Simon Carter, Marketing and Propositions Director at RM Education, offers advice on how teachers and parents can safeguard children when using the internet
Millions of us use the internet every day. From online shopping to binging Netflix, the internet has become as integral a service in the family home as the landline telephone (if anyone remembers those) or television. But the more the internet’s impact on everyday life grows, the harder it becomes for the powers that be to police it and – trickier still – for the rest of us to stay safe online.
Millennials and Generation Z are often assumed to be digital natives – dab hands at navigating all things World Wide Web. The problem is that while those young people have grown up online, they are likely no more schooled in protecting themselves online than their parents, which is why more than a quarter of children worry about cyber bullying when they go online.
Schools are under increasing pressure to fill that knowledge gap for students, but a huge challenge can be knowing where to access trusted information and guidance in the first place. In honour of Safer Internet Day, here are our top tips for schools looking to safeguard children online – both in the classroom and at home.
Be proactive, not reactive
As is typical of any organisation, online safety is never a greater priority for schools than it is in the days after an incident. While online safety is always on the agenda, schools are busy places with a lot going on every day. It’s understandable that focus sometimes shifts elsewhere. But herein lies the problem –when schools are reacting to a situation under pressure like this, poor decisions tend to be made about best practices and next steps.
What’s more, it can fall to the Senior Leadership Team to find answers instead of the IT department – which means relying on internet searches and possibly using resources that aren’t right for the school. Investing in the wrong tools short term is a false economy where the school will be forced to pay out on the right ones further down the line.
The first port of call for any school, then, is to find a reputable and reliable source of advice and guidance (such as the UK Safer Internet Centre) before an incident takes place.
The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership between three leading online safety organisations – SWGfL, Childnet International and the Internet Watch Foundation – which provides tools schools can use to evaluate their existing online safety approach, as well as train their staff, pupils and even parents to help them to be safe online.
It’s a team endeavour
What comes next is crucial: Schools must recognise that all staff and students need to understand and be involved in its online safety approach. That starts with facilitating a conversation across the whole school. After all, this is not a job for one person and it requires the input and involvement of everyone from students to teachers, governors and the IT staff.
Only then will you have a comprehensive view of the potential threats posed and a consistent understanding across the school of how to address those threats, and then act in to prevent against an incident. Students should be encouraged to consider what constitutes a “threat” and then have the opportunity to feed that information into the online safety policies. This is fundamental to identifying important risks and threats that parents and teachers might not otherwise be aware of.
It’s a balancing act
Online technology in education is evolving. With cloud-based applications, social media and great online educational resources all becoming commonplace in the classroom, the lines have become blurred between home, school and personal devices and how each should be used. While it offers students and teachers flexibility when it comes to schoolwork, it can also mean that staff and students are increasingly exposed to online threats. The challenge for both schools and parents, then, is to deliver a safe online experience without having a negative impact on the educational experience.
After all, while safeguarding children is obviously the priority for schools and parents alike, so too is delivering a rich and engaging curriculum enabled by technology. After all, it’s more important than ever before that students build resilience online so that they can become effective and diligent digital citizens – and that ultimately means they need exposure to risk. The right balance will vary depending on the nature of the school, its students and its educational focus, but once that’s established, implementing online safety policies is much simpler.
Review and evolve
A recent RM Education study, undertaken in association with the NSPCC to review the online safety practices in UK maintained schools, found that very few are confident in their abilities to deal with online incidents. In fact, there are significant inconsistencies when it comes to which schools understand what online threats, how online safety is managed, or even how individuals should respond to serious incidents.
It’s no surprise that this is the case given that online threats are constantly evolving – so it’s essential that online safety policies and processes are regularly reviewed and evolve with them. Review cycles need to be regular and designed to define and then deliver specific actions. Parents, staff and students should all have the opportunity to feed into this review process.
While the challenge of online safety can seem overwhelming at first, schools are clearly working harder than ever before to do the right things to ensure the online safety of their students and staff. To make sure this work leads to a thorough, effective, and end-to-end online safety approach, schools must clearly articulate policy, process and action so that everyone – at home and in the classroom – can play their part in keeping young people safe online.