The internet has transformed the world that we live in. Whilst it’s made it a more connected place where we’re free to make friends from all over the world and share wild conspiracy theories, there’s also a dark side, filled with trolling and dangerous advice (such as encouragement of self-harm or eating disorders). Because of this darker side to the internet, governing bodies such as Ofsted have introduced inspection criteria into schools that encompasses this area of safety. And they’re going to want proof that you meet their online safeguarding requirements as a standard process for any future Ofsted inspections.
What is online safeguarding?
Online safeguarding (e-safety) is defined as the safe and responsible use of technology. This includes the use of the internet through means of electronic communication, such as tablets, smartphones, and online gaming, etc.
Radicalisation, child sexual exploitation and cyber-bullying are amongst many of the issues when tackling online safety. The DfE categorises online safeguarding into 3 areas:
- Being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material
- Being subjected to harmful online interactions with other users
- Personal online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm
Online safeguarding is not: heavily implementing online restrictions by the over-blocking of websites, limiting students’ internet usage or overbearing internet monitoring. But that’s not to say that these preventative measures don’t help – because they do. They are put in place as a control mechanism to monitor online activity and to raise the red warning flag if something untoward is being looked into.
Educators may mean well by using these protective methods, but from memories of my own school days, this just encouraged the use of proxy server addresses as well as other means to bypass blocked sites. And whilst many web filtering and online management systems that are in place are very effective – this doesn’t teach students or staff about internet safety. It merely practices it.
In the age of the smartphone, children have unrestricted access to the internet 24/7, it doesn’t just boil down to filtering out the harmful material. Although this helps, students need to be made aware that whilst the internet is an excellent tool for education, there’s also a very real risk it can pose when not used properly.
Taken directly from Ofsted’s briefing inspection, which lists the key features of good and outstanding practices, it states a number of points that education providers should consider with regards to teaching e-safety:
- Content should be flexible, relevant and engages pupils interest
- Pupils are taught how to stay safe online
- Guide students on how to protect themselves from harm
- Encourage to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety
- All teaching and non-teaching staff should receive regular, up to date training
In order to meet Ofsted’s demands and keep student’s safe, teachers need to take a different angle on how they approach the topic of e-safety. There’s many ways in which to do this, so we’ve had a look and put together a guide on how you can help keep student’s safe online:
Get parents involved
8 in 10 parents believe teachers are responsible for educating children about the risks of online safety, and a further 89% don’t speak to teachers on a regular basis about what their child gets up to online. However, just because online safeguarding is part of Ofsted’s inspection requirements, doesn’t mean it’s exclusively the educators job to ensure pupils are clued up on e-safety.
The dangers of online grooming and cyber-bullying don’t just end once a student has left the classroom. Whilst teachers play a big role in the teachings and practicing of e-safety, it’s important that these messages are consistent with the ones at home too.
Getting parents and guardians actively involved in internet safety is important when approaching the issue of safeguarding. Maintaining communication between teachers and parents is key to keeping children safe online inside and outside of school.
Organising sessions between parents and teachers to share the risks and signs of when a pupil may be in danger is a good start, as well as discussing privately with parents or carers any worrying content that a pupil may have accessed during school time.
Keeping parents and guardians updated on these issues through your school website as well as newsletters is also a great way to keep them in the loop and encourage support from them.
Parents are naturally going to want to keep their children safe, so sharing tips and other useful information will get them on board and ensure the message you’re sending is being reinforced at home too.
Recent findings show that half of teachers don’t have sufficient enough training in order protect students from online radicalisation and exploitation. Ofsted have also highlighted that staff training and development is one of the weakest aspects of a school’s e-safety policy, so it’s clear that more work needs to be done to meet Ofsted’s guidelines. Given the fact that your school could go from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Special Measures’ because of this – it’s definitely one to bear in mind.
