Making the Best and Avoiding the Worst of the Internet
Senior pastoral staff at King Edward’s Witley are well aware of the downside of the infinite possibilities of the web and are educating pupils and parents in identifying and handling potential risks. They are also making the most of modern systems of communication to improve management systems within the school.
Parents frequently despair that their children seem to have limited interest in the art of good conversation, yet the current younger generation cannot be accused of not communicating. Far from it; they are inundated with opportunities to communicate via the plethora of social media channels now available to them.
E-safety is the buzzword used to raise awareness of the appropriate protocols that should be followed to safeguard young people during their online experiences. Not a day goes by without a report about the potential dangers of the internet, but while these are undoubtedly of grave concern, they should be balanced by an appreciation of the wealth of information and opportunities that the digital environment provides.
Andrew Day, chair of the e-safety working group at King Edward’s Witley, is well aware of the concerns many parents have about the internet which is, for some of them, an unfamiliar environment. The school takes pride in its outstanding commitment to pastoral care, and although it already has a strong e-security policy in place, it invited independent e-safety expert Karl Hopwood to the school to speak to pupils and staff and improve awareness of the steps that need to be taken to ensure a safe and responsible approach to internet usage.
According to Mr Hopwood, e-safety is not about enforcing bans on access to the internet, since that is all too likely to drive increased usage. Rather it is about empowering children and young people to keep themselves safe when online and encouraging them to be responsible users of the technology that is so appealing to them.
Cyberbullying, sexting, accessing inappropriate content, engaging in conversations with paedophiles or extremists, or developing an addiction to gaming or online activity – these are all challenging issues associated with the online community that the majority of young people are familiar with. But they are not necessarily equipped with the appropriate knowledge to understand how to protect themselves from falling victim to any of these digital dangers.
In addition to this, school-aged children are regularly warned about the increasing number of accidents or tragedies caused by young people failing to ‘switch off’ from social media when they need to pay attention to their physical safety in the real world. ‘Divided attention’ or ‘inattentional blindness’, as psychologists call it, can be responsible for children failing to hear cars or trains or even noticing the edge of a cliff top, because they are too wrapped up in a social media dialogue.
According to Mr Hopwood, the risks our children are less familiar with relate to the unintentional supply of personal information and the implications of this; and the failure to recognise the potential long term effects that inappropriate online behaviour can cause, resulting in a tarnished reputation for life.
A child’s reputation can be harmed not just by what they post, but also by what others share about them online, such as friends tagging them in inappropriate posts, photographs or videos. And while schools are charged with a growing responsibility to recognise the risks for the pupils in their care, Mr Hopwood believes that some schools are not entirely up to speed with all the critical safeguarding measures that need to be taken.
“There needs to be an ongoing awareness campaign to alert teaching staff to the potential dangers that the internet can introduce their pupils to; and this should include regular refresher training as technology evolves and new risks emerge within the digital landscape. It is not just teachers associated with technology-based subjects who need to be kept up to date; all teachers have a duty to embrace current technology and modern methods of communication so that they are able to effectively monitor the behaviour of children in their care,” he says.
Andrew Day agrees. “At King Edward’s, we take e-safety seriously and completely agree with Karl’s view that e-safety is not about technically blocking websites but far more about educating our pupils to use sound judgment when deciding what to access, and to consider future implications when posting content online. Although e-safety, as a topic, is covered and revisited throughout years 7, 8 and 9 within the computing curriculum, simply featuring the lesson within our curriculum is not enough. We are looking to shift thinking across the school.
“Pupils spend more time on social media each day than they do with any individual teacher. Pupils are the masters of their online destiny and we, as a school community, have a joint responsibility to look after each other ‘online’, as much as we do ‘offline’. Inviting Karl to King Edward’s each year for his thought-provoking whole school training significantly enriches our e-safety campaign and brings it to the forefront of minds. We do not believe that the sudden spike in access to Facebook privacy settings across the school network in the 20 minutes that follow each talk is a coincidence.” But what advice is there for parents of the current new media savvy generation? As statistics show that children are going online at an increasingly younger age, what steps should Spring 2016 51 Science and technology parents take? Mr Hopwood suggests the following top five e-security tips.
