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Equipping pupils with e-safety skills from an early age

Ben James Connor

Ben Connor is a Year 5 teacher at St. Michael’s Church of England Primary School. He has been teaching at St. Michael’s for 7 years in various year groups and is the R.E. and Computing Subject Leader. Ben is interested in the use of media to inspire writing, especially film and also using technology to enhance learning across the curriculum. He has been active on Twitter for over a year, stealing hundreds of good ideas and contributing a few of his own.

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Image credit: Flickr // verkeorg. Image credit: Flickr // verkeorg.

E-safety is vital for pupils from the age of four. From this age the vast majority of children in our country are having regular access to the internet via tablets or smartphones. Everything and everyone has an ‘app’, and creating apps and games for children is big business. How do we protect our children in a developing, potentially unsafe, world? How do we future-proof our children in a digital world?


In my experience there are no apps or websites that teach this topic securely, though we do have tools that can provide our pupils with the best chance at staying safe on the Internet. Firstly, through the oft-maligned Computing Curriculum we have a chance to make our pupils the most computer-literate generation ever. Children are expert end-users. They have grown up tapping, swiping and clicking. Increasingly they are the expert in their household.


Computing gives teachers an opportunity to teach pupils how those devices and software works. Part of this is to enlighten our pupils about how the internet works and how to keep safe. In my setting, I have used thinkuknow.co.uk to provide my pupils with a“I have used thinkuknow.co.uk to provide my pupils with a good understanding of e-safety.” good understanding of e-safety, whilst also teaching them how data transfer works. We also utilise Scratch, the block-based programming software produced by MIT, to teach children the basics of ‘Coding’. Only by educating our pupils about how computers, and more specifically the internet, works will we be able to create a safe online environment. The children we are educating now will be the experts of the future. In the meantime, however, the only true resource for cybersecurity is the children themselves.


The second tool we have at our disposal is the pupils themselves. No cybersecurity system is foolproof, and anyone who has fallen foul of a school internet filtering system will attest to this. Regardless of the strength of your system, some inappropriate material can filter through. For example, during a lesson about British wildlife, a colleague type the word ‘fox’ into a well-known Image Search and was greeted by photographs of Samantha Fox, alongside photos of other women in various states of undress. Our School Filtering system only works so well, and who knows what protection, if any, is provided for our pupils at home.


Relying on software doesn’t work, so we have trained our pupils how to react in the situation that they stumble across something inappropriate.


1) Pupils, especially those in UKS2, need to be taught what is and is not suitable for their age-range. The internet is chock full of violence, nudity, drugs and so on, all available at the touch of a button. Pupils need to be made aware of the effect on their mental health if they aren’t safe on the internet. The only way to achieve this is through a robust e-safety curriculum (thinkuknow is a good place to start), as well as an open discussion about internet use. Pupils need to know that they can talk to their teachers and peers. To teach about mental health and the internet I run a lesson called the ‘Sponge Test’ (see below).


2) Once pupils are clear what is, and is not, healthy viewing, they need to be trained how to react when they stumble across inappropriate content inadvertently. From Reception we discuss ‘butterflies in the tummy’, describing the feeling you get when you see or hear something you shouldn’t. It’s important that children are aware that not everything on the internet is suitable or safe. However, it’s their reaction to this ‘butterfly effect’ that is important. We’ve taught our pupils a few simple rules. First to put down the tablet/computer or to walk away from their TV. Secondly to speak to an adult, and be honest. We’ve all had that feeling as children when we do something wrong but don’t want to be told off by our parents. We need to make sure children are aware that telling an adult is vital.


3) Engaging and educating parents is vital. They need to be aware of the right ways to protect their children at home. They also need to know how to react when their children do approach them with issues. We have offered parent drop-in sessions to provide parents with knowledge on Security and Privacy settings.


Training our pupils how to react to inappropriate content is the best resource in maintaining their safety in a digital world.


Top Resources and Techniques


I think that every school should have a member of staff who is e-safety trained. I am a CEOP ambassador and the course really benefitted me and has allowed me to train staff and provide training for pupils throughout school. CEOP also provide the www.thinkuknow.co.uk website, which has age-related resources for all pupils, as well as advice for Parents and resources for Teachers.


Childnet.com and internetmatters.org also provide child-focussed resources and videos to use in the classroom. It is essential that e-safety becomes a regular part of school life. Children are best served when their knowledge of how to stay safe is regularly topped up in lessons and during assemblies. We need our pupils to use e-Safety skills as second nature, and so teachers need to stay up-to-date with current practice.


Two techniques I have used that have proven beneficial to developing awareness of E-Safety for pupils are the ‘Sponge Test’ and the ‘Grandma Rule’.


Sponge Test


One of the issues with e-safety is that inappropriate images, videos and other content is so easily accessible to our pupils. Added to this is the problem that children aren’t aware of what is inappropriate or not, and they are also unaware of the harm that content is having upon them. To “A robust e-safety curriculum is key.”help with this I discuss what harm the Internet can do. My pupils are happy to discuss the problems of meeting people that they talk to online, but often are unaware of the damage the internet can do to their mental health. I use a sponge. I tell my pupils that their brain is like a sponge: it retains lots of the information it receives. I use water to represent positive information: school work, age-appropriate content. Most of the water stays in the sponge. I then use black paint to represent the negatives that they might see or hear. This is the nudity, sexual content, violence, information on self-harm and eating disorders that our pupils are accessing every day. Some of the black paint is washed off, but the majority stays on the sponge. This represents the effect that the negative content has on pupils’ mental health.


Grandma Rule


The Grandma Rule is simple. When posting online, either photos or text, I always ask myself: “What would my Grandma think?” I also advise my pupils to do the same. If the photo or message is something that you wouldn’t show your Grandma, then you shouldn’t post is online for anyone to see.


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