Safer Internet Day: Schools’ new e-safety responsibilities

Image attribution: R. Nial Bradshaw under Creative Commons License

As Safer Internet Day approaches, Kier McDonald discusses the new e-safety responsibilities that schools are now required to take on, to keep children as young as 5 safe online.

Safer Internet Day is a day dedicated to raising awareness of global e-safety. Parents and children across the globe will be taking the time to improve their e-safety knowledge, in the hope of reducing the negative effects that the internet can have.

Considering the vastness of the internet, and how it has “changed the way children engage with information”, it is as important as ever to promote e-safety education. Because of its constantly evolving nature, it is vital that teaching stays up-to-date, which is why we are very pleased to hear that the government plans to take a stronger approach to schools e-safety responsibilities in 2016.

What does e-safety really mean?

E-safety is an understanding of the potential dangers of the internet — which parts of it could be harmful, and how to protect vulnerable people from these areas. For example, your child could quite easily communicate with a total stranger through social media or online games. With good e-safety knowledge they would know never to release personal details online, or how to recognise unusual behaviours or prevent cyberbullying.

E-Safety and legal obligations for schools

While there are many great e-safety resources for parents, it is currently quite difficult to find a complete guide to a school’s legal obligations when it comes to internet safety.

With the only official advice available being dated, and a recent Ofsted report stating that there are still 5% of schools without an Online Safety policy in place, this new statement couldn’t have come sooner. Ministers rightly indicated that the current “voluntary measures”, are “no longer sufficient to deal with the risks of children being exposed to viewing inappropriate content in the classroom”.

What can we expect?

The two major areas that are going to be addressed: school’s current internet filter systems and a requirement to teach children (as young as five) about internet safety. This is encouraging news, as currently schools have no legal obligation to teach pupils about safeguarding themselves online.

Increasing filter prevention is not only important in protecting children who are seeking harmful content on the internet, but also for those who might accidentally find it. Every school will have filter software installed, this software prohibits the use of certain websites, and the use of harmful ‘search terms’.

They work based around a website categorisation, this is applied by the filter company based on the content of that website. So if I wanted to filter all web pages which contained violence, I could do so, based on the filter companies categorisations.

How e-safety lessons can help create good digital citizens

While the Department of Education has not stated how or when these lessons are going to take place, their intention to roll it out at every stage of a child’s education is a welcomed one. If delivered correctly, e-safety lessons could help develop the positive internet culture that Safer Internet Day stands for.

You might think that teaching children as young as five about e-safety is an overreaction. However, we must remember anywhere between 20 – 33% of 3 – 5 year old children access the internet on a computer, or watch TV on a device other than a television.

While we don’t expect children this age to actively seek harmful content on the internet, they are very capable of finding it by accident, while searching for something with honest intentions. If children are given e-safety lessons as early as five, it will become part of their educational routine. Like this, it can become normalised, just like learning maths or English.

Schools have a duty of care for their pupils, hopefully these new efforts by the government will help make that duty of care easier and more effective. Schools across the country have limited resources, and implementing new strategies can be costly, however the safety of the country’s youth is of the utmost importance.

We need to develop an e-safety culture that everyone understands from a young age, it’s only by doing this can we truly equip our children with the knowledge they need to use the internet safely.

Additional Reading

If you’d like to find out more about Safer Internet Day and what schools are doing on e-safety, visit the following pages:

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