Pupils online: advice for schools

We know that children are using a wide range of technology to get online at home, including games consoles, tablets and even their parents’ smartphones. This has led to a number of concerns, the main one being the issue of safeguarding and digital security. With the huge variety of potential access points to the internet, how can schools educate their pupils for all eventualities?

At Catshill Learning Partnerships, we’ve been running online safety lessons in schools for a number of years. At the beginning of these sessions, we always ask the pupils what devices they have used or had access to at home. The responses to this are always fascinating; children from as early as reception are already using a vast range of technology. We have carried out a National Pupil Internet Use Survey in order to examine how children access online content in more detail. Find out more at catshill.com/survey19k

 Unchartered territory

The main problem with technology is that both schools and parents are not necessarily familiar with the ways in which their pupils and children are accessing online content. For example, games consoles can now be used to communicate with other players around the world, and also access platforms such as YouTube and even Facebook.

The Pupil Internet Use Survey showed that 50% of 4/5 year olds say that they use their mum and dad’s smartphones. In fact, young pupils tend to be quite adept at using these types of technology, and will often help struggling parents or grandparents to get to grips with their devices. It is therefore important to instil good cyber security practices into pupils at an early age.

While filtering and restriction systems can help limit the content that children can access on their devices, if that device is taken to a friend’s house, the same controls may not apply, so understanding exactly what can be accessed and how is essential for parents. We are encouraging teachers to ask questions about such issues to both students and parents, to ensure that these considerations are taken into account.

Addressing the issue

The main thing is to make sure that what children are doing with the technology is done safely so that they’re not putting themselves in danger by going to a site that’s not suitable, and when they are online that they are behaving in an appropriate way. The most important thing to check is that they are not sharing personal information publicly or with strangers online without considering what they are doing.

Children often won’t see the harm in posting content about themselves, especially if their parents are doing the same thing. Part of the problem is that not everyone understands the privacy settings on platforms like Facebook, meaning that their content is available publicly for the world to see. Parents need to lead by example and take the time to consider their own social media activity. Staying safe online is an important life skill for everyone.

It should be remembered that there are many new social apps beyond the big players like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, such as Yik Yak and Oovoo. It can be difficult to keep on top of all this, so schools can help by running regular sessions for both their staff and parents to ensure that everyone has the latest information and that they understand what’s out there.

Voice of the children

Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to online safety, whether that’s parents, teachers or pupils. I am keen for schools to set up Digital Leader programmes, where groups of pupils are able to pass on messages about safety and cyber security in a voice that other young people are more likely to resonate with. There’s also the opportunity for students to help in writing the school’s online safety guide, as they will often have more insight into the newer trends online for people their age, and consequently, become your most valuable resource in this process. For example, the Digital Leaders we helped to set up at the Chantry School in Worcester present assemblies to year groups and share advice for what to look out for when speaking to others online. They also work hard to get messages and knowledge across to parents directly with a Parental Involvement Program. Find out more at catshill.com/chantry Similarly the Digital Leaders we set up for Westacre Middle School in Droitwich are running showcase lessons for parents to show them the range of cloud technology they use in school and at home. Find out more at catshill.com/showcase_lessons

We need to take a step back and evaluate the risks, so that everyone understands the multitude of possibilities online and how they can be managed effectively and safely.