E-safety: The case for a radical rethink

When we explore e-safety with students…You can’t swim without water!


This was the take home message from the e-safety experts at Fantastict, during the 2014 Frog Conference this year.

Then, they asked what I now consider to be the most important question for anyone working with e-safety.

How can we model the safe and effective use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in a school, if we actively prevent students from using these tools in school?

After I heard this, all of my instincts preventing students from accessing social media started to break down. After all, my students spend hours playing ‘Call of Duty’, often in the dark and secluded world of their bedrooms while they use VOIP to talk to complete strangers. I don’t even know how many use Twitter and Facebook to interact with strangers who could be potential predators. Yet we never provide opportunities to show and demonstrate safe online practice to students.

We frequently discuss the need to educate students to lock down their Facebook profile so that they avoid sharing personal details, but we never give them opportunities to get on Facebook to do this with us safely in school, and to check that they’ve applied the settings correctly. If a teacher taught a lesson without properly assessing the progress of students we would declare that it requires improvement or even that it was inadequate.

Yet, when it comes to esafety, we’re often happy to lecture children, hold very good lessons on esafety, and hope that they bother to change their settings when they get home…which let’s be honest, knowing children, they probably don’t do anything. We need to at least measure and quantify these core outcomes of e-safety training.

Back in my good old school days, when Internet forums were cool, my friends and I would spend a couple of lunchtimes a week on an online support forum for an MSN Messenger plugin…I know right…we were clearly the cool kids. But despite all of the assembly warnings to ‘Avoid strangers online!’ and to ‘Never enter a chat room!’ the most useful bit of e-safety advice came from the IT technician who informally advised us that it probably wasn’t a good idea to mention what school we went to on the forum. It was pragmatic, personalised and clear advice. We acted on the feedback immediately and it kept us safe. After all, as any teacher knows, the more immediate and personalised the feedback the quicker a student will act on it.

But, what about students wasting their time?


Just to be clear, I’m not advocating unrestricted access to Facebook and Twitter. But, if our students use these sites, why don’t we offer them opportunities to facilitate good practice?

We can:

  • Run e-safety lessons where we let students explore Facebook and Twitter safely while we model effective and safe use from a professional account. This can just be done in a lesson.
  • Unblock social media at lunchtimes in areas that are supervised. If the area is staffed by someone trained in e-safety then we can offer students personalised e-safety advice in a safe and informal environment.
  • Only allow access to social media once individual students have demonstrated that they have set up suitable privacy settings and passed a rigorous e-safety awareness course.
Won’t I open up child protection risks in school?


There’s always the risk that a child will be cyber bullied via social media, at any time, inside or outside of school. Whether your internet connection is locked down or fully unblocked. It’s an unfortunate reality that we come across every year.
Students have access to mobile internet and those that don’t probably overheard and the school’s WiFi password. However, with a blanket ban on social media, and mobile phones, if a student is bullied it will often be via social media on their mobile phone.
How can I expect students to tell me that they received a horrible message on Twitter or Facebook if I am expected to rebuke them for using their phone in school? If they use social media that we allow, and when we allow it, then at least I know that students will feel safe to come forward to staff if they feel intimidated online.
Won’t OfSted go crazy if they see our students on these websites in school?
Absolutely not! How can you really demonstrate a mastery and command of e-safety unless you (and OfSted) can see these websites being used sensibly and safely in a suitable environment at break or lunch? Your only other alternative is to hide away the tools so that students use them in ways that you can’t see or have any control over.
After all Ofsted’s latest guidance (2013) when inspecting e-safety in schools calls out for…
A progressive curriculum that is flexible, relevant and engages pupils’
interest…Using data effectively to assess the impact of e-safety practice
Nothing could better embody this success criteria than an effort to practically engage students in the social media that they already use while making them safer as you do it.
To sum up…

the ulockr

Simply locking down what students can access is not enough to protect them in the digital world of 2014. It is time for a radical rethink of the strategies that we use to protect young people who use social media. Students will always attempt to bypass what they can access in school, but if we educate them well by giving them a real education using real social media, we can actually protect them.
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