Children and young people have never known a world without the internet. They are prolific users of social networking, gaming, instant messaging and other platforms, moving seamlessly from the physical to the virtual world. Therefore online safety is a knowledge that is worth having.
But as new technologies continue to explode onto the market, the need for schools to protect their pupils becomes more and more urgent. Sexting, cyberbullying, online grooming, pornography and harmful websites about anorexia or suicide are just some of the issues faced by schools on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, access to technology is becoming increasingly more mobile and is happening at an ever earlier age, with 18% of 8 to 11 year olds and 62% of 12 to 15 year olds owning a smartphone. The use of tablet computers at home has tripled among 5 to 15 year olds since 2012.
In light of these developments, safeguarding is becoming ever more important to schools. In addition, Ofsted places a high priority on safeguarding within its inspection framework, including internet safety and measures for identifying bullying and abuse. It is keen to ensure that schools protect and educate both students and staff in their use of technology, as well as have intervention and support policies in place should an incident occur.
Here are our top 10 tips for keeping children safe, which include Ofsted’s key features of good and outstanding practice.
- Create computer and device safety policies and procedures that are endorsed by the governors, staff and parents. Update the policies regularly and integrate them with other relevant policies such as behaviour and anti-bullying.
- Ensure there is a shared responsibility for the safe use of technology throughout the school that includes the leadership team, teachers and other members of staff.
- Teach children about e-safety on a regular basis so that they are better able to retain the information: holding one session a year won’t achieve this. Ideally, e-safety learning should be integrated across the curriculum and discussed regularly at home with parents.
- Provide training to school staff to improve their knowledge of and expertise in the safe and appropriate use of new technologies.
- Work closely with parents so they too understand how to help their children use technology responsibly. Give parents resources like handbooks or training workshops so they can discuss e-safety knowledgeably with their kids.
- Respond appropriately when things go wrong. This might mean holding an awareness-raising assembly, a classroom discussion or speaking to a child on a one-to-one basis. It may also entail involving other agencies (such as the police).
- Where possible, give pupils access to and knowledge of up-to-date information on sources of help. This includes local and national helplines and community organisations like FRANK for drugs, BulliesOut for bullying or BEAT for eating disorders.
- Discuss your school’s policies with partners and other education providers to ensure that pupils who receive part of their education away from school are safe.
- Use a monitoring tool like Securus, which goes beyond simply blocking and filtering, and alerts schools to threats. In schools that use blocking, the child will simply not be able to access a harmful site, but crucially staff will be unaware of the attempt and will be unable to intervene. Securus, which is effective both online and offline, protects pupils from cyberbullying, online grooming, explicit images, racism and harmful websites, among other threats. It applies across a school’s whole network, including laptops and mobile devices, and is effective across all programmes used by the school.
Schools should be at the forefront of ensuring that every pupil is able to achieve their full potential in a safe, welcoming environment. The good news for schools is that there is a no need to deal with these challenges in isolation: a great deal of support is available, enabling schools to share best practice and to improve understanding through training and other activities. We need to invest the same level of energy in keeping young people safe online as we do when they’re offline.
Teresa Hughes is a child protection consultant and General Manager at Securus Software www.securus-software.com