Pupil Power

Getting kids involved in a school’s e-safety strategy can be a powerful tool in helping to keep them safe online, says Mhairi Hill

Do you think most teaching and non-teaching staff can now recognise and are aware of e-safety issues? 

Effective e-safety provision requires consideration of practice and policy in equal measure, and for successful implementation, whole-school buy-in is essential. We were recently successful in achieving the NAACE ICT Mark. In her Assessor Report, Dr Pamela Cowan cited: “The appointment of an e-safety officer and monthly meetings with key members of the senior management team combined with the pupil-driven digital leaders group facilitated a whole school focus on e-safety and digital safeguarding.” 

Where school leaders have not identified e-safety as a priority, their staff are inadequately protected from the risks attached to the social web. An excellent way to identify areas in which e-safety awareness can be nurtured is through use of a self-review tool, such as the NAACE or 360 Degree Safe. Providing high-quality, topical training, cognisant of our predominantly digitally-native staff, ensures our staff are protected in both their personal and professional use of technology. Importantly, staff are equipped to safeguard our pupils and support members of the school community through online incidents. 

How can schools ensure that all staff receive appropriate online safety training?

E-safeguarding should be considered to be of equal importance to safeguarding. Annual whole-staff training incorporating digital footprint, use of social media, online bullying and harassment, online communications, school policy and practice should be planned for. I have attended many external courses and some, unfortunately, have failed to hit the spot. A nominated person, or persons, with a responsibility for safeguarding should attend a rich variety of external courses to ensure a breadth of effective information and strategies can be brought back to School and disseminated to all staff.

Many companies and agencies advertise packages to schools to boost the in-house e-safety practice, but without an in-house leader in e-safety the School will struggle to achieve a coordinated approach.

Would you say that most children are now aware of the online dangers? What can we do to highlight them further?

In addition to external agencies and personal experience, the greatest source of information is our young people. Given their age, they are still very much risk-takers by nature and are aware of some of the dangers. They are perhaps less aware of grooming and the risk of exploitation – and even at that, perceive this as ‘stranger danger’ rather than clever manipulation – and are more aware of issues such as online bullying and over-sharing.

Pupils like to hear e-safety messages from their peers, so involving pupils in the delivery of e-safety awareness sessions and the development of resources is essential. Wall displays and videos in key areas of the school help to raise awareness in a more subtle way. Communicating e-safety messages via social media can help pupils to connect when outside the school, when they are more likely to feel vulnerable and exposed to the risks of the social web. Achieving the e-safety Mark signifies our commitment to providing our pupils with a creative and caring environment. 

Is it important to involve students in the development of any new e-safety policies? How can we do this?

A collaborative approach to e-safety is required, and this extends to policy writing. This could be achieved using a variety of methods: use of a surveying tool, such as SurveyMonkey; meetings of the Pupil Council or similar pupil working group; form activities; year-group workshops. Our e-safety Mark Assessor stated that there is “a whole school understanding of and commitment to the policies, with pupils and teachers being confident in following procedures and reporting incidents.”

How can schools educate and support parents with online safety?

Again, pupil voice is a powerful tool here. We ran a pupil-led e-safety workshop for parents where pupils presented on privacy and protection features of the most popular social network platforms. Feedback indicated that parents valued hearing the thoughts of the young people. Using online tools for communication such as an e-safety section of the school website, an official School Facebook and/or Twitter page enables parents to keep up to date with e-safety issues. The inclusion of e-safety in school newsletters also helps to raise awareness. 

Pastorally, where a young person has been directly involved in an online incident we would invite the parents in for support and guidance on ways in which they can support their child. For example, parents can bring in their devices for assistance in setting parental controls appropriate for the age and stage of their child.

Mhairi Hill, e-safety Coordinator at Ballyclare High School

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