Lead by example
According to a recent report, children now worry more about their parents spending too much time on their mobiles or computers than parents worry about their children. Almost 70% of children think their parents spend too much time on their mobile phone, iPad or similar device, a poll of families found.
Right time, right place
Many children have their mobile phone or a tablet in their bedroom at night, which can cause a number of problems. Not only does it encourage unlimited access to the internet at a time when the child should be sleeping, it can also trigger health problems. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, smart phones emit ‘blue light’ which is known to hinder melatonin, a chemical in the body that promotes sleep. The night-time use of smart phones appears to have both psychological and physiological effects on people’s ability to sleep and on sleep’s essential recovery functions.
Suggest your child has a ‘technology amnesty’ from an agreed time every evening and keep the phones and tablets away from the bedroom.
Look out for warning signs
A marked change in behaviour, a defensiveness or obsessiveness around use of an internet-enabled device or, equally, a total withdrawal from the technology, can all be indicators that a young person is experiencing problems as a result of their online activity. Try to maintain an open dialogue with your child and, by listening sympathetically, create a supportive environment in which to discuss online issues.
Work in partnership
If you have concerns about a particular site or about your child’s online activity in general, raise this first with your child and then with the school. Schools and parents need to work together in partnership to establish an agreement regarding the appropriate boundaries and protocols for children and, where necessary, to provide the required support and guidance when children become troubled as a result of online experiences. At King Edward’s Witley, staff are always on hand to respond to any issues that a parent may have. Initially, the parent should contact their child’s tutor or housemaster or housemistress to discuss the matter.
Do your homework
If you class yourself as something of a technophobe, you need to do your homework and improve your understanding of the risks that your child could be exposed to online. Visit www.saferinternet.org.uk for access to a wide range of guidance and details on how to apply parental controls to the various devices that your child might be using. But, like the internet, Andrew Day has many facets! Together with his fellow housemaster, Nick Rendall, he has developed an innovative and pioneering new software package that is revolutionising the way in which housemasters and housemistresses manage their boarding houses.
The new software, ‘Badger’, is designed to maximise the time invested in pastoral care by drastically reducing the hours traditionally spent on the administrative tasks associated with safeguarding a large group of pupils. The software, which can be run on both Apple or PC devices, represents an entirely bespoke solution for house staff looking to identify a means of reducing the vast number of hours spent dealing with the paperwork, emails, telephone calls and staff notices that come with their role. The duo that created the software claim that installing the programme (which is customised to meet the requirements of an individual school) can save hours of time in the school day. Andrew and Nick have spent three years developing Badger and the software has been given a trial run in the majority of houses at King Edward’s over the last two and half years. Alongside this, since February 2015, Badger has also been tried at Bedales School.
“King Edward’s Witley has very high standards of pastoral care. When Nick and I first started as housemasters at the school in September 2012, we became acutely aware of how much of our time was taken up with the administration that is undoubtedly essential to ensure the children’s continued well-being and personal development. As well as maintaining the vital regular dialogue with parents and supporting staff, we wanted to create a means to enable King Edward’s Witley to continue to lead the field in the delivery of a pupil centred pastoral service implicit to the role of a Housemaster or Housemistress – and to be less of a slave to the ‘filing cabinet’!
“Nick and I have invested a considerable amount of time developing and fine-tuning the Badger concept outside school hours and as part of our continuous professional development. We now have a unique cross platform product that enables house staff to deal quickly and efficiently with a range of data/ information requests pertaining to all the day and boarding pupils allocated to their house. The system also represents a valuable monitoring tool, and enables house staff to create a profile which illustrates the progress of a pupil over a given period of time. The feedback we have received to date has been overwhelmingly positive and we now look forward to rolling out the product to schools across the UK,” says Andrew Day.
The developers of the system called it ‘Badger’ because they felt it conjured up the safe storage of vital resources out of sight behind the scenes or even underground, after the example of a badger’s sett. The software was launched at the Conference on Boarding – ‘Thriving in a changing world’ – hosted by Bedales School.
Andrew and Nick have set up a company, Meadow House Systems Ltd, with a support team to enable the roll out of the software, allowing them to remain focused on their respective housemaster positions. For further details about the product, contact Nick Rendall: email@example.com