4 non-negotiables for online safety
While education is a busy profession and our lives become ever more online; the safety of our communities is too important to leave to chance.
With the above in mind, here are my 4 non-negotiables for a safer online community.
1. Online safety should be curriculum wide
All too often online safety and digital literacy are given too narrow a focus in schools, only featuring in IT or PSHE lessons. In truth, they are critical aspects that should be interwoven across all subjects so that students can be better informed and become well-rounded digital citizens that can use technology safely, effectively, and discerningly. Students need to know how to stay safe online, how to protect their identities and their data; a key part of this is having a clear understanding of the potential risks of using technology, how to interact with others online, and how to use technology responsibly. The more we can weave and teach digital literacy into tangible examples across multiple subject domains, the more well rounded our learners’ experiences and understanding will be, enabling them to be insightful users of technology.
2. Narrate the good
Quite simply, practice what you preach and highlight good practices.
Sharing good practice around online safety is important as it not only helps to create a safe environment for all within an educational setting but it also helps to perpetuate positive messages and continues to raise awareness of how to manage and mitigate risk(s).
It is not so important how to share good practices, through reminder emails, spotlights in newsletters, agenda items in meetings, and so on, but what is more important is that good practices become the fiber of your cultural being; ingrained into everyone's habits and attitudes towards online safety. The more we share positive examples and practices, the better informed and ultimately prepared and protected people in our communities will be.
So, why not add some positive examples of good practice to your next notice/bulletin to help keep your community informed.
3. Involves students
Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn.” In education, invariably the sole responsibility for online safety will fall to either the safeguarding lead or the DPO (data protection office), but the truth of the matter is that online safety is akin to numeracy and literacy; they are the responsibility of every teacher, not just Maths and English teachers. With this in mind, as I hinted in my first non-negotiable, why not involve students to help teach us about their experiences online so that we can curate a more rounded and informed approach to online safety within our school communities.
Many schools have student digital leaders and this could be further expanded to have students supporting teachers and their school by making suggestions as to what they feel their peers and families would benefit from learning about so that they can be better informed in the future and know how to protect themselves from potential risks. This would also give rise to further opportunity to develop critical thinking skills amongst learners and, given that young people are the ones most likely to be exposed to associated risks, they can help to provide important insights to guide schools in supporting their communities.
Finally, involving students in discussing online safety also helps to create a culture of respect and responsibility, both personally and collectively, which is of vital importance so that we can all share knowledge and experiences while trying to keep up-to-date in the fast paced world in which we live.
4. Engage your community at every opportunity
Adults will often not want to ask for support around online safety issues for fear of embarrassment, so make the support readily available through a multitude of avenues. Give all the stakeholders in your school community the opportunity to educate, be educated, and informed. Provide timely updates about all aspects of online safety such as new threats, the latest recommendations, and suggest tips/ tools to help protect users. You may also wish to host webinars and/or workshops for parents, ask students to share their learning with parents, include resources like posters in your school newsletters, and more, to help to increase the knowledge and confidence of your community.
How often does online safety feature in governance discussions for your school community? How often do you make the time to foster an open dialogue to encourage parents, students, and teachers to ask questions, seek further clarification or support, around all aspects of online safety? Why not involve your whole community in co-designing programmes so that parents’ experiences of emerging online issues are reflected, while also aiming to build skills, language, and confidence to support all children with safely responding to and awareness of online safety issues.
Time for a refresh?
Safeguarding is rightly at the forefront in schools, but we cannot forget that we are all teachers and role models of good behaviors online. Perhaps now is the time to proactively plan to provide a refreshed platform to engage your wider school community and plan for the year ahead. It’s not important what you do, what’s important is that you are regularly communicating and engaging with your community.
Olly Lewis is Head of Digital Transformation at The Thomas Deacon Education Trust. You can find out more about Olly and his work by visiting ollylewislearning.com, on LinkedIn he's @OllyLewis and you can follow Olly on Twitter @OLewis_coaching.
You can see Olly’s author page on the GESS website here.
NetSupport - Online Safety Guide 2023 (netsupportsoftware.com)
Online safety in schools and colleges: questions from the governing board - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
National Online Safety | Keeping Children Safe Online in Education
Additional support for parents:
UK Safer Internet Centre: Parents and Carers - UK Safer Internet Centre
LGfL: The National Grid for Learning - Online safety principles (lgfl.net)