This is the first of three guest posts from Matt Lovegrove, an independent online safety trainer, speaker, and practicing teacher.
Matt has used BrainPOP in his teaching for many years and we invited him to share his thoughts, experience, and insights on this important topic with you all.
Online safety is big at the moment.
Schools are now required to ensure that ALL staff are actively involved in teaching students to use technology safely and responsibly.
Technicians are asked to provide and manage ever more complex blocking, filtering, and monitoring tools.
But everything moves so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Seemingly every week a new app, trend, meme, or game makes an appearance and it’s back to the drawing board.
This leaves teaching staff and parents feeling lost. How can they possibly keep up with the apps and websites their children are using?
So fundamentally, what is online safety, and who’s responsible for it?
E-safety (now referred to by Ofsted as ‘online safety’) has been about for a long time, but recently its status in society has been raised.
This is in response to children getting into trouble on the Internet and the headlines this generates. They may be communicating with strangers, accessing or making inappropriate material, being bullied (or bullying), playing games that include themes that aren’t age appropriate, and more.
We know that this happens, but at the same time we mustn’t forget just how brilliant technology is and how it can improve the way we live.
Take ownership of the problem
We, as adults, need to embrace and understand the technology that children are using and help support them to use it safely.
Yes, we need to safeguard, but ultimately we should all be aiming to empower young people to use technology responsibly by themselves, and being there for them to lean on when they need a hand.
The role of parents
Parents need to do their part to help their children to use the Internet properly, much like they explain crossing the road safely or not talking to strangers.
Dr Tanya Byron, in her 2008 report on new technologies and risks ‘Safer children in a digital world’, put it perfectly with this analogy…
“Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.”
Children will benefit massively from having parents who are there to support them ‘swim the depths’ of the Internet.
- Answer questions or concerns on the spot
- Model responsible communication
- Help your kids build a healthy level of scepticism!
These 3 behaviours will greatly help children be successful independent users of technology.
Develop a culture of online safety education at school
Teachers have a duty to educate students about online benefits and risks.
To do this, teachers first need to have a good understanding of the ways that young people communicate and share online. The problem is that many teachers feel out of touch with technology; some are even afraid of it.
A simple session working with students, observing the apps they use and how they work, would help enormously. Ofsted’s 2015 online safety research noted “The involvement of the wider school community in writing online safety policies remains low”.
Try to change this. Involve a cross section of the school community in building policies and delivering training.
Most young people would enjoy sharing their online world with their teachers if they felt that the “grown ups” had a genuine desire to listen and learn.
Get support from your techies!
Technical staff have traditionally been given the responsibility to make sure there are appropriate safeguards built into the new technologies.
There is, and always will be, a place for online safety management tools.
Beyond the tech, things like allowing personal information to be hidden, having an easy to use reporting system, and having real people moderating content will greatly help children use online services safely.
So who IS responsible?
This is an issue that can’t be tackled by one person in a school, or pushed to the side as a pastoral issue. The buck can’t be passed to the technical staff or ICT coordinator to add increasingly burdensome (and expensive!) software and infrastructure.
The bottom line is a responsible online safety culture owned by the whole school community is the most effective way to establish real and long term online safety for children.
The best online safety isn’t about scaremongering and lists of rules that begin with ‘don’t’.
It’s about giving everyone the tools, the knowledge, and the understanding to use technology positively and tackle any associated issues and risks confidently.
If we ALL take online safety seriously, we can ALL make a difference to young people’s lives.
In my next post I’ll be looking at practical ways schools can start to build that culture.
Matt Lovegrove is an independent eSafety trainer, speaker, and practicing teacher. If you need training or support for your school, please get in touch with Engage eSafety.