One of the events that should be in every school’s calendar is Safer Internet Day, which this year falls on 7th February. Intended to promote awareness and discussion of how to keep youngsters safe online, it involves classroom activities and discussions, and can be quite exciting, especially for younger children.
But although the focus is primarily on children, Safer Internet Day also provides a good opportunity to remind staff of what the school’s e-safety procedures are, and to engage with parents. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
The first thing to say is that the school needs an online safety policy that covers a number of things including cyberbullying, risk of radicalisation and sexting, to name just three areas.
Now, you probably already have a policy, but you need to make sure it’s up-to-date. Ofsted revised its guidance in November 2016, so if your policy is based solely on the 2015 guidance or, worse, the 2012 guidance, it will have holes in it.
A good starting point here is to download Groupcall’s short ebook on the subject: New Safeguarding Guidance: What does it mean for your school? That’s available here (just fill in the short form to gain access to it).
As well as being current, the policy should be meaningful, by which I mean that the people who wrote it should at least have engaged with the issues. Downloading a template from the internet, or from your local authority’s intranet, and then filling the blanks with your school name just won’t cut it.
However good your policy is, though, it’s pretty useless in practice if nobody knows about it. Horror stories abound of Ofsted inspectors asking the Headteacher about the school’s esafety policy, to be told that “it’s in this filing cabinet somewhere”.
Almost as bad is when the headteacher delegates the task of writing and keeping the policy to the IT support team in the school. It needs to be a whole school policy in every sense of the term, and while the senior leadership team may find it practical to delegate the task of writing the policy, it cannot delegate the responsibilities it encapsulates.
Suppose your school has a faultless online safety policy, easily available online, in the staffroom and in classrooms, and perhaps even with posters everywhere summarising key points from it. Here’s a question for you: if a ‘situation’ arose, would people know what to do about it?
One useful thing to do, then, on Safer Internet Day would be to have some activities that remind the pupils of who they can go to if something happens to make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe online. By so doing, you will remind staff too. But it would also be a good idea to devote a training day to online safety, not least because there could be legal consequences of making a mistake in some circumstances, such as while dealing with a sexting incident.
Parents need to be reassured too. One thing you can do is to remind them every so often of the policy that the school has put in place to keep their children safe.
Also, if your school uses Emerge or Messenger, it’s worth making the point to parents that these tools help to keep their children safe in other ways. It may not be online safety as such, but it’s part of a general school attitude to child welfare.
Consider running evening training sessions for parents on how to set parental controls for web access, and how to view the browsing history. But bear in mind that many kids are savvy enough to get around such restrictions, and the view these days is that it’s much better to discuss children’s online activity in a no-blame way than to try to lock everything down and punish kids for breaking the rules you’ve set.
There are also some good online resources that parents can use. Go to the National Crime Agency website for useful age-related guidance, advice to parents and teachers, and a very good video that parents can use as a starting point for discussion, Romeo and Juliet.
On the subject of resources, the Safer Internet Day website is an excellent starting point, with information, suggestions and educational resource packs.
Online safety is something that concerns every child, parent and teacher. But there are resources and guidance available that can help to ensure that your school is on the right track.