Education or regulations?

Educating rather than blocking  

Our latest Gooseberry Alert is now on the platform.  This one is all about Changing Perceptions.
The Department for Education recently updated its statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe In Education which will apply to all schools from 3rd September 2018.–2
The DfE appears to be shifting its emphasis from relying on blocking and filtering, to advocating a more holistic approach including teaching online safety for the whole school community.  It is also encouraging that the government is recognising that online safety impacts many safeguarding issues including child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and sexual predation.

In the September 2016 statutory guidance, blocking and filtering were made mandatory, but thankfully the DfE has realised that children have 3G or 4G on the phones, so no matter how much schools filter and block, the risks to children’s safety from their online activities do not disappear.  Schools might well be protecting themselves in case they are sued, but what is really important is that they protect children.
 “Governors and proprietors should consider a whole school approach to online safety. Whilst it is essential that governing bodies and proprietors ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place, they should be careful that “over blocking” does not lead to unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regard to online teaching and safeguarding”
“The use of technology has become a significant component of many safeguarding issues. Child sexual exploitation; radicalisation; sexual predation: technology often provides the platform that facilitates harm.  An effective approach to online safety empowers a school or college to protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in and escalate any incident where appropriate.”

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is an effective approach?”  Do we expect children
to learn this subject in one-off lessons or in an assembly?  Since when did we learn how to swim in one lesson?  There is no programme or process for schools to follow.  What needs to go wrong before schools start to take notice, and realise that it is not enough to just tick a box after giving a PowerPoint presentation?
Online grooming is one of the biggest fears of any parent.  Children are being groomed via games, such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft.  We need to teach them what to be aware of, how someone might groom them and how a potential offender might behave towards them.  Until we start using the right language we will not have an impact.
We talk to children about their online and offline lives but we need to realise that they see little distinction; being online is a huge and natural part of their lives.  Being a mother of two boys aged 11 and 16, I know that if I shut down their access to the internet, I shut down access to their friends and social circles.  Just as we teach children about road safety, we need to help them to develop the skills to be aware of dangers online.  We cross the road with them when they are younger but at some stage they have to cross the road by themselves.  Blocking will never allow them to be aware of the risks and signs of danger.  Furthermore, I believe online safety should be taught at a very early age.  With recently published statistics showing that 71% of 5/6 years olds have an internet enabled device in their bedrooms and that 4 in 10 children under the age of 13 have been approached by someone they do not know, we need to start children’s online education much earlier.  New figures out from O2, reveal that 98% of children being groomed are under the age of 13 years old.
Many parents are unable to keep up with what their children are doing and where potential dangers lie in the rapidly changing technology world which their children can readily access.  Over 50% of teachers feel uncomfortable teaching the subject and yet 65% of parents want schools to teach their children about online safety.   Until the DfE recognises online safety as a necessary life skill which needs to be taught in the same way as any other subject on the curriculum, the problem will grow.
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