Building an e-safety culture

Chris Seal explains Millfield’s approach to e-safety, managing online risks and disseminating information to keep pupils protected

E-safety has been an issue at the forefront of education since the rise of social media about a decade ago. Over that time the message to pupils, parents and staff has become clear: protect your online privacy fiercely, keep any evidence of abuse and report it to the relevant authority. These three basic tenets have underpinned the work done in schools across the country, but at Millfield we supplement this with other measures. The school’s approach is linked closely with our pastoral philosophy to deal with matters preventatively, proactively and, where necessary, reactively.

In the preventative domain, Millfield’s director of academic ICT Scott Landry has embedded digital literacy into the year-nine ICT syllabus and these lessons, delivered by experts in the field, ensure that pupils can get the most from technology, but are aware of how to remain safe in that environment. In addition, we continue to refine our PSE and positive education programmes and ensure that all pupils are both aware of the potential dangers of cyberspace, but also build the skills and resilience to manage the situation into adult life.

The digital landscape changes swiftly and we work proactively to develop knowledge and strategy in e-safety. Scott Landry and I run assemblies for all age groups on an annual basis to update pupils’ awareness of threats to their safety or future wellbeing. This is always balanced with an awareness of how to get the most out of technology.

Representatives from day and boarding houses make up the newly formed digital council. The council meet with the school’s network manager, Scott Landry and I to discuss issues of the day and our thoughts on moving digital provision forward to keep pupils safe and to allow them to benefit from the internet’s vast riches. Training in this area is a boom industry and we rely on links to the Boarding Schools’ Association, South West Grid for Learning, CEOPS and our own research and expertise to deliver in-house sessions to staff.

Inevitably, we cannot cover all bases and sometimes events mean that we have to react to situations. However, a clear philosophy and clear strategy help us to be proactively reactive. In the first instance, all heads of year work closely with me on all matters where digital issues arise and we log all incidents of this type to monitor patterns and developments – I am pleased to say that the log is not growing at the rate many would expect. The presence of so many devices may well be playing a part in this; the novelty factor has gone and my sense is that our pupils are becoming responsible users on the whole due to their growing knowledge in this area. This can only come through usage and clear messaging: we have both.

We may never ‘master’ this issue completely, but Millfield is at the forefront of work to ensure that all pupils gain an education in this domain that is balanced and, most importantly, current. We recognise that the time is right to support parents with increased information and training where required. It is gratifying to know that other schools ask us for advice in this area, and in our conversations with leading national experts we find ourselves informing them, rather than the other way round. Confident but never arrogant, there is still work to do. 

Chris Seal is deputy head (pastoral) at Millfield School: