As the Online Safety Lead, the last few months will have been draining.
The unknown of what children from our school have been up to online has certainly taken its toll. Not knowing what they have been using, for how long and if they have been safe whilst doing it has meant that trying to provide advice and support to children and families has been tough.
New academic year, same challenges
To say all children will have had the same experience over the last few months would be foolish. Some families will be fine – you know the ones – one of the nine adults you can rely on to attend your online safety events or actually open the frantic attachments about the latest app that you’ve persuaded the office to add to the newsletter.
These families will have recognised their increased time online during the lockdown and will have worked together to create a safe environment at home.
On the other hand are the families that keep us up at night. The ones who believe that when you ring home to explain that their child has 450 followers on their publicly open TikTok account they think that you are congratulating them on their success of their fame.
These children are likely to have had free reign on their devices for months now potentially with very few people who would know to or have the time to check in on them to make sure that they are safe.
This is why this September, more than ever before, we need to make sure that we ourselves are up to date and that the staff at your school are confident in their roles and responsibilities. Here are some of the ways that you can make sure that you are ready to keep your children safe on their return to school.
Get yourself up to date
Firstly, you need to make sure that you yourself are up to date with the current trends in the online world and the risks they involve. Just because a game or app is popular on a national level doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the most popular at your school; however, due to the fact that we are quite unsure as to what our children have been using, nation-wide trends are a good place to start.
- An excellent way of doing this is to watch the monthly updates on the National Online Safety website. Not only are they short and succinct (the start of term isn’t well known for having time on your hands to watch lengthy videos) they also direct you to platform guides that will be particularly useful.
- Another thing to note is that the Education for a Connected World (EfaCW) framework from UKCIS had an update in June this year, therefore familiarising yourself with the changes in here will help when ensuring that the correct online safety objectives are being taught at school.
- Finally, with all these new risks in mind, it is a pressing duty for Online Safety Leads to ensure that they have the most recent training. Luckily, National Online Safety have just published an updated Advanced Certificate in Online Safety for 2020/2021, a course that is aligned with statutory guidelines like KCSiE 2020 and RSE 2019. By completing it, you can ensure that you are trained up and ready to face anything that this academic year might throw at you.
Get school staff up to speed
The gap between the members of staff that feel confident around issues online and those who do not is likely to have widened over the last few months.
There will be those who have close contact with children in their personal life and that, coupled with the increase in the amount of time children have spent online, will mean that some adults will have been immersed in it.
Maybe their children have taught them how to use filters on Instagram to create the perfect selfie or they had to learn how to use Zoom to see the faces of their loved ones. Alternatively, the last few months for some will have been the perfect opportunity to have a technology holiday.
Without being surrounded by it at school or not listening to children constantly talking about it – it has been the perfect way to tune out of it all. They will have looked on at children in the supermarket twitching in a funny manner and might have found it odd, but they won’t have linked it to a new TikTok dance.
With this in mind, it is imperative that staff are brought up to speed with regards to what their roles and responsibilities are in keeping children safe online.
- Find some time to recap key points from your Online Safety policy with members of your school community reminding them about their own safe practice online. If your policy includes an Acceptable Use Policy – the start of the year is the perfect opportunity to get everyone to sign it to acknowledge what is expected of them when they are using technology in school.
- Ask SLT for an opportunity to inform teaching staff about the Online Safety objectives for their year group – the change in EfaCW may mean that there will be some extra planning involved for teachers so the sooner they know about this, the better.
- Make members of your school community aware about what is trending at the moment - a quick update of the most popular apps and games will make sure that staff know what to listen out for. Emailing staff key platform guides to read through or links to short explainer videos will save you time then doing this.
- As a rule, at the start of the academic year, the Designated Safeguarding Lead recaps what staff need to look out for and how to report concerns with regards to safeguarding. Make sure you have your say to highlight the fact that many safeguarding breaches may be related to activity online and should therefore be reported and treated in the same way.
- Remind staff where Online Safety resources can be found in school (online and offline) so as they don’t always need to come and ask you where to find them.
- Reiterate the importance of creating an ethos in the classroom where the children feel happy to talk about their online experiences without fear of getting into trouble.
- Ultimately reassure staff that we are working together and that if they are ever unsure about anything, to come to you for advice – your door is always open.
Create the right environment
Classrooms will have changed over the holidays and it might be that what you consider to be non-negotiables when it comes to online safety displays have been stashed in cupboards or have been lost. To make sure that the environment in your school in September ready, make sure that teachers are given what you expect to be displayed.
- Provide staff with a copy of the online rules for their year group or phase, (for some schools this could be the children’s acceptable use policy (AUP)).
- It would also be good practice to have a reminder of the Childline number and an image demonstrating what the CEOP button looks like.
- Ask staff to place these next to where the bulk of the technology is in a classroom or in a prominent area where the children are reminded of it frequently.
Get yourself some back up
The members of your Online Safety team are possibly hoping that you might have forgotten about them over the last few months! Remember that your team are essential when keeping children safe at your school – the job is too large for one person alone.
- Now is the time to email them; let them know you’ve missed them and inform that you will be getting in touch in the coming weeks to arrange a meeting to create your action plan for the forthcoming year.
- Let them know in the meantime to make any notes of any concerns they pick up from either children or adults so that you can discuss them at the first meeting.
- Start a recruitment drive! Changes in staff or priorities might mean that there are more people willing to join you. Send an email to all staff detailing the benefits of being part of the Online Safety team (you may need to bend the truth slightly or include the promise of cream cakes here)!
Raise the profile of online safety at your school
Lastly, make sure that Safer Internet Day (Tuesday 9th February 2021) is on the calendar. It feels like it’s a long way off at the start of the year, but somehow Christmas comes and goes and suddenly it’s right on top of you – now is the time to contact your local PCSO or invite people to deliver assemblies or work with the children – it’s amazing how quickly people get booked up that week.
As with any subject, we can prepare as much as we can, but can never be ready for everything that comes our way. If the only things that you manage to get done is ensure that the children know that they can come to any trusted adult in school with any online concerns and that the trusted adults know what to do when they receive that information – the rest can wait until later.