DfE guidance for schools – what does this mean for children at home?

Online safety expert Karl Hopwood shares insights on the impact of school closures on the use of tech and how the new Department of Education guidance can help parents supporting children at home.

We are, without doubt living in unprecedented times. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19 parents will have urged their children to get off their phones, tablets and games consoles and get outside for some fresh air – now this is not so easy and clearly children and parents alike are spending more and more time online. In a situation like this is easy to see both the risks and the benefits of technology…

How the digital world is keeping us connected

As we all come to terms with what social distancing (or social isolation) really means on a day to day basis – using technology to keep in touch with friends and family becomes increasingly important – indeed it is a lifeline for many. Applications such as Zoom and Hangouts are being used widely as well as other apps coming to the fore and being used by a much wider group of people now. A quick look at the top 10 free apps from the app store immediately shows the importance of tech during this global pandemic.

1. Houseparty (discontinued)
2. Zoom
3. Disney +
4. TikTok
5. Microsoft Teams
6. COVID Symptom Tracker
7. Squishy Magic: 3D Art
8. WhatsApp Messenger
9. Skype for iPhone
10. 30 Day Fitness

*Date effective 30/03/2020

It could be argued that all of these apps can play a vital role in keeping us connected, educated and entertained at the current time?

Across the world, in addition to adjusting to working from home, parents, children and teachers are all trying to find a way to make this work for them. We need to take our time – a good balance is key – replicating the classroom in your kitchen is unlikely to work for many people! But some sort of routine combined with some flexibility (from all parties) is important.

New DfE safeguarding guidance for schools

The DfE has issued some useful safeguarding guidance for schools and those working in education. It highlights the importance of maintaining the principles set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education – a document which all those working with children and young people will be very familiar with. It also specifically mentions the importance of an organisation’s child protection policy for a school covering what arrangements are in place to keep children not physically attending the school or college safe, especially online and how concerns about these children should be progressed.

Schools will need to update their child protection policy and ensure that it provides some guidance on the arrangement for safeguarding pupils being educated at home. At a basic level schools should be providing parents with access to online safety information.

Supporting children online at home – 4 things to things do

  • Recognise that due to the current situation children and young people (as well as parents and carers) are going to be spending considerably more time online.
  • Don’t worry so much about screen time – rather focus on-screen use. What are children and young people actually doing when they are online – there should be a good balance of different activities.
  • Follow some of the basic guidance from healthcare professionals– specifically have tech-free mealtimes and don’t have technology in the bedroom overnight.
  • Talk to your children – take time to understand what they are doing online – don’t always assume that they are up to no good. The most important thing is that if something went wrong (and of course there is evidence to suggest that there are people who exploiting the current situation to trick people when they are at their most vulnerable) children and young people would feel that they would be able to come and speak to someone. The way we react when our children tell us about a problem is absolutely crucial – overreacting is not an option.

Filtering and monitoring to limit exposure to risks

Keeping Children Safe in Education states:

Governing bodies and proprietors should be doing all that they reasonably can to limit children’s exposure to the above risks from the school’s or college’s IT system. As part of this process, governing bodies and proprietors should ensure their school or college has appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place.

It would be disproportionate to suggest that parents should be introducing the same types of filtering and monitoring in the home environment as schools are using. That said, hopefully, parents will already be using some sort of filtering (either at network level or device level – further details on how to do this can be found here ) to protect children from inappropriate content. With regards to monitoring – it could be argued that it is much easier to be aware of the content that children have access to in the home environment – a school is dealing with potentially thousands of users whereas in the home we are talking about much smaller numbers – dialogue and discussion would seem to be the most sensible way forward.

Taking an interest in what children and young people are doing online whilst also recognising their need and right to privacy. Those private conversations that would have taken place with friends on the way to and from school can’t happen that way for the next few weeks – so parents and carers need to respect the fact that children still need to be able to have them in some way, shape or form. Being too intrusive won’t help – this is about trust; it’s about knowing your children and recognising that this is worrying time for them too. Technology will provide that vital communication with friends, teachers and their wider family. These are all different audiences which may need different spaces and different approaches.

Reporting issues online

The latest guidance from DfE also makes clear that children who are being asked to work online [should] have very clear reporting routes so they can raise any concerns whilst online. As well as reporting routes back to the school or college this should also signpost children to age-appropriate practical support from the likes of:

Where possible parents should encourage their children to tell them if they have a problem online, but it is also important that children and young people are able to make reports for themselves. Many will be familiar with the reporting tools available on the games and social media platforms that they are using – further information on how to access these tools and services can be found here.

Importance of talking with children and young people regularly

Children and young people are in the same position as the rest of the population – they are confused, eager to understand more about the situation that we are in and they will want opportunities to be able to talk about this. Adults should provide opportunities to engage in open and honest conversations about Coronavirus and how children and young people are feeling about it. One approach could be to take some time out every day to have a discussion – perhaps to watch a news update and then talk about any questions or concerns that they have.

Equally, it’s good to come together as a family at the end of the day to talk about how things have gone and perhaps even to share a couple of more uplifting pieces of content that you/they have found online. There are a number of guides which contain helpful information about how to have conversations with children and young people about Coronavirus.

It is important to have open and honest conversations with children and young people about what they are doing online but this is especially so at this point in time when there is so much concern and equally so much content online that can cause concern or at the very least pose questions.

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Visit our #StaySafeStayHome advice hub for more tips on how to make the best use of tech.

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