We teach manners and good behavior in the non-internet world, but students are often very unaware of how things they post online reflect on them as individuals. They don’t always think of the consequences.
When we start helping students to apply for college and employment, we encourage them to do things like tidy up their Facebook profile and check who their online friends are. At the end of Year 11, if they’ve done these things, students can leave school with a positive online presence and a good digital footprint.
But before they leave, there is a host of issues to contend with.
Sexting is considered quite normal by many students, especially among girls – they don’t see anything wrong with it. They often use sexting to get the attention of older guys: Behavior hasn’t changed, but technology has changed the ways behaviors take place. But it’s also a way of getting compliments from other girls, which helps boost some girls’ self confidence.
Students are prone to say ‘I’m in a relationship – my photos are private’ And it’s true. But we try to explain to them that even if the images are sent between two young people in a relationship, if the relationship ends what happens to the picture next and where will the image end up? That can cause huge problems in future.
They must understand that recipients can take a copy or distribute it to others. There’s a legal obligation to follow it up if the student is under 18 and if vulnerable students put pictures of themselves online there can be huge safeguarding and legal implications.
Students learn about online reputation in the digital literacy element of the Computing curriculum and in PHSE lessons, alongside other life skills, such as how to use a credit card, self-defense, politics and so on. We talk about real-life case studies and it puts them off temporarily.
On Safer Internet Day this year all tutor groups will have a quiz, they’ll watch a video from the UK Safer Internet Centre and we’ll hand out a range of resources. Every student in the school is involved. Make sure to read the How To Protect Your Online Reputation article for more about online reputation management.
We also hold an annual online safety briefing for parents and make sure that they’re aware of Safer Internet Day and advertise it on our website. If they’re worried, we can give them other resources, for example, the UK Safer Internet Centre has a leaflet called ‘So you got naked online?’ which is really effective. It doesn’t say ‘don’t do this,’ it says, ‘you’ve done it, don’t freak out, here’s what to do now.’ It gives practical advice like how to report inappropriate content, how to take it down and how to create a positive online presence.
First port of call
If parents and carers are concerned about any online safety issue, we are often the first port of call, especially if they don’t have a good understanding of technology themselves. We get a lot of inquiries.
I usually handle the first stage and if I can’t help, I pass the matter on to the Safeguarding team, which is made up of one Safeguarding champion from each department.
In my view, online safety should be encompassed by all subjects. It’s fairly common practice for teachers to direct problems to the ICT team. But e-safety should never be the sole responsibility of the ICT department. It’s important there’s an overall responsibility whole school. Learn more in this business.com post.
However, it’s a fast-moving area. The students use technology we probably don’t even know about. As soon as we mention it, it’s no longer cool and they don’t want to use it anymore.
We’ve gone from a generation which uses computers in lessons, to a generation used to having computers in their pockets. It’s created a split world. Phones are allowed in our school, but not in lessons. Once they leave the classroom, they can access all the stuff we told them not to access via the 4G network. Whilst this is amazing from a technology perspective, it can cause issues from a behavior point of view.
We find that older students in particular aren’t used to having their access restricted, which can create resentment. Often, at home there are no internet privacy controls in place at all, adding another layer of complexity.
In educating young people about e-safety, we focus a lot on assessment and testing, as we do in the teaching profession more generally. But it’s when you have conversations individually with a student that you ascertain how much knowledge has really been attained.
Our students’ e-safety knowledge is really good, so we know we’re doing something right. A survey of Year 7-10s found that 96% of students felt that e-safety was taught well at our school. We know they know the right things but occasionally, as is the case nationally, they still go ahead and do things they shouldn’t. That’s the battle.