eSafety is now a top priority for Ofsted. In this fantastic article, Adam Welch tells you everything you need to know to get your school up to speed with eSafety.
When Ofsted released an ‘Inspecting eSafety in Schools’ briefing document in 2012 it became clear that the matter had been recognised by the inspectorate as an important part of student’s well being and education. Through consultation with outside agencies the document gave advice on both good and poor practice.
The briefing was updated in April 2014 but unfortunately removed in September 2014 when eSafety was brought under the heading of Safeguarding. An understandable move, but sadly much of the advice was lost. This is an attempt to redistribute some of the key points.
Who is your school’s eSafety Officer?
Schools should appoint a designated person to become their dedicated eSafety Officer. This person may already be part of the safeguarding team or be additional to it. The most common candidates are either the schools Designated Child Protection Officer, the ICT Coordinator or Head of Department. The person should really be a senior leader within school due to the requirements of the role.
It is often suggested that the eSafety Officer does not need to be a person with a good technical knowledge, and in the main this is true. The eSafety Officer may need to work closely with technical staff, suppliers or other outside agencies so basic knowledge of web technologies and social networking norms are a welcome asset. Most importantly the individual needs to understand the benefits and pitfalls of using technology in a connected world and be willing to try new things.
Developing an eSafety Policy
The Designated eSafety Officer will be instrumental in the development and implementation of an eSafety policy. This policy can be integrated into an acceptable user policy or a behaviour policy, however, it does need to be adapted in reaction to new developments and must be reviewed at least annually. The policy needs to compliment (and probably make reference to) your existing safeguarding, behaviour and bullying policies.
I believe policies should be created in collaboration with all parties who are bound by its clauses. One of the eSafety Officers first priorities should be to create a working party of suitable governors, staff and young people (why not parents too) to create a workable document which can be understood by all. I have found young people respond better to guidelines and boundaries which they have been involved in setting the limits.
The policy will need to cover some basics. It obviously needs to highlight the boundaries where actions become unacceptable. You may or may not need to explain if this is different for personal equipment rather than school owned devices. You’ll need to document who the policy covers, who has written it, when it was written and when it will be reviewed.
The policy should be device agnostic wherever possible and should be written in a way to account for new and existing technologies. Use generic terms such as social media, direct messaging, sharing information etc. rather than try to cover specific application terms or websites.
You may also wish to include a workflow or template incident form to ensure end users are aware of the procedure if an investigation needs to be completed within the scope of the policy.
Get your staff and students up to speed
It is all very well having a designated individual and a well written policy but all staff and governors need to understand what an eSafety risk looks like. Training of staff needs to be regular and progressive.
There are many demands on staff training time but unfortunately a yearly five minute slot is not going to be enough. Although there are common themes which continue over time, this area can change rapidly. The eSafety officer needs to be highlighting new trends and research to the whole staffing body. I’d suggest at least every half term, if not monthly.
The training should be reviewed and audited regularly. Have incidents of a particular type reduced after a whole staff training session on the subject, or in fact has their been an increase in staff recognising the issue with their students? Documenting the training and it’s impact will be hugely beneficial at inspection time.
eSafety across the curriculum
eSafety isn’t a technology issue, it’s a behaviour issue. We can not leave the education solely to the ICT department. Equally, a whole school assembly each year on Safer Internet Day won’t suffice either. Whether the geography department is setting a research task for home work or the english department are booking an trolley of laptops to write blog posts those tasks need guidance.
There are hundreds of ways that other departments can get involved in a whole school focus on eSafety. For example Drama could perform a short play around cyberbullying. Maths can analyse sharing statistics of a post. Media students could create a youtube video. ICT can create an eSafety mini site for the school website.
The education needs to be progressive much like staff training, but for pupils it also needs to be age appropriate. The youngest students require the basics to keep them safe – don’t trust everything you read, people may not always be who they say they are. A little older and we need to think about how their posts can affect others. Moving on we need to instill that content posted today could cause problems later in life.
Push the positives!
Unfortunately students often start to disengage with the curriculum if it is all doom and gloom – understandably I think. Technology is generally a hugely positive influence in all our lives and should be celebrated.
A good online reputation can help students reach their goals. There are countless examples of students using digital technologies with fabulous results. Students can publish their content to a huge audience in seconds, stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders in their field, collaborate on a global project, question politicians or even start a business from a device which fits in their hand.
Reporting eSafety abuses
Young people will test boundaries and can put themselves in a risky position. This is an important part of development and builds resilience, however on occasion it can develop further into a real risk of harm. Schools should provide a clear and easily accessible reporting mechanism for these incidents.
A simple online form which contacts the eSafety Officer is possibly the simplest way of implementing this, however there are some more advanced products available at very little cost which help with this issue. Boost from the South West Grid for Learning is a completely anonymous reporting tool which is worth considering.
Many schools add the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) button on their website or VLE. Although this is a good step, it is worth noting that this button should only be used in the event of child exploitation and not for bullying incidents or minors viewing unsuitable but legal content.
Block Less, Monitor More
Once your staff are trained, and your students are receiving a well structured eSafety curriculum and know how to report issues you can start to think about how you are managing risk.
The Byron review in 2007 found that students in schools with ‘managed’ systems had better knowledge and understanding of how to use technology safely, where as students of ‘locked down’ systems were more vulnerable overall as they were unable to detect and manage risk for themselves.
A well monitored internet connection gives schools the ability to highlight students taking risks earlier and gives an opportunity to intervene if necessary. A web filter should filter age inappropriate content and those levels should change with age, but blocking everything that is questionable or worse is no longer seen as a suitable solution.
Filtering is a useful tool to help keep students on task, but monitoring their use will help keep them safe. Speak with your IT support department, internet supplier or filtering company to ensure you’re getting the information you need.
The eSafety education students receive should help them become better digital citizens, but that responsibility goes beyond the school gates. Schools need to ensure that students are safer on handheld devices as well as computers and game consoles in their own home.
Parents and carers will provide the connections and devices to students with good intention, however often they too need supporting by the school. Schools are ideally situated to inform parents on the current trends and risks.
It can be difficult to attract large numbers of parents to an eSafety event in school, so getting students to create the content can help. Tagging a short session onto another parent meeting or event can also be a way to guarantee a captive audience.
The reputation of the school, its staff and increasingly students can affect the smooth operations of a school and be a distraction for learners. Ofsted recognise this fact and are looking in further detail at the online reputation of the school. Previously inspectors would only take interest in Parent View. More recently there is a suggestion that they now google the school name to see what comes up, they may even venture onto social networks.
Schools should try to keep up-to-date with their online reputation and try to learn from feedback, even if it is not directly reported. Schools may also wish to publish and invite comment on more positive school news to help build a positive online reputation.
It’s worth setting up a google alert with the school name to help monitor new mentions on the web.
The South West Grid for Learning have created an excellent self review tool for schools called ‘360 Degree Safe’. It allows schools to ensure they have implemented the basic requirement of eSafety provision, and encourages exceptional practice. Self assessment is free and there is a huge list of resources and guidance for schools wishing to improve their provision. This year the tool won the BETT Award for Leadership and Management.
Share your school’s eSafety policy
An eSafety policy should be a continually evolving document. Share your eSafety ideas in the comments below and get Adam’s professional opinion on developing your own.
For more eSafety advice visit Adam’s website at AdamWelch.com.