February 2011


  • Digital dangers
    Recent research shows that many schools feel they are ill-equipped to train staff in e-safety. Julie Nightingale looks at what schools can do to improve teachers’ understanding of online risks. More
  • Freedom and choice or a heavy burden?
    Half of ASCL members at the autumn information conferences said they were considering academy status but were still undecided. Here, Brian Rossiter explains why his school has opted to take the academy route… More
  • Joining forces
    Closing a school brings a raft of practical headaches as well as a heavy emotional toll, as Peter Crowe found out when he oversaw the federation and eventual closure of a neighbouring school 18 months ago. More
  • Ensuring natural selection
    In December’s Leader, Richard Fawcett gave his top tips for writing an application that gets noticed. Here, he looks at what you can do to ensure you make the right impression on the interview day. More
  • Be better together
    The schools white paper has set out plans for a national network of teaching schools. Steve Munby of the National College, which is playing a major role in the initiative, outlines the vision and answers some key questions. More
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Recent research shows that many schools feel they are ill-equipped to train staff in e-safety. Julie Nightingale looks at what schools can do to improve teachers’ understanding of online risks.

Digital dangers

Younger teachers are generally thought to have the edge when it comes to matters of IT but even the most switched-on recruits can sometimes fail to grasp essential rules.

So it was when Dave Garland introduced a set of trainee teachers to e-safety. “I do regular sessions with our initial teacher training students and in one I asked for all of their email addresses. I then went on to Facebook and downloaded various publicly available information they had all put up there. Some were sporting pictures or university ones – fine – and then there’s one of a young lady ‘getting bladdered on a night out’.”

Cue open mouths and a few embarrassed laughs from the trainees but the message about the need for circumspection in what you put online – or at least, the need to set privacy controls – had gone home.

“It was a bit of naivety on their part,” says Dave, deputy head at Saltash, an 11-19 community school in Cornwall.

Knowing where to draw the line between personal and professional lives is vital for staff members’ own e-safety, says Dave, as the experience with trainees proves.

Training for staff in e-safety matters emerged as a key area of weakness among schools who have used 360 degree safe, a review tool developed by the South-West Grid for Learning to help schools to assess how well they address e-safety issues and to pinpoint areas of weakness. Free to all schools, it has been used by 547 so far and won the award for best leadership and management solution at this year’s Bett, the education technology show.

In analysis of data collected in the reviews – the biggest study of its kind worldwide – many schools, by their own reckoning, felt ill-equipped to instruct their adults in e-safety matters.

“We were surprised that there was more provision for parents compared to staff,” says David Wright, e-safety consultant at SWGfL.

The lack of national guidance on e-safety training may be partly responsible, he suggests, plus some schools continue to see e-safety as the responsibility of technical staff or parents, a point echoed by Helen Penn, head of education at internet safety watchdog CEOP.

“We feel strongly that this is a child protection issue and therefore heads and child protection officers need to be responsible for it.”

CEOP would like to see e-safety made a prominent part of professional development for all staff and has also talked to the TDA about incorporating it in initial teacher training as standard, though with no success so far.

An important part of training is helping staff to understand how young people operate online, believes Dave Garland, so that their warnings to pupils are taken seriously rather than viewed as kneejerk reactions of an out-oftouch adult. To this end, Saltash has organised special residential sessions on social networking, where they used Ning – a tool that allows you to create your own ‘closed’ social network – to get to grips with how young people communicate in those worlds.

“The aim was to alert them to the way students communicate and to the possibilities and pitfalls therein so that, when the issue comes up in class, teachers can say not just ‘you can’t do that, it’s banned’ but rather ‘don’t do that, it’s dangerous for this reason’,” says Dave.

One thing school leaders could usefully do to keep e-safety at the forefront of staff minds is to update acceptable use policies (AUPs) regularly and get staff to re-sign them each time, Helen says.

“Things that have emerged in the last year that I would be adding to the AUP include a warning for staff not to be adding pupils as friends or contacts in social networking sites,” she says. “Doing so puts them at risk of being liable for whatever happens there.”

Bradon Forest, an 11-16 school and performing arts college near Swindon, Wiltshire, has capitalised on young people’s knowledge of technology and created ‘the e-team’– a dozen students who advise on ICT matters and have helped train staff in e-safety.

“They run e-safety assemblies in school and at partner primary schools each year during an e-safety week, help staff to identify proxy sites [ones that can be used to circumvent filters on the school system] and attend e-safety themed inset days,” says Dave Wright, the school’s head of ICT. Most recently the team produced a guide on how to set privacy controls on Facebook.

In-house advice like this, whether from students or other staff, has generally been the best way forward for the school, he thinks.

“With staff, we have always taken small steps. We get them to think about how they use ICT in their subject and if they are using the internet in lessons always to check basic things like what filters they have on.”

Things staff routinely overlook are the importance of privacy settings on their personal social networking sites and “making sure Bluetooth [the short-range wireless internet connection] is switched off so that no one can access the photos on your phone,” he adds.

Ruth Hammond, formerly e-safety guru for education technology agency Becta and now a consultant, has some general recommendations on e-safety training for staff.

“Many teachers are embarrassed to admit that they aren’t already up to speed so it’s important to set the tone of the session – you don’t have to be a techie to be able to support young people to be sensible online,” she says. “And don’t just include teaching staff – support staff need to know what to do should children confide in them.”

As with any training session try to get a feel for the level of knowledge among the audience and pitch appropriately, she advises. It could be in the form of a short fun quiz with a choice of answers, using electronic voting pads to anonymise the responses if staff are nervous.

Most schools are concerned by ‘What happens if . . .’, so many will run sessions because they are having problems, she adds. “Use incident cards for groups of staff to consider what they think could/should be done in each case. Group discussions around possible scenarios are often very fruitful and get people talking.”

Ruth also supports the view of Saltash and Bradon Forest that staff need to grasp how young people are using technology in reality. She recommends running a survey with pupils to find out what ICT they use and, for example, what they use it for, how long they stay online or what restrictions are set by their parents. The results can then be shared with the staff group.

“You may need to explain some of the technologies or the terms for staff,” she adds. “Better still get a group of students to talk about their digital lifestyles and answer the questions for you.”

  • Julie Nightingale is a freelance writer specialising in education and ICT

Further information

  • CEOP’s free training package, Thinkuknow (TUK), has resources covering all aspects of e-safety, and is available to schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Teachers can also do a half-day training course. See www.thinkuknow.co.uk

  • Teachers can learn how to protect their privacy and reputation online at www.teachtoday.eu/en/Teacher-advice/Introduction.aspx See also ‘Digital dirt’, a short film from Orange available on YouTube, which demonstrates the consequences of posting information online.

  • There’s advice on developing an e-safety training strategy in the LSCB (Local Safeguarding Children Boards) toolkit which can be downloaded at www.2rheducation.co.uk/home/e-safety

Digital dangers