Author: Alan Mackenzie, e-safety adviser

Following on from our last post on the updated Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) statutory guidance, in this month’s blog we look at how schools can manage online safety strategically with the aid of a dedicated group of individuals with different, but related, areas of expertise. This breadth of knowledge will give your school a sound basis from which to manage and monitor eSafety – and is explained further in the accompanying video. 

Firstly though, let’s consider all the different areas where we need such expertise. We know that online safety in the context of being managed encompasses far more than just safeguarding. That’s the priority and always will be, but there are many areas to think about when using a ‘whole school approach’ or ‘whole school ownership’ [[READ_MORE]]

  • Behaviour that has an online aspect;
  • Curriculum;
  • Technology being used in the school;
  • Parental engagement;
  • High quality leadership and management, policy and governance.

Behaviour

Can technology influence certain online behaviour? Many would say yes, and I would agree. Technology such as social media can have a hugely positive effect to raise awareness of issues quickly and freely, but it can also have the opposite effect of spreading myths and misunderstandings that are taken completely out of context – as well as the negative effect of influencing certain behaviours.

The discipline of cyberpsychology is young and very much in its infancy, but already we’re seeing fascinating, compelling studies that are giving us a much greater understanding of why certain things happen online that wouldn’t happen offline. But with that said, we’ve got to be really critical about what we’re reading. For example, last week on my Twitter feed I saw a link to a new study that shows a significantly negative effect that social media has on our lives. A few tweets above it was a link to a new study showing the significantly positive effects that social media has on our lives. Not particularly helpful! We’ve still got so much more to learn.

For the moment, these types of studies are not hugely beneficial to what you do; you’re having to deal with the real issues connected to online behaviour and the fallout that sometimes comes with it. The majority of incidents you will be seeing or hearing about will be happening outside school, but having a knock-on effect in school. Much of this will be low level, but we also know there can be resulting behaviour that is disruptive, or potentially serious child protection issues.

E-safety in the Curriculum

We need to take into account curriculum aspects in a way that really engages the students; that empowers them and builds on prior knowledge and also identifies any gaps in knowledge or particular vulnerabilities – or, as Ofsted refers to it, “an embedded and progressive education”.

None of that is rocket science (you already know that), but a lot of the messages I hear are outdated. They may have been correct a few years ago when we had less of an understanding, but this is a fast and evolving area. Messages and ‘rules’ such as, “Don’t talk to strangers,” and “Don’t share personal information,” are not useful; they have no depth or context and don’t help students to make a responsible judgement. 

Students want information that will support and guide them; if we’re constantly telling them about all the bad things about their online lives with hard-hitting videos and negativity, then all we’re doing is creating a barrier. 

Technology – IT support 

Deciding what technology should be used in school for curriculum and administrative purposes is an important consideration. For example, do you allow mobile phones? Perhaps you’re considering implementing a BYOD (bring your own device) policy? And then there’s the technology that is used to mitigate risk (such as your internet filter) or whether you have a monitoring solution (such as NetSupport DNA). 

Young people are natural risk-takers; that’s a natural part of their development. They’re more likely to disclose information online that they wouldn’t in real life (disinhibition), they’re more likely to be more adventurous in what they are doing, where they’re going and sometimes who they’re talking to. There’s a pretty good possibility that some of this behaviour is happening over the school network, so it’s important that we have the appropriate tools in place to detect and report any issues which the IT team can then highlight in the e-safety group. Historically, the internet filter has been the technology of choice, but the internet is only a small aspect of what devices are being used for, so it’s important that we are able to monitor other functions of these devices. And remember: whilst it’s understandable to concentrate on risk-taking activities by students, we shouldn’t forget the staff too.  

Parental Engagement 

We know that one of the most important aspects is parental engagement, yet we also know how difficult and frustrating this can sometimes be. Most frustrating of all, is the fact that the parents you really want and need to engage with are the very ones that won’t respond. This puts added pressure on you; you’re having to deal with students’ behavioural issues, sometimes with little backup and support from parents. Questionable media reporting adds to this pressure by constantly pointing the finger at schools and asking why they aren’t doing more in regards to the latest high-profile risk; yet significant in their absence are questions about what parents are doing. Incorporating parents within your e-safety group will help open up a dialog to engage with them, whilst providing a community voice ensuring advice and initiatives are spread far and wide in the community. 

High Quality Leadership and Management

From the statutory aspects of safeguarding, policy, governance, broad and balanced curriculum and so much more, it can become overwhelming very quickly. I’m sure all of this isn’t anything new to anyone, but when you see it written down (and this is just scraping the surface), there is a considerable amount to manage. It’s clear that you can’t do everything by yourself – it’s impossible. There’s a good chance that being the e-safety lead is one of many hats that you already wear, and there is simply no way for you to know everything about everything. My advice is that you manage e-safety, rather than do it all by yourself. You can provide an oversight on safeguarding activities and, by working with senior and middle leaders and other members of the group, can start to interpret activity and trends.

To find out more about establishing eSafety groups including who should be in it and their responsibilities, click here to watch the video.

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