Author: Henry Platten, eCadets and GoBubble
Let’s set some context to online safety and how it continues to evolve within education.
Schools are doing great work in the classroom and for the whole community on making the internet a safer place for children and giving them digital skills for life. However, children don’t stop using the internet outside of school hours, and, without the appropriate knowledge of how to stay safe or a good example from others in their household, the risks remain.
The role of parents
There is evidence of the important role parents’ digital consumption can play in a child’s life and I believe they are one of the five pillars which influence a child’s approach to their digital life (each leaving an impression).
Parents’ biggest online safety concerns for their children are cyberbullying and talking to strangers, but hardly any turn up to online safety evenings when invited by the school.
There’s a clear disconnect between fear and footfall, so what’s going on?
Online safety is unlike any other form of school/parent communication flow. With lunch menu choices, World Book Day announcements, Lego Gaming cards amnesties – these can all be transactional communications. With online safety, this is a deeply personal approach and requires conversations at home between the adults, as well as positive modelling of behaviour.
This varied response to communications might lead, in some part, to the low attendance numbers. Realistically, as well as the million and one plates parents and teachers have to spin, taking time out to come back into school sometimes is just impossible – especially in households where there is only one adult.
The lack of bums on seats though doesn’t mean a lack of support; sometimes quite the opposite. From discussions with parents, I have seen there is a genuine thirst for knowledge in how to keep their children safe.
The schools’ approach
Requirements through the Department of Education’s Keeping Children Safe in Education’ papers have cemented the focus on all schools; however, there was a genuine drive from schools long before that about wanting to protect their pupils when online. I’ve seen this firsthand from both my time as a police sergeant through to founding eCadets and working directly with schools across the UK.
From experience, I’ve seen that as a school approaches online safety, it’s akin to completing a jigsaw specific to the personality of the school and the community it sits in. There are several common elements to that jigsaw (and some recommendations of tools to help with each one):
- Filtering tools (such as those in NetSupport DNA)
- Education for kids (eCadets)
- Training for staff (local trainers)
- Policies (local authority/DfE)
- Reporting tools (NetSupport DNA)
- Appropriate safe learning software (GoBubble)
There is also a seventh jigsaw piece: home. The great work rolled out in schools has a natural requirement to be echoed in some form at home, as the online world doesn’t recognise the school bell.
Bridging the gap
Consistency is key when embedding positive behaviours. Unfettered access at home to the internet can be at odds with the safe playground schools successfully create Monday to Friday 08:45-15:15 with successful blocking and filtering tools like NetSupport DNA.
Over the past eight years, I’ve personally seen how schools have adopted innovative approaches to bridge this gap and strive for consistency for the benefit of all parties, as parents understandably can feel lost or stressed at time when presented with the wave of new games, apps, software and panic-fuelled Daily Mail headlines.
Ideas to get parents on board
Successful schools have overcome these obstacles and put the right information in the hands of the parents through a variety of engagement techniques…
Bite sized: Little and often is best. Add a top tip on each school newsletter or weekly menu choice
- Pupil led: There is no substitute to the impact of getting kids to deliver the message. This can be at a parents’ evening, through bringing online safety themed work home or delivering assemblies .
- Seize the opportunity: When you have all the parents present, use that as a platform to share a relevant online safety message. For example, either the kids presenting a quick talk on stage or even recording a song to play beforehand – which you can then share on your website, if appropriate.
- Be relevant… tailor: It’s always important to be sensitive to the fact that the parent message changes with the age of the child.
What are your thoughts? How do you engage parents in online safety at your school?