E-safety and Safeguarding in Primary Schools

Written by Pano Savvidis // December 1, 2017

How you can better protect children’s safety online.

Protecting children online is one of the biggest challenges for a modern primary school. Children grow up surrounded by smartphones and social media. Schools have to not only be aware of children’s online behaviour within school, but also teach them to look after themselves online. E-safety is a central part of safeguarding work.

How can schools best approach this?

Understanding E-safety Issues

To properly tackle safe behaviour online, we first have to understand the potential problems. Children can be put at risk online in several ways:

  • e-bullying
  • invasions of privacy
  • exposure to inappropriate materials
  • communication with strangers.

The routes through which these risks present themselves have grown over the past decade. They include social networking sites and online gaming. The use of portable devices such as smartphones means that children are seldom far from their electronic contacts.

Regular access to online environments isn’t a bad thing. They provide useful sources of play, education, and socialisation, as well as preparing children to use online resources in adult life. But safe use is vital.

As in so many areas, a school’s approach comes in four parts – policies and procedures; professional development; engagement with pupils; and engagement with parents.

Policies and Procedures

A school’s policies and procedures are important in ensuring consistency and giving staff guidance.

Key documents include an acceptable use policy, setting out what pupils and staff can and cannot do online while in school or using school equipment. Acceptable use for pupils can include treating others with respect while online, using privacy settings, and not sharing photos.

The procedure for identifying and dealing with an e-safety incident is also important. The clearer the procedure is, the more confident staff will be in handling incidents. This will make pupils more comfortable in reporting them. The NSPCC has a procedural flowchart which can provide a basis for this.

It is also helpful to make policies and procedures available through the school website. This ensures that staff can easily find the procedure and that parents understand the school’s rules.

Policies and procedures shouldn’t be about locking down systems to prevent pupils from using them, but about managing their behaviour and helping them to learn to behave safely online. These are the sorts of policies that will help pupils to learn safe behaviour, and as a result meet Ofsted’s standards for outstanding performance in this area.

Professional Development

Not only teachers but all school staff should be trained in e-safety and safeguarding. This ensures that all the adults in their environment are providing pupils with the same message, ensuring consistency. The assumptions adults bring, and the casual ease with which we share photos and information online, are often at odds with what children need to keep them safe.

The world of online communication and social media keeps changing. All schools will see some turnover of staff. It is therefore important that professional development on e-safety is provided on a regular rolling basis rather than as a single incident, to keep all staff up to date.

Again, keeping resources online helps to ensure that all staff have access to the most up-to-date information.

E-safety and Pupils

E-safety should be addressed in the classroom, both directly within computing lessons and when it comes up using information technology in other subjects. Try to reinforce safe online behaviour on an ongoing basis. The ubiquity of information technology means that messages about its use need to be frequent to have an impact.

All pupils are different. Attitudes at home towards e-safety will vary hugely within a class, as will the experiences of children among their peers. It’s therefore important to start by finding out what pupils know, what they do online, and what is allowed at home. This can be a useful place for starting a discussion about what happens online.

Wherever they’re starting from, children need to learn certain key skills. How to filter their own online activity so as to not give away personal information, filter out certain types of incoming messages, and report inappropriate or illegal behaviour are vital skills for children going online. Recognising and responding to inappropriate behaviour is about more than inappropriate approaches from adults. Social media and online gaming, while potentially incredible outlets for creativity and self-expression, also contain some subcultures mired in bullying and prejudice. Learning to deal with this safely is a valuable life skill.

Engaging with Parents

Messages about e-safety are far more powerful if reinforced by parents. If they send contradictory messages at home, then it can undermine the school’s work. But everybody has expectations about online behaviour and these will seldom match your school’s policy, because few people have to consider this in the same way that teachers do. For example, some parents will be happy for primary age children to have Facebook profiles, without understanding the risks these can pose. So how can you engage parents?

Providing training for parents is useful if they will attend. This can be made more powerful by involving the pupils in preparing training materials. An explanatory video made by a class during their own computing lessons will get through to parents more than a lecture from a stranger.

Home school agreements should lay down standards for online behaviour. These and other materials on e-safety can be shared via the school website or even a school app integrated with the website, which will make information more accessible and reassure parents that the school really does understand the online world.

Setting an Example

This brings us around to one final important principle – that the school sets an example.

The school website needs to be not only a source of information on e-safety but also an example of good practice. Avoid sharing personal information of staff and pupils. Avoid identifiable photos of pupils. Set appropriate levels of filtering.

By picking a platform that’s easy to use, having clear policies for what to share, and creating procedures to keep the website up to date, you can ensure that you are an example of the behaviour you want to encourage.

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