Safer Internet Day has been an important component of the safeguarding calendar since its inception over 10 years ago and over that time has provided an annual focus for schools, agencies, children, young people and families to consider the risks and issues that face our use of online technology. Organised in the UK by the UK Safer Internet Centre in February of each year, Safer Internet Day 2014 (SID2014) will take place across Europe and the US on Tuesday 11th February and this year sees a subtle yet significant shift from the paradigm of a “safer internet” to a “better internet”. This re-alignment not only recognises that most people’s experience with online technology is both positive and empowering, but also to sustain that positive experience requires competence, resilience and contribution from the user.
Achieving that particular skillset and attitude doesn’t happen by accident. It is worth reminding ourselves that most of the behaviours and ethics young people have developed and adopted around online technologies have done so with very little pedagogical shaping or intervention; unusual when we consider how involved we are as a society with shaping our children’s global education.
With SID 2014 on the horizon, perhaps now is a good time to look ahead to the next academic year and reflect on how your school is helping create a better internet for young people.
This article covers:
- A Perfect Storm
- Stepping up to the plate
- Strongest aspects are:
- Weakest aspects are:
- Features of outstanding online safety in a school are:
- Features of inadequate practice are:
- The new 2014 National Curriculum for Computing also references the broader requirements for digital literacy and citizenship:
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A Perfect Storm
Summer 2013 saw a series of events that were not only shocking in their own right but together catalysed the nation’s focus on online technologies and the potential they have for propagating risk that, in these cases, led to significant harm.
The attacks on Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasey on Twitter and successful prosecution of Isabella Sorley and John Nimmon in July raised the public awareness of “trolling” and that there could be very real and clear consequences of breaking the law in that way. However, this was overshadowed by the tragic suicides of Hannah Smith and Daniel Perry attributed to cyberbullying and online blackmailing respectively in July and August. When the high profile trials of April Jones’ murderer Mark Bridger and Tia Sharp’s killer Stuart Hazell established that both men had regularly accessed images of child sexual abuse, the government and industry were pressured to respond.
July 22nd saw the statement from the Prime Minister David Cameron “the time for action has come … the proliferation of child abuse images online ….I am absolutely clear that the state has a vital role to play …when it comes to internet pornography parents have been very much left on their own. I am determined to put that right.”
Internet Service Providers were pressured by government to provide internet level parental filtering controls, “on by default” with consumers having to make an “active choice” to switch them off: even the mighty Google bowed to pressure from UK government to filter over 100 thousand search terms related to images of child sexual abuse through the Google web search engine.
From the eye of this “perfect storm” it becomes difficult to see the positive aspects of what is a truly remarkable human resource; the online environment and its community. The internet. And so this makes SID 2014’s message one the most important yet in it’s short history.
“Safe” seems to have connotations of blocking, monitoring, filtering, fencing, limiting, controlling …. and through those limitations has always seemed a “hard sell” particularly to children and young people.
“Better” however is about how we can shape our own engagement with the online environment and technology to meet our needs, those of our peers and society in general. It’s enabling, empowering, contributing and above all positive. It acknowledges that whilst most of the internet and the people in it are good as with any other environment, either physical or virtual, you need to prepare for the risk that can migrate to harm.
Stepping up to the plate
Why is it important for a school to use SID 2014 as a springboard to re-assess how it engages with online safety as part of its wider safeguarding obligations and what are the drivers for needing to do so?
Schools have made significant improvements over the last five years in physical safeguarding particularly in policies, procedures, reporting and monitoring. A new focus however is beginning to include those issues that occur “beyond the school gate” that impact on the well-being of a child. Whilst no one can expect a school to be responsible for all of society’s ills, one thing that Climbie taught us is that schools and other agencies should be empowered to identify, respond to, communicate, ameliorate or escalate child protection issues. Where technology is involved these very often do not have the same rigour as those in place around physical safeguarding concerns.
South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) is a lead partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre and the creator of the Online Safety Self Review Tool 360 Degree Safe currently used by over four thousand schools. Using anonymised data from the tool, Professor Andy Phippen of Plymouth University has drafted an annual report that allows a unique insight into how schools rate their own engagement with online safety. Given it is a self-review, it provides an honest evaluation of school performance.
Strongest aspects are:
Provision of signed Acceptable Use Policies
Managing digital and video images
Weakest aspects are:
Wider community engagement and awareness raising
Monitoring the impact of the e-safety policy and practice
The report concludes that ‘Staff training’ remains consistently one of the weakest areas; given that staff are at the frontline of the delivery of effective online safety education in schools, this is clearly cause for serious concern.
September 2012 saw the introduction of e-safety as an additional component of the “behaviour and safety” and “outstanding leadership” descriptors in Ofsted inspection schedules giving schools a further lever to act. The UK Safer Internet Centre worked closely with Ofsted to assist with drafting “Inspecting Esafety” the inspection briefing sheets which give a rigorous insight into the sorts of questions inspectors may ask and why; also the indicators of outstanding and inadequate practice.
Features of outstanding online safety in a school are:
Whole school consistent approach
Robust integrated reporting routines
Effective staff development
Clearly communicated and respected policy
Secure and effective infrastructure
Effective monitoring and evaluation
Features of inadequate practice are:
Personal data is unsecured
Security of passwords is ineffective
Policies are generic and not updated.
There is no progressive, planned e-safety education
There is no Internet filtering or monitoring.
There is no evidence of staff training.
Children are not aware of how to report a problem.
The new 2014 National Curriculum for Computing also references the broader requirements for digital literacy and citizenship:
“The national curriculum for computing aims to ensure that all pupils are … responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology”
How might the above requirements translate into creating a “better internet” user?
Responsible both in terms of understanding legality but also with reference to those around you and the groups to whom you belong. Ethics and the impact of behaviours on cultures and how they respond.
Competent assumes a deeper understanding of how collaborative technologies physically work and interact and the way that impacts on how the social structures within them operate. It is that understanding that will inform and influence use
Confident describes a user who has developed a resilience to risk which allows them to exploit the potentials that technology has to offer. It also assumes the user can capitalise on those technologies to report risks and mobilise support.
Creative assumes a user understands the potential of these technologies and can combine and apply them in a way that is both new & innovative and has a wider benefit to the social structures it serves
So the levers for schools are there, not least of which is that “better internet users” very often become “better learners”. These online spaces are environments where students, staff and families already “are”; by not engaging with or shaping them means that they are missing an opportunity to influence them.
[Part Two: SID2014…making it work]