What does it mean to be an online safety lead?
It seems like a simple question. Surely it just means a person who leads online safety right?
It’s a role that no one pulls you into a room and asks you if you want to be it. The chances are that you don’t even know that you are, indeed, the online safety lead.
One day, you’re the computing lead, and the next, the extra title has been added to your name. A little like an afterthought. And you don’t mind at first because, after all, it’s just part of computing, right?
From computing expert to online safety expert
As the computing lead, you’re already used to the quick, “Ooo just the person. I’ve turned my entire screen upside down. How do I put it back?” or the, “Sorry to bother you at 8:35am on a Tuesday morning, but my cat walked across my laptop yesterday and now it won’t connect to anything.”
Or the one that can turn your blood to ice, “The internet isn’t working.”
The day-to-day battle with supporting your colleagues with technology is a constant. And you love it – it feels nice to be the superhero that saves the day with the flick of a plug or a tamper with the settings.
Then gradually, over time, the questions started to change.
“What exactly is Fortnite?”
“Jack has been sending mean messages to Joe – do I get involved or is it a home issue?”
“Sarah has dark circles under her eyes and says she takes her tablet to bed with her every night. What shall I say to parents?”
Suddenly, without you quite realising it, online safety is a very big thing.
Your Head Teacher starts to wonder and enquire about the online safety policy – what is it and do we have one?
You reply that we do and then hope and pray that he doesn’t start asking you questions that are too in depth about the firewalls and security that are in place to protect our children.
You look on in amazement at the 36 pages of policy that somehow cover everything from teaching the children about being good digital citizens to GDPR. Who is the link governor they would like to know (as the governors start to shuffle to the back of the room in dread).
The enormity of the task starts to hit you.
Online risks are real
On a serious note, you realise that the dangers in the online world are very real and, as an adult, the potential risks out there fill you with dread in a way that your children just can’t understand.
For example, when they give the perfect online safety answer about keeping their information private, only for you to find that their accounts are public and they have over 300 followers which they see as good news. They are getting a head start on their future career of being a ‘youtuber’ you see.
That they have accepted ‘User34256’ into their group chat because they’ve listened to everything that you have said about only accepting people they definitely know and this was safe – user34256 was Josh’s brother’s friend’s football coach’s nephew. So, he’s absolutely not a stranger.
They then go on to discuss where they meet up in the evenings on there for everyone to see. How else were they meant to find out when and where to meet up? The discussions come rolling in with a mixture of excitement and nonchalance on the children’s part and shock and disbelief on the teachers.
Consequently, after trying to make yourself believe that it is only a small add on to your computer lead role, you have to face the facts and understand what is actually your responsibility.
- It’s the making sure that you know what is being taught in your school to make sure that the children know the dangers and risks online and that it is being taught in a logical way to help guide them through this process.
- It’s being the approachable person for staff who might not know what the latest app is and would like some advice that they can then pass on to parents and carers.
- It’s being the person who is supportive of colleagues and wants them to be confident in an ever-changing area that can be daunting for some.
- It’s trying to explain to staff that banning all children from everything online is not the solution because this is likely to drive activity underground.
- It’s ensuring that parents and carers understand that an open dialogue with our children is the only way that we are going to help them.
How to be successful
At times, it feels as though trying to keep children safe online is an unachievable goal; that the children will do what they like despite everything we do to keep them safe.
But it is not hopeless. There are many things you can do to be an effective online safety lead:
- Try to be proactive - sometimes you need to be the one approaching parents and carers because it is highly unlikely that the families you need to communicate with are going to come to you.
- Keep up-to-date by attending training and ensuring that you supply staff with a small set of quality, regularly reviewed resources rather than spending hours trawling the internet for out of date, incorrect information.
- Aim to raise the profile of online safety in your school to ensure that staff are on your side when understanding the importance of children being safe online and are confident in knowing what to do if an incident arises.
- Be aware of what is actually happening in your school by analysing the incident reports rather than just guessing that the app in the news is the one that is big in your school too.
- Strive to be patient when an incident in the news suddenly catapults your role to fame for a week, but also have the stamina to use this sudden spike in awareness to your advantage.
- Most importantly, do not pretend to be the expert in everything. This just isn’t possible, but reassure staff that, working together, we can look after our children – it is achievable.
It is a persistent, ever changing role that infiltrates so many aspects of school life. It’s a role you possibly never asked for, but it is the role that allows you to possibly have the greatest impact on the lives of our children.
Embrace it – the children and staff at your school are counting on you to keep them 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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