When Steve Taylor began his role as Vice Principal and Designated Safeguarding Lead at Arnold Hill Academy, he knew the importance of empowering the school community with online safety expertise.
With technology ever evolving, he knew that the Academy needed a proactive approach towards keeping their children safe online, and ultimately opted to enrol in our Certified School programme.
Fast-forward to February 2021 and the Nottinghamshire-based Academy, which is a part of the Spencer Academies Trust, had achieved accreditation after completing the necessary CPD steps.
The significance of online safety
When speaking about his initial remit at Arnold Hill, Mr Taylor says he felt that all staff had a responsibility for protecting children, and it was up to him to find an organisation who could support them in delivering that duty.
He said: “When I knew I was coming to Arnold Hill and going into safeguarding, I realised that online safety was huge and was going to become even more significant.
“The point in which we bought into National Online Safety was just before the pandemic in March 2020, so it actually served as a really good opportunity to support safe internet use as remote provision effectively became our sole method of teaching and learning. Additionally, it enabled us to provide quality online training for our staff and governors.
“Our staff have all done the training. We make it a part of our CPD programme, so recently our staff have all done the latest online safety training related to their role, whether they’re a teacher or supporting teaching – I’ve obviously done the DSL training.
“A lot of what we have to deal with problematically comes via social media, so it’s really important for us to promote those acceptable online behaviours. I’ve always thought that’s important, but it’s even more important for the young people who’ve been adversely impacted by the pandemic.
“Online safety is never going to diminish in terms of its importance, because sadly, quite a lot of people are addicted to their devices. The fact that young people are spending so much time on devices, as an Academy and educators, we have a responsibility to try and make sure that our students stay safe online and treat others with respect.”
Support from National Online Safety
The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it all sorts of different challenges for the education sector, none more so that a switch to remote learning.
Safeguarding also forms a part of those challenges, but as Mr Taylor states, National Online Safety have always been there to lend a hand.
“The vast majority of our students always use the internet safely and appropriately but like all schools, we’ve had to deal with problematic issues in the last 18 months. These include issues related to online conduct and safety, in terms of risks to self or others. For example, incidents of cyberbullying, youth produced sexual imagery and accessing age-inappropriate material,” he explained.
“We’ve used the resources effectively to support students and their parents/carers when we’ve had those kind of incidents.
“At the beginning of lockdown, we had a couple of instances of ‘lesson-bombing’, but through some proactive work with our community liaison officer, we supported those young people well and made sure that it didn’t happen again.
“But again, we used some of the resources which you provide – which are really accessible and effective, to support both students and parents/carers.”
Of course, parents/carers play a vital role in ensuring that their child isn’t exposed to harmful online content and behaviours, so Arnold Hill have placed a huge focus on increasing their parental engagement.
Mr Taylor revealed: “We do a lot of preventative work, so that we can try and stop things from happening in the first instance. I send out a safeguarding email once a week to parents/carers, and we encourage them to create their own account and use the mobile application; we have around 300 parents/carers with an account currently.
“Where we’ve had an incident of inappropriate use of the internet, we’ve then followed that up with conversations with parents/carers, subsequently pointing them to appropriate webinars and asking them to sit down with their child and work together.
“That’s been really good because we’ve been able to link specific resources that you produce. Not just the courses, but the explainer videos are excellent, because they’re quite short and parents/carers often haven’t got time to sit down and do a course.
“The awareness for parents/carers is a constant thing that we need to keep re-iterating, because, generally speaking, parents and all adults they’re nowhere near as savvy as our students are!
“The webinars are very accessible and user-friendly too.”
More than an accreditation
In Mr Taylor’s eyes, becoming certified is a fantastic achievement that should be celebrated widely, but the most crucial benefit is the actual knowledge, awareness and learning for all stakeholders.
“For me, it’s not about the kitemark, it’s the substance of what we’re doing. It’s about the delivery of important information, knowledge, understanding and awareness really,” he stated.
“It’s nice to say that we’re an accredited Academy and we do take online safety very seriously – which we do.
“The breadth of resources is really impressive and continues to improve. For example, the succinct PDFs which you can download so you’ve got information on the latest social media are great.
“You’ve got really short, snappy videos and courses which have got that element of accreditation to them. The fact that it’s supporting development for so many stakeholders is a real feature.”
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