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Practical advice on how to achieve a safer internet

Jo Corrigan, SSAT Head of Primary Networks and an expert on online safety, investigates the challenges and opportunities presented by online technology – and how Safer Internet Day can help drive initiatives and improvements in schools…

In the past decade, the amount of time that British children spend online has more than doubled: in 2005, 8-15 year olds went online 6.2 hours per week; in 2015, the average was 15 hours. How, and at what ages, children go online has also shifted.

Safer Internet Day (SID) is now celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide. The aim of this annual event is to raise awareness of emerging online issues: this year, on Tuesday 7 February, people from around the world will join together to ’be the change: unite for a better internet.’

The SID theme for 2017 enables schools and communities to work together to ensure that children and young people are empowered to explore the many opportunities for education and fun – but in a way that is safe and appropriate. In order to do this, we must strive to identify ways that are both engaging and show high impact.

Seeking opportunities for education and fun – but in a way that is safe and appropriate

We need to understand what activities children and young people are engaging with online, in order to respond to their natural risk-taking behaviours.

The Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (August 2016) includes numerous references to the responsibilities placed on a school in relation to safeguarding, specifically online safety. Inspectors make judgements about online safety in many areas of their evaluation schedule. The grade descriptors make reference to: school culture, active promotion of pupil welfare, pupils feeling safe, staff training, multi-agency working, pupil voice, prevention of bullying, and pupils’ understanding of the dangers associated with online technology.

Empowering pupils to help each other

Henry Platten is the founder of multi award-winning eCadets, the UK’s first structured eSafety scheme, which empowers pupils to help their classmates with eSafety through ongoing internet and social media safety training for 3-18 year olds. He understands the pressures placed on schools to ‘teach’ children online safety.

He recognises that schools cannot do this on their own, for a variety of reasons:

Pressures of time
Time (the lack of it) is a significant factor in any school. There are continual calls for schools to do better. We don’t necessarily disagree with that: it isn’t about doing more, it’s about doing better. That isn’t to suggest that schools are doing a poor job, because in our experience they aren’t. It’s suggesting that technology is moving forward at an incredibly fast rate, so our understanding of the use of that technology and the ways in which behaviours can change as a result isn’t always up to speed.

Knowledge and experience
‘Digital natives’ is such an outdated phrase. We all use technology in one way or another, but comfort level in the use of particular technologies is important. “I don’t understand technology” and “I don’t do social media” are common statements among parents, yet to understand what children and young people are doing online we have to be a part of that. To understand their lives we have to be in their lives. Behaviour isn’t changing, it’s evolving.

Parental/community engagement
Engaging outside the boundaries of the school can be challenging, yet it is one of the most important aspects. Schools are finding themselves dealing with an increasing amount of behavioural issues that are happening, or initiated, outside the control of the school. A significant number of these issues could be dealt with relatively easily at home, but this brings us back to the knowledge and experience aspect.

A guiding hand for the community

The principles of safe and appropriate use must be understood and mirrored by others.

In order to achieve that, and to try and reduce some of the burden that is placed upon schools, we need to provide a guiding hand in order to raise awareness among others in the community. For example, one eCadet school set up community online safety briefings at the local library, and Barclays bank. During the session at the bank, following on from the training they received through the eCadet programme on phishing, staff explained how it happens to customers and prepared information leaflets to help them stay safe.

Digital safety isn’t about technology, it’s about behaviour

Peer leadership increases levels of engagement significantly, as pupils and school staff work together. This is the fundamental drive of the eCadet scheme, which has led to:

  • more engaged parents, carers and other members of the community
  • more pupil engagement, responding to their needs as well as the safeguarding aspects, and building on prior knowledge
  • higher impact in terms of long-term positive behaviour change (which has been measurable, so satisfying the needs of inspections)
  • reduced workload for teachers, in terms of planning and hunting for new resources.

Suggestions for schools

Henry Platten offers some suggestions for embedding successful online safety in school:

  • Tailoring the curriculum: to take into account activities of children and young people, newer technologies etc, but especially those children who may be more vulnerable or who may lack prior knowledge. While the Computing curriculum allows schools to embed a small amount of online safety, the PSHE aspects are considerably more important. This isn’t about technology, it’s about behaviour.
  • Peer-led groups: we know that some children find it difficult to approach adults with concerns, but will talk to their peers. Equally, we know that more adults will get involved if the children are in the ‘leadership’ role. To find out more about the UK’s leading programme, visit the eCadets website.
  • Whole-school staff training: it is vital that all staff, not just teachers, have a good baseline understanding of the opportunities available online, and the risks that come as part of those opportunities. A child can make a disclosure to any member of staff; equally, any member of staff can overhear a conversation or see a change in behaviour. School staff should also lead by example, protecting their own professional identify online.
  • Technology that is used as a risk mitigator in school, eg effective filters and appropriate monitoring.
  • Tailored school policy which backs up and standardises what you are doing in school so that your boundaries of use, processes and procedures are clear to all.
  • Parent and community engagement: allowing for a flow of communication so that everybody is working together for the benefit of the child.
  • Safe social media: providing children with the opportunity to develop skills in a safe environment. GoBubble.School is a free safe social network for schools and under-13s.

Schools can get involved in Safer Internet Day by visiting the official UK website, which hosts a wealth of resources empowering young people, their teachers and their families to make the best possible use of online technology. It is a space where leaders in the internet safety community can communicate with the public and exchange ideas, knowledge and experience.

“We will be calling on everyone to do something to make a positive difference online, whether they are a young person, parent, carer, grandparent, school, police service, local authority, policymaker, tech company, regulator, health professional, social worker, youth worker, or wider – we all have a role to play. Together we can ‘be the change’.”
UK Safer Internet Centre

Let’s all work together, and unite for a better internet.


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