The internet is an amazing place, full of everything you could possibly want. But, in the world our children are growing up in, it is important that they learn to respect it in the same way that we learned not to take sweets from strangers. The tools available for teachers are part of the changing landscape that we work in and one that will continue to change. We can never expect to know everything – but we must help our pupils to prepare for this changing world, its possibilities and its pitfalls.” This is Fiona Price, Head of Digital Learning and ICT at Stroud School in Hampshire and ICT Subject Advisor for the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), reflecting on the opportunities – and dangers – presented to teachers, parents and pupils by the ever-evolving world landscape of the internet.
As Fiona explains, internet safety forms a key part of the curriculum at Stroud: “From the nursery onwards, we are talking to the students about how they use technology at home and the importance of asking their parents when they do. This approach progresses as the children move through school. We talk through the school’s ‘Acceptable Use Policy’ and begin every year with a recap of key internet safety rules.”
“When it comes to the older students, the teaching moves on to take in aspects such as social networking and protecting their ‘digital footprint’, looking at the impact of choices they make online and implications these can have,” said Fiona. “However, as much as we discuss these issues – and our students can recite the rules at any time – it’s really about getting them to maintain that integrity in the spur of the moment. A common mantra is, ‘if you wouldn’t say it to your granny, don’t say it online’.”
It’s also important, Fiona argues, to be open with students about the whys and wherefores behind these rules.
“There is no point in just telling them not to what not to do – they need to know that they can talk to you about social media issues even if they aren’t quite old enough to have the account,” said Fiona. “Students do not turn 13 and suddenly appreciate the decisions that they make online: they have already been making those decisions and need support when they get it wrong.”
“A determined student will always find a way around what you try to block, there is no knowing what they will type into an open search engine at home or at school. Innocent mistakes can be made, and it’s best to always pre-empt what these might be. Filters must now be in place in all schools removing unwanted content; it’s best to reinforce this with Google’s Safe Search to avoid explicit images slipping through the net. Vigilance is also key: the giggling boys in the corner that, in a previous generation, would simply have been writing naughty notes, are now probably trying to bypass or test your internet filters.”
Fiona recommends structuring tasks to achieve specific results – and discussing best ways of searching online for the information students require. She admits that it is not just the job of the ICT teacher to establish guidelines with students, but a school-wide responsibility.
Parental involvement is also key here – and this, again, is something that schools can help to facilitate. “All too often parents put their heads in the sand and say, ‘But I don’t know anything about internet safety: how can I help them?’” said Fiona.
Therefore, Stroud provides parents with opportunities to learn and engage with internet safety. The school runs parent internet safety sessions and iPad training sessions to help them to understand how the technology the school uses is enabling their children’s learning. They also give lesson examples so the parents can see the benefits that the internet can bring – and that it isn’t all about finding images and social networking.
Elsewhere, Bedford Girls’ School has been awarded the Apple Distinguished School status for its leadership in the use of educational iPad technology.
“We have a one-on-one iPad programme here, and all girls from Year 3 upwards use the iPads extensively in school life,” said Natalie Keeler, Bedford’s Assistant Head (Operations), who oversees the school’s iPad programme. “In the junior school the iPads remain in school, and then once the girls move into Year 7 they are taken home to support homework and self-study.”
With such extensive use of technology, Natalie and her colleagues recognise the importance of ensuring that the Bedford community knows how to use the internet safely. Their philosophy is based around ensuring that the girls, parents and staff are educated about best practice and potential online risks. Plus, they work in partnership with the students and try not to be punitive, as we want the girls to learn to take responsibility for their actions and to understand the risks attached with certain aspects of online behaviour.
The school implements this ethos through a number of different channels. For example, a range of age-appropriate workshops, delivered by external experts, covers different aspects of e-safety. Elsewhere, in Year 7, before the girls are allocated their senior school iPads, a whole day is dedicated to e-safety, with subjects including e-safety and the law, cyberbullying, managing your digital footprint, and the risks posed by different types of social media.
“As the girls progress through the senior school these issues are readdressed at key points, with other age-appropriate topics being introduced onto the agenda, such as looking at emotional and relationship issues, including sexting, with our students in Year 9,” said Natalie.
Bedford’s PHSE programme reinforces these messages, incorporating elements of e-safety throughout its curriculum and giving the girls time to discuss and debate the issues raised. For example, Year 9 students and parents were recently invited to watch Sophie’s Choice, a hard-hitting external theatre production about the dangers of online grooming. “Addressing this very serious issue through drama allowed the
girls to freely discuss and reflect on what they had seen. It was a very powerful learning tool,” Natalie reflected.
“We also run digital parenting workshops to educate parents on responsible and safe internet use for their daughters, and to communicate exactly what we are teaching the girls. We believe that blanket-banning social media sites does not necessarily work, but that remaining engaged with your daughter’s online activities is a more practical and informed approach.”
Elsewhere, Bedford’s Mobile Device Management System limits access to the App Store, dependant on each pupil’s age. “As the girls progress through the Senior School, they are given greater independence – but always with careful supervision from our staff and technical support team,” said Natalie.
Behind the scenes, Bedford’s ICT Department operates a robust filtering system to control access within the building, whilst still enabling students and staff with the ability to use the iPads for research and independent study.
“Every year brings with it new developments and opportunities in technology, and this will continue into the foreseeable future,” concluded Fiona. “The internet is a way to link and share instantaneously in a class and across the world. It has opened up lesson engagement and we shouldn’t be scared of the possibilities it can bring to our classrooms. We must try to understand how students are engaging with the internet, and guide them towards using it respectfully. Don’t become the wall that blocks progress: become the door that lets them explore possibilities and seize opportunities in an educated manner.”
Fiona Price’s internet safety checklist:
Run sessions for parents about how their children are using the internet, and how to help them navigate it safely. Digital Parenting is a fantastic free magazine, full of great tips and advice.
Acceptable Use Policies (For staff and students alike)
These should be continuously revisited, not created and then filed away until someone steps out of line. Tailor them for each age group, and explain them in detail to the children. Also, assess your school’s current e-safety record and use sites like 360safe.org.uk or esafetylabel.eu to look at what you have in place and how you can improve.
Talk to your students
Find out what apps and websites they are using and tailor your advice to reflect these. The website commonsensemedia.org allows you to check any app or game and see real reviews from children and parents.
It’s a whole-school thing
The ICT teacher should not be solely responsible for internet safety. The internet is integral to the way that we all work, and a robust approach from all teaching staff should promote positive use.