The changing world of e-safety

Adam Speight

Award-winning teacher Adam Speight is head of ICT and Computer Science at Mary Immaculate High School in South Wales. He has a Master's degree in Technology for Teaching and Learning. Qualifying as a teacher in 2011, he has since worked in both Wales and England in the state and independent sectors in a middle leadership role. He is always keen to share his ideas and is a frequent educational writer and speaker. Adam is always looking for new, innovative teaching ideas, so that no learner ever gets left behind.

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How many hours do you spend online? This was a classic question that, not so long ago, was at the heart of any e-safety lessons which took place in a school environment. This question is now awfully outdated because, as a society, we live in an interconnected world whereby we are always at some point in our day connected to this thing we call the Internet. This change in society has progressed at a rate quicker than technology has perhaps progressed, and these changes pose great difficulties for young people as to how they become part of this digital world. For us as educators, we have a fundamental role to play with how we help young people to embrace this digital world in a safe and secure manner.

Educating pupils how to stay safe in this digital world tends to rest with the person who is the school e-safety officer / digital champion - most probably the head of IT. However, this model is flawed and outdated. E-safety has become such a wide and varying topic it can now affect every aspect of a person’s wellbeing. The days of giving pupils the same messages about not posting malicious messages online is long gone. Pupils now use the Internet / mobile apps as a way of expressing themselves, and we as educators need to guide them as to how to do this correctly.

Getting young people to use mobile apps and the Internet correctly is easier said than done. Lots of young people sign"E-safety has become so wide it can now affect every aspect of a person’s wellbeing." up to these sites thinking they're safe, secure and reputable, so why would they want to listen to us saying otherwise? And they're right, because we as educators sign up to lots of online products / apps without even thinking about what we’re signing up to. The world of privacy in technological terms has gone, and this is because technology is being designed to know more and more about us, whether we like it or not. This change in technology poses many risks for both society and us as educators, and this is why I truly believe the only way e-safety provision can be correctly delivered in schools is to devolve it fully.

Devolving e-safety provision in schools means moving away from having a sole e-safety officer and instead distributing the role amongst a team of people, one that needs to be carefully put together. It shouldn’t be a team of people who just want to obtain another TLR. It needs to be a group who can deal with e-safety provision efficiently, meaning that they not only need to deal with incidents when they occur, but they also need to ensure the e-safety curriculum in their school is constantly changing and is kept relevant. Keeping your e-safety curriculum relevant is a hard task and it is much more than just having an e-safety charter mark and saying “aren’t we wonderful?” It is about looking at the way in which we educate young people and staff to use technology correctly.

In order to get young people to think about this concept more clearly we need to devolve this process even further down to classroom teachers, and it is important that when classroom teachers talk about an issue to do with e-safety, they talk about it with an open mind. This means they shouldn’t talk about an issue with hypocrisy, such as telling pupils not to meet people they meet online, and this is because this statement is utterly flawed. This statement is flawed as many of us now meet our future partners online and, as such, it is wrong of us to make out it should never happen when society has already made it acceptable. This means that schools need to come up with a consistent message of how staff should deliver these key e-safety topics. Schools still need to highlight the dangers associated with each of these topics, but they also need to ensure that they look at how these risks can be prevented / limited if people decide to go and do them anyway.

When talking about these topics, it is important the information young people are given is pitched correctly, and yes, certain e-safety issues can ruin a person’s professional career before it has even started. However, we need to make sure pupils understand and know what they must do if an incident occurs so that its "We all make mistakes, and we shouldn’t forget this."impact can be limited. We as educators, therefore, need to create an environment for young people whereby they can report these incidents and know they’ll have a group of people who will deal with them in a manner which is sensitive and gets the best outcome for all of the individuals involved. We all make mistakes, and we shouldn’t forget this.

Getting the best outcome for the individual involved is a complex issue, especially where incidents such as sexting occur. This is why e-safety provision needs to be devolved in schools and should rest with a group of people as opposed to just one person. School needs to make informed decisions based on what happens with these e-safety incidents. As such, a group of people should be involved in this process, so that any decisions which are made are made in the knowledge they’ve been made correctly by a team of people - and not just by one person. It’s important to include relevant agencies and produce records of all e-safety incidents which occur. No e-safety incident should be brushed under the carpet, and as such we as educators have to understand e-safety is a fundamental aspect of child protection, which means we’re all responsible for ensuring its implementation right across our schools.

The issues covered in this article only scrape the surface in terms of what e-safety provision should look like in our schools. E-Safety provision is - and should be - constantly change. It is much more than having a charter mark which says you’re wonderful: it is about you as a school keeping up-to-date and protecting the young people in your care. These young people are growing up in a world which is greatly different from what we grew up in, and it is our responsibility to help them navigate it efficiently, safely and correctly.

How do you tackle e-safety? Let us know below.

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