A reflection on recent statistics from Ofsted on e-safety education
I was thumbing through the TES the other day and I came across the headline ‘Online safety lessons failing to reach more than one-in-four secondary pupils, Ofsted warns’. The article reported on a presentation that Ofsted inspector David Brown had given at a summit on child Internet safety. Mr Brown had presented some research, gathered during inspections at 39 primary and 45 secondary schools.
The information revealed that even though 95 per cent of the schools had online safety policies, students within those schools were not always aware of the existence of these policies and furthermore it found that 27 per cent of the secondary school students could not recall whether they had been taught about online safety during the last 12 months. The research also stated that 28 per cent of secondary students said that they did not have confidence in their teachers’ understanding of online safety – a fact reinforced by teachers who said that they didn’t believe that they had received sufficient training focusing on online safety.
After reading the article I pondered about why there are significant hurdles in getting this serious message across to students. In my own experience as an ICT teacher, there appears to be wide variations in the levels of understanding of the issue and its associated facets, both within student community and more importantly within teachers.
One of the problems I believe is that in some schools, online safety is discussed in ICT lessons, where the teacher may only tackle the techincal issues and side-step the behavioural and emotional espects. Where in other schools, e-safety is handled in PSHCE lessons or during form time by non-technical teachers who, perhaps, lean towards the ‘technophobic’ and have a fear that their lack of understanding will make them appear foolish in front of their students should they start asking them probing more complex questions. This highlights the need for a truely cross-curricular attitude to e-safety education in schools to ensure students can understand the whole picture.
It could also be said that there is a part to play in this for parents/guardians and that is correct, however, sadly in the majority of cases the lack of understanding is also true but with the added problem that some parents appear to acquire their knowledge from emotive and misinformed articles within newspapers or on TV, where the purpose of the piece is to either sell the paper or gain viewing figures and not to offer parents properly researched and explained information.
It is one of the main reasons that I regularly browse sites like www.e-safetysupport.com as the technological world moves along at a great pace and, unfortunately, new online threats to the well-being of young people appear equally frequently – whether it is the latest online 'fad', ‘sexting’, ‘trolling’ or cyber self-harming. However with the knowledge provided by sites such as this one, teachers and parents can keep informed about the latest online spectre and feel more confident when they are talking about these issues with young people.
Within schools, Internet policies should be student-friendly and one of the best ways to ensure this is to involve students in their design, authoring and promotion. In David Brown’s presentation the research demonstrated that disappointingly, 76 per cent of the primary and secondary schools, within the study, said that students were not involved in the writing of the schools Internet policies. By involving the students, the policy’s importance and relevance to them is raised and they gain a certain ownership of the document.
Finally, it is unfortunate that even in this day and age, in some school settings, the importance of child online safety can suffer from a lacklustre enthusiasm and sadly it is only when an incident occurs involving one of their students (or indeed a member of staff) that it becomes enough of a priority to be taken seriously.
The Internet is a fantastic resource for learning and it is here to stay, but as in real-life, there are those who wish to act illegally and do evil and unpleasant things to others online; however, it is up to the responsible adults such as teachers and parents to bring to the attention of young people the seriousness of online safety but for that to happen those adults must arm themselves with high quality information and understanding.