Education Secretary Justice Greening has recently said that she wanted to make PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) compulsory in schools, teaching digital safety within that format. So as digital becomes more and more a part of education and its curriculums, schools are under pressure to enable pupils digitally whilst also protecting them from the darker side of the web.
Last year the Department for Education (DfE) deployed a new and updated statutory guidance for schools and colleges on how to keep children safe in education. Schools and colleges now must abide by ‘Keeping children safe in education’ in order to safeguard children in their care. Thanks to the DfE’s guidelines, it is now a legal requirement for children to be protected from potentially harmful and inappropriate online material. But what exactly does this inappropriate material entail? Violent imagery, extremist propaganda and sexualised content are just a few examples of where pupils could be exposed while browsing at school.
Twenty years ago, parents’ main concern was their kids inadvertently watching adult content on their television; there were only so many channels to choose from and it was generally easier to keep an eye on what your children were doing at home. But this is not the world we live in today. Putting it frankly, TV is one of the lesser concerns for parents, as the advent of the internet has created not just great opportunity for learning, but a world of potential risk for parents, most of whom have not grown up in this digital era.
With the explosion of platforms, speed of the internet and devices on which users can view content, it’s no surprise that online safety has shot to the top of the agenda for both parents and schools.
A child’s mind is malleable and easily influenced. Educational establishments (as well as prisons, the NHS and local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland) now have a legal obligation to spot individuals who might be vulnerable to extremism and radicalisation – generally speaking, there is a far greater access to extremist propaganda when armed with a keyboard and mouse. For schools, having the appropriate web filtering and real-time monitoring in place is the best way to ensure they are safeguarded properly. That way, any suspicious behaviour can be easily tracked and reported immediately to the online safety ambassador at the school.
Similarly, mental health issues – including those brought on by cyberbullying – are of pressing concern for young people. A recent ComRes/BBC report found that 70% of 11-16-year olds have experienced one or more negative feelings in the past year. While mental health issues for children have of course long preceded the internet, the problems associated with an omnipresent online wave of issues relating to body weight and shape,sexuality, skin problems and image in general, do have a profound effect on a child’s state of mind.
While parents have to take responsibility for protecting their children in the home, teachers also need to ensure they are safeguarding their pupils in the school environment. Teachers should be brushing up on their awareness of online safety so as to not just feel left behind in the digital landscape, but to proactively deal with issues that arise from this. Parents and teachers both need to be digital doyens in today’s increasingly digital age, not digital dinosaurs.
Instead of taking the internet away from children, let’s ensure that they are properly protected when browsing online, allowing them to make the most out of their experience on the internet. We must provide schools with the antibodies they need to fight off dangerous and harmful material, while giving parents and teachers the confidence they need to fully engage in the conversation around safeguarding children on the web.
The digital future is bright, so let’s make sure the foundations are safe enough before we get there.
Written by Claire Stead, Online Safety Ambassador at Smoothwall: