Technology has advanced considerably, with social media playing an increasingly significant role in young people’s lives today. For this generation of ‘digital natives’, the emergence of mobile technologies, online gaming and apps have transported internet access to the palm of their hands, rendering obsolete traditional safety guidelines such as restricting the computer to a family room to facilitate supervision. So whilst young people may appear techno savvy in operating new technologies, they often lack the maturity to manage risk.
The very nature of technology, together with the unregulated dimension of cyberspace, has provided the tools for young people to bully their peers on a far wider scale than was possible in their parents’ schooldays, and extended the arena for grooming to include online child sexual exploitation and more recently the risk of radicalisation. It is therefore vital to address online safety through a whole school approach. Below are some suggested steps to build staff confidence and raise awareness for pupils and parents to promote safe behaviour online.
“E-safety is a whole school issue and can only be effectively addressed through collective critical thinking and a social, cultural and educational approach.” Mubina Asaria , (2014) “E-safety for high schools project”, Journal of Assistive Technologies, Vol. 8 Iss: 1, pp.44 – 46
1. Nominate an e-safety coordinator to attend CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) training and develop an ongoing e-safety programme, so staff, parents and students are…
- …familiarised with new technologies and associated risks;
- …equipped with sufficient knowledge to stay safe online;
- …aware and confident of the procedures and policies put in place.
CEOP’s Thinkuknow programme provides resources, training and support for professionals who work directly with children and young people.
2. Review and update your acceptable use policies (AUPs), to take account of new developments and models of good practice. Points to include are:
- Ensure your policy extends to all hardware, software and data, whether accessed from the school or externally;
- Update the school’s anti-bullying, behaviour and child protection policies to reflect the school’s e-safety policy;
- Ensure staff are aware that communicating with students on personal pages of social networking sites, such as Instagram and Facebook, could compromise personal safety;
- Ensure appropriate security settings are set to avoid copying of personal information and photographs;
- Clarify that any online communications with students is conducted strictly within an educational capacity, preferably via school networks – schools are increasingly using VLEs, offering discussion forums, blogs and online spaces to provide secure, moderated and transparent areas for collaboration.
3. Make reporting easier:
With even the most robust policies and filtering systems in place, it is vital to ensure staff have the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage incidents effectively, and in a prompt and consistent manner. As well as being alert to the signs of vulnerability, schools must strive to promote a culture where asking for help is perceived not as a weakness, but as a strength reflecting good judgement. It is therefore essential to consider the wider community in signposting reporting routes:
- Staff – ensure ALL staff, including support staff attend e-safety training. A vulnerable child may be more comfortable speaking to a teaching assistant, librarian, lunchtime supervisor or someone in reception. Staff should be familiarised with the school referral process and designated point of contact, and aware of the importance of reporting even the slightest of concerns immediately, due to the viral nature of technology.
- Pupils – often, pupils may be more comfortable speaking to peers rather than their teachers or parents due to embarrassment or fear of reprisals around their use of technology. Schools could explore alternative pupil-centred strategies such as peer mentoring programmes or creating a team of online safety champions to raise awareness, e.g. in assemblies. Pupils can be nominated across all year groups or even within existing student bodies, such as the student council, to work alongside staff.
- Parents/carers – policies, awareness sessions and developments can be publicised via parent evenings or parent workshops, and reinforced by key messages via parent newsletters or posted on a school website. These should clearly outline who and how to report any concerns and what to expect in return.
Remember to adopt a multi-faceted approach, and that e-safety is not just a topic to be covered during an ICT lesson. Prevention strategies should therefore involve the whole school and wider community. With several studies indicating that vulnerable children and those with special needs are at increased risk of bullying and exploitation, schools need to develop ongoing and progressive training opportunities for students to build resilience and develop critical thinking online – as well as during assemblies and form-time activities this can be reinforced across subjects such as PHSE. Childnet’s ‘Trust Me’ resource has been specifically designed to support teachers in exploring critical thinking online and is free to download.
Mubina Asaria manages Greenford High School’s e-safety programme to support victims of cyberbullying, and launched Ealing’s Online Safety Project for schools, funded by John Lyon’s Charity. She was recently commended by SWGfL for her innovative approach to e-safety, which pioneered Ealing’s innovatived CyberMentor Programme for schools, publishing her research in an academic article in the Journal of Assistive Technologies. Mubina is currently on secondment with Ealing Council as their ‘Preventing Extremism in Schools Advisor’.