year, so these are great ways to encourage students to participate in campaigning against bullying. It’s important to ensure that anti-bullying, and broader online safety awareness, is weaved into the fabric of everyday school life. Establishing an anti-bullying/online safety student committee hands students the responsibility to contribute to a safe and kind environment and educate their peers on safe, responsible behaviour – both online and offline.  

Can parents now also recognise the potential dangers? How can we educate and support parents with online safety?

Due to the changing online landscape, and the tech-savvy nature of young people, online safety messaging needs to be more sophisticated. Parents will undoubtedly advise their children not to speak to strangers, both in the virtual world and the digital, but knowing how to advise on the greyer areas of digital etiquette isn’t always as clear-cut. Explaining how to determine what is and isn’t appropriate to post online, such as how to address teachers versus friends in online communications, or what could embarrass or upset others – even what could result in legal action – are all impacted by social skills, not technical.

If parents are looking for dedicated resources, Childnet and Internet Matters both offer great resources for parents addressing a range of online safety concerns, and schools should be providing parents with online safety information too. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) also have a reporting button, which allows young people to report suspicious individuals or behaviour directly to law enforcement. 

Can teachers and parents realistically keep up with tech-savvy children, and therefore, protect them from cyberbullying threats?

At Impero, we’ve created multiple libraries of key words, phrases, abbreviations and acronyms designed to help identify potential risk and provide context through glossary definitions. This can help to distinguish between an innocent misunderstanding, mere playground banter, and a serious threat. The digital world can appear overwhelming for teachers and parents, and while keeping up with modern-day language and monitoring is useful in identifying some pieces of the puzzle, it’s opening up dialogues with young people which proves essential to safeguarding. 

About Impero Software

Impero Software offers a range of network management products, relied upon by education establishments and workplaces around the world. Founded in 2002, it is currently accessed via one million computers in over 40 countries. In the UK it is a market leading provider of Classroom and Network Management Software, with a 27 per cent market share of secondary schools and 24 per cent of colleges.  

The company provides intelligent school ICT management helping teams, cut costs and improve staff productivity. Its cutting edge software and powerful learning tools assist schools in the day to day running of their computer network, putting teachers back in control of the classroom and enabling them to proactively deal with e-safety on a daily basis.


Sam Pemberton is CEO of Impero Software

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