E-safety, as an aspect of the school curriculum, is a dynamic entity and an essential component in safeguarding.
Consequently, e-safety policies and practices can be viewed as having two strands. First of all, known risks in relation to privacy, contact with strangers and accessing inappropriate material (such as violence, pornography and hate sites, for example) remain a constant. In one respect, the key messages that need to be communicated to children are static and unchanging. For instance, not divulging personal details and contact information via social media and networking websites and the steps children can take when confronted with online material and communications that make them feel uncomfortable.
However, the rate of technological developments and digital applications demands e-safety policies and practices need to evolve and progress as and when new issues and concerns surface. It is this balance between static, or core e-safety education (which can be covered as a series of planned assemblies, an appropriate scheme of work and day-to-day highlighting of issues), and an appropriate reactive and proactive response, the non-static nature of e-safety, that poses the significant challenge for schools.
Let us take a relatively recent example. Sending photographs via text message, email and sharing online through social networking websites has been with us for a while now. It is reasonable to suggest that the potential for images to be copied, altered, forwarded and put into the public domain (whether for positive purposes or driven by more malicious intentions) is known and understood. With the advent of Snapchat, digital communications can be sent with the assurance they will effectively ‘self-destruct’ after several seconds and be deleted from devices and servers. Schools are then in the position of needing to rapidly respond to a form of digital communication and sharing of media that has the potential to undermine previous work with children on e-safety: if the evidence of cyber-bullying or inappropriate communications doesn’t exist, then all that is left is the impact on victims and the courage of others not to act as bystanders.
So, where does the static and dynamic model of e-safety leave those who develop policies and practices in school? Clearly, there is a need for the lead on e-safety to have sufficient time to be able to respond to more established issues in this area as well as emerging issues or anticipated safeguarding problems by having a current knowledge and understanding of technological and digital developments.
An e-safety policy should acknowledge that the lead has dedicated time to ensuring practices are proactive and not simply reactive. There is a need to protect time for the lead to regularly review and update Acceptable Use Policies for both staff and children as well as consider how parents and carers can be made aware of potential dangers and risks as technological and digital developments continue to progress at a rapid pace. Dissemination of information related to new risks and responsible use issues also requires the lead to invest time in continued professional development to ensure all colleagues have the knowledge and understanding to address e-safety.
Of course, stating that e-safety policies and procedures are in place (from a dedicated lead with adequate time for the role through to parental engagement) is different from accounting for the impact of steps taken. Evidence of impact, both qualitative and quantitative, is necessary to evaluate the success of e-safety education within the school to inform future priorities and demonstrate to OFSTED that this area of safeguarding has a high profile and the policies, practices and procedures in place are embedded. Once again, this brings us back to the need for an e-safety lead with adequate time dedicated to this area of work in schools.
So, how can this be taken forward in practice? A good starting point is to audit the current position using the questions below. Where an aspect is not in place or needs review and attention, then this should form the basis of action planning and projecting the time necessary to address these areas for development.
By establishing a baseline in relation to these areas, formulating a plan of action, schools can therefore progress towards stronger e-safety provision and develop clarity in the impact on the school, staff, pupils and parents and carers.
If you would like to share your thoughts on the issues raised in this article, please let us know by using the comments section below