Continued Professional Development (CPD) for all school staff is vital. Technology moves at such a rapid pace and educators need to provide the correct and most up to date information to keep pupils safe online.
Although teacher training (inset days for example) is provided by the school to brush up on their knowledge and training, five days out of the year just isn’t enough. Students discover new technologies, apps, and websites every day – so you should actively keep your staff one step ahead with regular updates and training. As they say – forearmed is forewarned.
There are various tools you can use to help with this. ThinkUKnow is an excellent website for educators – it’s regularly updated with the latest developments and trends amongst young people online so you can keep up to date and even gain tips on supporting children who have become victims to the dangers of the online world.
Gooseberry Planet is also a useful tool to use, this gaming software for both students and teachers offers CPD through its ‘Gooseberry Teacher’ app, where up to date training material and advice on safeguarding children through scenario based learning is available. On completion, you’re awarded with an e-certificate. Take a look at a demo of ‘Gooseberry Teacher’ and its built in CPD training in this short video:
With the knowledge you gain from tools and information points such as ThinkUKnow and Gooseberry Planet, you should then make sure that your school’s online safety policy is updated and reflects the latest developments in the online world. SWGFL offer a range of templates to work from, including a free online school safety policy template, that offers guidance by outlining what should be included in your school policy, so you can set the foundations of what you want your schools policy to be on e-safety.
This can be updated as new developments in technology arise, allowing you to create an e-safety policy that’s unique to your school, there’s also Snapchat and Facebook safety checklists that provide information to students on how to ‘stay in control’ of their social media accounts and advice on ensuring their information stays private.
There are a number of online safety policy templates out there – how you obtain, share and use personal information online and offline is critical to protecting the privacy of individuals. This free GDPR compliant data protection policy template will ensure that, when GDPR comes into effect, your schools and student’s personal data is protected and you’re still compliant (with both the ICO and Ofsted!).
Access to the right resources
It’s great that you’re clued up on the hazards of the internet, but how can you get this message across to students in a way that’s engaging and they actually absorb this important information?
There’s a range of resources out there to achieve this, all presenting a different way for students to learn about online safety. As mentioned earlier, Gooseberry Planet is an app for students aged between 4 and 13 that helps them learn about internet safety in the form of a fun game.
The software isn’t just a game for students to play, it presents students with online issues such as live gaming, radicalisation and online bulling and challenges them to respond to very real situations they’re likely to face at some point.
Pupils are given the opportunity to explore and respond to what they feel is the best way in this safe, virtual environment. The game progressively increases with difficulty as they go along and provides the opportunity for students to reflect on their decisions throughout. With this helpful resource students aren’t just playing a game, they’re becoming more informed and aware of the dangers that the online world offers.
From a teaching perspective, there’s also an accompanying app named ‘Gooseberry Teacher’, that allows teachers to view the performance of each student throughout the game and flags any vulnerabilities of children online. Making it much easier for you to identify students who may be more at risk than others, and respond quickly. There’s also handy lesson plans that are regularly updated.
In order to provide effective teaching on e-safety, it needs to be accepted that many children have such ease of access to the internet outside of school. Simply filtering out harmful content (whilst still extremely useful) just simply isn’t enough.
Online safeguarding measures should be less about restrictions and more about educating students about the risks as well as the benefits of practicing online safety.
The minimum age to join Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram is 13, yet 78% of children under 13 have at least one of these social media accounts. It’s pretty obvious that if children want to gain access to something, they will. Instead of over-blocking, pupils should be encouraged to adopt a mature approach to using the internet so they know exactly what to do when they encounter a risky situation online.
Educating students through your own knowledge and presenting this through an engaging format is an excellent way to instil a sensible behaviour towards the internet, whilst also ensuring that the message delivered in lessons are also being echoed at home.
If you’d like to know more about Ofsted’s inspection criteria for e-safety, how your e-waste poses a threat to safeguarding or just want some more advice on how to limit the risks to your students – download our free e-safety whitepaper.