This article covers:
- Online Safety: what can I expect from my school?
- How important is online safety to the school?
- How can I alert the school to issues?
- Are staff up to speed with this?
- Does the school include online safety as part of the curriculum?
- Does the school support parents with online safety?
- How can they get further help for me?
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Sexting? Addiction? Gaming? Cyberbullying? Grooming? There doesn’t seem a day goes by when the media headlines doesn’t draw panicked attention to the risks young people face in the online world they seem to inhabit with such disdain and immersion. And as parents, we feel entitled to become worried.
If you’re one of those adults who are not comfortable with the intricacies of technology, smartphones, social media and the rest, then continuing to parent your child in these spaces can seem a daunting task. Where can you get help and support? Who can you speak with? Where can you expect to get the best advice from somebody who knows your child? Your best route may just be your child’s school writes Ken Corish, Online Safety Manager for South West Grid for Learning and UK Safer Internet Centre.
For any school, safeguarding is an important aspect of their work and, increasingly, how they build online safety into their broader safeguarding commitment. Since September 2012, schools in England are accountable to Ofsted for their capacity to safeguard pupils in the areas of e-safety and cyberbullying, part of the inspection criteria referencing behaviour. Other inspectorates such as Estyn, ETI in Northern Ireland and the Independent School Inspectorate indicate a move in the same direction. Given that online safety issues know no physical boundaries, these criteria also include the capacity to support incidents that extend beyond the school gate and the school day, as one would expect if something were impacting on the safety and well-being of a child.
This has seen an increased focus by schools to ensure these factors are consistent with their approach to safeguarding and many schools rise to the challenge. So what are the indicators of a school that is good or outstanding at online safety? What are the questions you might ask when choosing your child’s next school or indeed of their existing school?
How important is online safety to the school?
Schools that excel in this area thread online safety into their existing culture and this aspect is referenced regularly in a whole raft of communications. These may include:
- School’s website that may include a published e-safety policy or an online safety page
- Newsletters to parents
- Ofsted reports referencing online safety
- Governors’ meetings minutes that may reference the safeguarding governor’s role that includes online safety
- School prospectus
- School registered with an online safety scheme e.g. Diana Award AntiBullying Ambassadors or eCadets
- Do they contribute to Safer Internet Day in any way?
- Accreditation eg SWGfL 360 E-Safety Mark
How can I alert the school to issues?
School’s know that they can only be effective in safeguarding children if the right lines of intelligence come to them in order to respond. Schools therefore are encouraged to develop effective reporting routes for that to happen and in the case of online issues these are many and varied.
- Clearly nominated staff to report to. This could be an online safety leader, child protection officer or indeed the Headteacher. One useful lead is the Computing Leader who may have a wider informed view of these issues from a technical viewpoint.
- Class teacher who may be able to escalate your concern to one of the above
- Report abuse button or link. Some schools have these on their websites some of which may allow you to raise your concerns anonymously in the first instance; SWGfL Whisper is an example of a reporting route that also includes an SMS service for you to contact the school. These reports should route through to the right designated person.
- Parent Support Adviser or Pastoral support
Are staff up to speed with this?
School staff are only going to be effective in dealing with online issues if they have been empowered to do so, which means effective and regular staff development as part of their wider safeguarding training.
Look for evidence that staff have had such training by exploring:
- Staff development mentioned in parental newsletters and website information
- Key staff trained in these areas e.g. safeguarding governor, Computing Lead; child protection officer
- Accreditation on school site e.g. CEOP ambassador training; UK Safer Internet Centre Training; 360 E-Safety Mark
Does the school include online safety as part of the curriculum?
Education is key to building resilience in children and young people; allowing them the knowledge and understanding of how online technology impact can impact on their lives and how to develop key strategies to avoid risk becoming harm. This has to be more than just the odd assembly or safety week, although that is a start.
Explore whether the school;
- Has a digital literacy or citizenship curriculum that includes aspects of online safety? This is not always delivered through Computing lessons but may be part of the PHSE programme. A well-planned programme has scope and sequence that runs through either a key stage or the whole school. It should cover some or all of these areas:
- Online privacy
- Online Security
- Internet Safety
- Plagiarism and copyright
- Online relationships
One such free scheme that runs from foundation stage through to KS4 is the SWGfL / Common Sense Media scheme which not only covers all of these areas but provides a whole slew of additional resources for schools to use.
- Does your child bring work home connected with online safety?
- Is it discussed in reports or at parent’s evening?
- Are there examples of pupils’ work in classrooms, around the school or on the school website?
Does the school support parents with online safety?
Getting parents onside with these initiatives is often a difficult “sell” for a school. Very often many will only see these areas as important once a significant incident occurs. What does your school do to help empower parents to engage with this in a way that is useful, effective and strengthens partnerships with the school?
- Hold specific parent events where online safety is the focus?
- Attract outside speakers to present to parents?
- Provide parent workshops to build their own skills in dealing with issues?
- Build-in online safety education for parents when running a mobile device initiative or providing students with iPads?
- Have online safety information sections in newsletters?
- Involve parents in shaping the school online safety strategy?
How can they get further help for me?
Whilst we can’t expect schools to take on the full brunt of everything that happens to children online, if they aren’t empowered themselves to ameliorate an issue, you should expect them to signpost you to the relevant sources of information.
One important route that schools have access to for free is the Professional Online Safety Helpline run by the UK Safer Internet Centre. This service is aimed squarely at supporting schools not only in solving issues when staff are targeted, but also to support families having difficulty with incidents particularly social media. The Helpline has direct hotlines through to key services like Facebook, Twitter, Ask.fm, Snapchat and Instagram and are very effective in having offensive content removed. Ask whether your school knows about this and whether it is one of their escalation routes.
Other services may be:
- Links with local police
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre
- Links with safeguarding officers in your local authority
- Contact details for advice services like Childline, NSPCC, Revenge Porn Helpline, UK Safer Internet Centre, Internet Matters, Parentzone, Radicalisation and Extremism Reporting Line.
It is fair to say that these areas are new in terms of the issues raised, often complicated by the fact that technology constantly evolves and so do the issues. Most schools are on a journey in meeting these aspects of their safeguarding strategy, hastened by the renewed focus by school inspectorates.
Parents are the keystone to a school’s success in implementing this effectively. you provide the consistency in ensuring that the messages schools give about online safety continue to be followed at home.
Supporting your school and maintaining its focus on this aspect of children’ lives, not only creates a better school climate for online safety but also ensures the right services are there in place if and when you need them for your child.
You never know… it could be a smart investment.