Article involves the importance of internet safety in terms of how it relates to school contexts. A focus is taken on compulsory education within the country. The Article draws on service resources, and from work from societies and educational sector organizations, in supporting online safety measures relevant to schools.
With the pace of developments in online technology, the relationship between the operation and administration of education and convergence culture bringing the online and the offline together in ever more-complex ways, and the increasing sophistication of the uses made of technology, it is imperative that schools keep abreast of current thinking regarding internet safety. Statutory guidance from the education affiliation domain with respect to schools’ safety is updated regularly;
Here, the potential issues which face educationalists and learners alike are summarized: these range from online radicalization, accessing illegal or pornographic material, child sexual exploitation and the activities of sexual predators, both within and outside the school.
The guidance document advocates a whole-school approach in terms of three main areas of risk and concern. First, that of content: “being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material, fake news, racist or radical and extremist news”
The second area is that of contact; this is outlined not only in terms of abusive or predatory behavior by others, but also commercial advertising. The third area is conceived of as conduct-related: “personal online behavior that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm; for example making, sending and receiving explicit images, or online bullying”
An ongoing requirement is for settings to limit scholars’ access to potential risk via the school’s computer system through the use of appropriate filtering software and oversight via monitoring systems; while there is latitude on the nature of the systems and policies put into place so that the school can contextualize their approach to local needs, there is an expectation that settings will articulate their online safety protocols with their Prevent duty risk assessment.
The Prevent duty, which explains public bodies’ obligations under the Counter-Terrorism and Security to support prevention of people being drawn towards terrorism and other forms of extremist activity, states that such bodies are “expected to ensure children are safe from terrorist and extremist material when accessing the internet in school, including by establishing appropriate levels of filtering”. Furthermore, this should be supported by staff training to support school staff in identifying such risks, challenging extremist thought, and making appropriate referrals where there are concerns to be addressed.
Filtering software should be flexible to that it can be adjusted - for age groups or other forms of differentiation where appropriate - should be easily-controllable by staff, be backed by a clear policy, and be able to identify users. Such software should operate at a network level rather than at the level of the individual device being used, and should allow reporting where problematic sites or other issues are encountered so that both system usage and new sites where there are concerns may be addressed.
Furthermore, there should be an interlocking range of monitoring strategies in place. These include physical monitoring of learner online activity by staff, oversight of search terms and of sites accessed, with the capacity for internet access to be suspended immediately is an issue is encountered, and the issue of technological solutions which may, for instance, be keyword or keystroke-responsive.
Such initiatives should be contextualized to a whole-school approach which integrates positive messages about safe internet usage, the potential dangers of the internet, and clear mechanisms for scholars to voice their own concerns across the curriculum.
Schools also need to consider their policies as regards scholars’ personal access to the internet via their own mobile devices, as this will fall outside the boundaries of the school network. The guidance documentation also offers links to education-sector agencies dealing with different aspects of online safety from purchasing of hardware and software, training packages, and on appropriate guidance on internet security protocols. While schools are encouraged to make their bespoke arrangements with respect to online safety, there are links offered to a range of organizations and charities with a remit which engages with key aspects of appropriate and safe online conduct, and its contextualization to different curriculum areas.
This short Article has worked to discuss issues connected to internet safety in educational contexts in the country. As the Article has shown, there is a mix of legal requirements and good practice standards for settings to engage with, and a proactive and setting-wide approach is only appropriate. The centrality of online engagement to contemporary education, and the importance of teaching and learning in ways which recognize both the opportunities and potential issues of online worlds, both mean that a cohesive, detailed and proactive approach which involves all operational and strategic aspects of the setting is appropriate. There is a spectrum of support available through relevant educational, charitable and service sources. However, the onus is on the setting to engage with these support mechanisms to not only ensure compliance and safety, but to be proactive so that staff and learners alike are aware of potential dangers, but can still work and learn safely and productively within agreed guidelines.