Be the change with online safety

So it’s Safer Internet Day again and the theme is “Be the change: unite for a better internet”.

But what does this important annual event mean to you as an educationalist?

There are two ways that schools look at it generally. It is either a big tick in the box for ‘doing’ their online safety input for the year, or it is just one part of a whole organisation approach towards online safety and safeguarding in your school or MAT.

The challenge I have for you is to think honestly about which of these statements best fits your school.

If it’s the latter, great. Then the question is: how are you maintaining that? More importantly, how do you KNOW you are keeping ahead of the curve of change?

My real concern is if you’re the former. My advice is, don’t hide from the truth. You know as well as I do, that when that Ofsted phone call comes (and it will) it will be too late to put anything in place.

Having visited a number of primary and secondary schools as an online safety assessor, what comes across with those which have embedded online safety is that at the start, these schools have honestly appraised their approach to online safety and have been open to exploring gaps and weaknesses.

Many have been helped by getting in a consultant for an objective view, often in conjunction with using a free 360 online safety review tool from SWGfL (South West Grid for Learning).

This has helped them to address change together at an organisational level, supported by a coherent framework and objective advice and expertise from a consultant.

You know as well as I that online safety is more than a surface level approach that can be covered by running some online safety classes or wheeling in the local PCSO to run a CEOP session for a couple of weeks. It’s about embedding online safety from the roots up, in a range of areas:

  • policy and leadership
  • IT infrastructure
  • education of the children, young people, staff, governors, parents/carers and the community
  • standards and inspection through monitoring and impact

Again and again surveys show that actions like putting policies or a curriculum in place, or making sure you have a filtering service, are pretty much standard.

The real challenges lie in training your team and informing governors, parents and the community so that your approach to online safety is not just a one hit wonder, but is sustainable in the long term.

So this year, why not use Safer Internet Day to resolve to make online safety a part of your whole school approach to online safety, and use this pledge to begin to explore what might be missing.

Tim McShane is Lead Online Learning Facilitator at Best Practice Network. Take a look at our inspection briefings and safer recruitment training which both include further help and advice for schools on addressing online safety.

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