Trying to engage the whole school in Online Safety can often feel like an uphill battle.
When you look at it from an outsider’s point of view you can see why – it is an area that staff often lack confidence in and, on top of that, it’s always changing. It’s little wonder that some members of the school community deal with it by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Sometimes staff become frustrated at the fact that a lot of the issues surrounding online safety come from home, as if there aren’t enough issues to deal with in school without last night’s squabbles on the Xbox to contend with as well.
It is also vast area to cover and influences many areas of school life. When we are talking about keeping safe online, we also mean the adults keeping themselves safe, not just the children. With so many things to consider, it is often hard to know where to start when trying to engage the whole school, but it is so important to get everyone on board.
1. Have a vision
First, think very carefully about your ultimate aim – to keep all members of the school community safe whilst they are engaged with activities online.
This extends to practice inside and outside of school. You want children leaving your school to be good digital citizens; to be aware of dangers, understand online risks and know what to do when things go wrong.
Whenever it seems that you are unsure about how to proceed to get everyone on board with online safety, think back to your ultimate vision and then keep this at the heart of all that you do. Children’s safety and happiness is paramount, and you would be hard pressed to find a member of staff at your school that doesn’t agree with this.
2. Ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities
Having a robust, easy-to-understand and accessible policy is essential to explain to all members of the school community their roles and responsibilities.
Online Safety isn’t something that the Computing lead ‘does’. It shouldn’t be ‘Oh there she goes going on about TikTok again.’ This would be like saying that all safeguarding issues are just the Designated Safeguarding Lead’s job.
It can’t possibly be down to one person and it would dangerous for people to think this as so much could go unnoticed. Teachers, governors, the SLT, dinnertime staff, teaching assistants and children themselves all have a role to play in keeping everyone safe.
It’s the kitchen staff who overhear a 7-year-old getting excited about the new GTA coming out and, although they might not know what to do with this information, they know who to go to who does. It’s the Learning Mentor who has noticed the dark circles under a child’s eyes and has become more withdrawn recently who logs this in the incident recording system in school that is picked up by the Online Safety lead.
All of these pieces may not make much sense on their own, yet they fit together to create a whole picture. The more everyone understands that everyone is equally important, the more your school can keep your children safe.
3. Set clear boundaries
Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) are a great way for people to know what is expected of them when they go online, from keeping their passwords safe to going to a trusted adult if something has made them feel uncomfortable. It is almost like a contract that they agree to which can then be on display near computer areas in classrooms and around school.
Keeping these visible reminds everyone about what they have signed and the basic rules what they can do to keep themselves safe. Different AUPs should also be signed by all members of the school community to make sure that the whole school is involved.
For example, an AUP for a member of teaching staff might outline where and when they can use personal devices in school. Adults on the whole don’t want to break rules – it is more often than not that the rules are unclear.
4. Keep staff knowledge up to date
Once staff understand the importance of online safety at your school, you then need to ensure that they are confident in knowing what to look or listen out for.
A staff meeting at the start of a school year running through all of the trending apps and games at that point in time is going to be out of date very quickly and staff may forget all of the names and dangers as the year progresses. Little and often is a good approach here.
The start of staff meetings are always a good time to spend a couple of minutes briefly updating staff about why children enjoy certain apps or games, what the dangers are and what to listen out for from children. Placing platform guides from National Online Safety on the tables in the staff room are also a good way to keep everyone informed about current trends or apps/games that is prevalent at your school at that moment in time.
It is also important to make sure that there are certain points in a school year where there is time dedicated to staff training to elevate its importance at your school.
Choosing quality training such as that from National Online Safety makes sure that everyone is receiving the same message and is learning about content that is ever changing. The Online Safety lead isn’t always the best person to deliver training as they cannot be the expert in everything – occasionally it is best to rely on outside sources to keep everyone up to date.
5. Make sure that all online safety incidents are reported
Once everyone understands their responsibilities and what they ought to be looking or listening out for, staff then need to know what to do with this information.
This can be very different depending on the member of staff or the severity of the incident. However it is important that all incidents are reported in some way.
Including a simple flowchart in the appendices of your Online Safety Policy can make this clear for staff and therefore they are much more likely to follow it. Different schools have different ways of reporting and logging incidents – it may be an electronic log or a handwritten one.
What is important though is that it is available for the Online Safety Lead to look back through so that they know what issues are occurring at your school and perhaps identify trends.
6. Get other curriculum subjects involved
Timetables are always full to capacity and there is little room for extra lessons. Therefore, even though online safety should be constantly ‘drip fed’ to students, it is easy to see how it can sometimes be left to Computing lessons and Safer Internet Day.
By showing your staff how it links to other areas of the curriculum, it is much more likely to be embedded and spoken about more often. By liaising with the SMSC coordinator and the person who draws up the assembly timetable you can make sure that safety messages can be shared more often.
7. Use quality resources (not quantity)
It is a fact that every single person in a school is busy. This means that it is imperative that the resources that you direct people to are of good value, in that they are up to date, engaging and reliable.
Computing is an area where many staff are less confident and therefore detailed lesson plans are very important when empowering your staff in regards to teaching about online safety. In order to save yourself time, and make sure that quality lessons are being taught, choose two or three sources from where you acquire your resources.
This will mean that the staff have faith in them, they will be more confident to deliver the lessons and there will be progression in the teaching and learning of online safety throughout your school.
Staff don’t have time to be trawling through the internet, finding resources and then trying to assess if they are of good quality or not. Do your colleagues a favour and narrow down the choices. They will thank you for it and you can sleep at night knowing that it is being taught well at your school.
8. Get yourself a team – you are not an island
Creating an online safety team is a great way to spread the word and receive feedback from across the school about staff and children’s feelings around online safety.
Wading through and analysing endless logs of online incidents can be a lonely task! Having a few people in your team such as a governor and representatives from a variety of key stages will help to sound out ideas for moving your school forward and help spread the word around school.
9. Use your pupil’s voice
More often than not, children are aware before the adults about the new game on the scene or that WhatsApp chats are causing major rifts between the girls in Year 6. Having a team of children dedicated to promoting online safety at your school will keep you in the loop about what is really going on in the online world.
Asking this team to meet regularly and spread messages around school is powerful. Some children may be more willing to listen to the advice of their peers rather than what they believe to be a fossil at the front of the class trying to talk about Roblox.
Online safety is just safeguarding online
Issues in online safety are exactly the same as issues in safeguarding. Safeguarding issues wouldn’t be ignored simply because they happened at home or that the member of staff involved didn’t understand it, so why should online ones be any different?
Engaging the whole school community isn’t easy, but it isn’t an option of whether or not people want to be involved if you want the staff and children at your school to be safe.
This article was written by Heather Cardwell, a practising Online Safety Lead with extensive experience of teaching, training and managing all aspects of online safety in schools.
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