Outstanding e-safety provision requires clear leadership vision and whole-school involvement. David Gordon looks at new recommendations from Ofsted

The schools that do the best job of keeping children safe while they are using the internet have a clear vision of what they are trying to do and a strategy that involves the whole school community, including governors.

That is the conclusion that Ofsted came to after carrying out a small-scale survey of 35 maintained schools in England as part of its response to the report of the Byron Review, Safer children in a digital world.

In her review, published in April 2008, Dr Tanya Byron recommended that Ofsted ‘take steps to hold schools to account and provide government with a detailed picture of schools’ performance on e-safety’. Ofsted undertook the survey of infant, primary, and secondary schools, a state boarding school, a special school and a pupil referral unit to evaluate the extent to which schools teach pupils to adopt safe and responsible practices in using new technologies. Its report, The safe use of technologies, showed that the provision for e-safety was outstanding or good in the majority of the 35 schools visited and that the most effective schools had a well-considered, active approach to keeping pupils safe when they were online.

However the report also found that it is important for schools to work closely with families, and to use pupils’ and families’ views more often, when developing e-safety strategies. It also identified a need to focus on training for all staff so that they can continue to reinforce the importance of e-safety in schools and homes.

Five schools were judged to have outstanding provision for e-safety and Ofsted found that the leaders and managers in those schools had a clear vision for it and ensured that it was everyone’s responsibility. The report said of these schools: ‘They identified their strengths, worked to eradicate their weaknesses and were determined to keep improving the provision. In particular, they recognised the importance of improving their links with families.
‘They reviewed their vision and the strategy for achieving it regularly with the school community, which included governors, senior managers and the school council.’

But Ofsted stressed that this was not the case in all the schools visited. It reported that governing bodies had usually ratified the policy and that although some members were trained in e-safety, this was usually only the chair or a small number of other governors.

Only five schools had involved their pupils in developing policies and procedures, which meant that, instead of being embedded throughout the school, e-safety was seen as an additional job to do and therefore had limited impact on improving outcomes for pupils.

In the schools rated outstanding, all staff felt responsible for e-safety, with assemblies, tutorial time, PSHE lessons, and an appropriate curriculum all helping pupils to become safe and responsible users. ‘The best schools tailored their approach to their own circumstances with one school giving collective responsibility for e-safety to all staff,’ said the report. ‘Consequently ownership was strong and e-safety pervaded a rich ICT curriculum.’

A key part of keeping children safe on the internet emerged as teaching and encouraging them to assess and manage risk themselves. Inspectors concluded that pupils in schools that use ‘managed’ internet systems have a better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe when using new technologies than those using more heavily controlled, ‘locked down’ systems. Only websites vetted by teachers, technicians or, in two cases, the local authority, were accessible to children using locked down systems. Any other site had to be unbarred for a pupil to be able to use it, which Ofsted found took up time, detracted from learning and did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.

‘The schools where provision for e-safety was outstanding were helping students to become safe and responsible users of technology by allowing them to manage their own risk,’ said Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert. ‘Pupils were more vulnerable overall when schools restricted access to almost every site because they were not given enough opportunities to learn how to assess and manage risk for themselves.

The report recommends that schools should:

  • audit the training needs of all staff and provide training to improve their knowledge of and expertise in the safe and appropriate use of new technologies;
  • work closely with all families to help them ensure that their children use new technologies safely and responsibly both at home and at school;
  • use pupils’ and families’ views more often to develop e-safety strategies;
  • manage the transition from locked down systems to more managed systems to help pupils understand how to manage risk, to provide them with richer learning experiences and to bridge the gap between systems at school and the more open systems outside school;
  • provide an age-related, comprehensive curriculum for e-safety which enables pupils to become safe and responsible users of new technologies;
  • work with their partners and other providers to ensure that pupils who receive part of their education away from school are e-safe;
  • systematically review and develop their e-safety procedures, including training, to ensure that they have a positive impact on pupils’ knowledge and understanding.

Outstanding practice
The report praised the outstanding practice found in one secondary school where a core team for e-safety (comprising a senior pastoral manager, the systems manager and the ICT manager) established a clear, whole-school vision for the safe use of new technologies, which was reflected in unambiguous ‘acceptable use’ policies.

A vital element of the team’s work was an excellent e-safety curriculum, made up of 10 lessons taught in tutorial time as part of PSHE. The lessons, which were also available on the school’s website, covered e-safety, social networking, cyber-bullying, online grooming, protection and prevention, and acceptable use. The lessons supported students to:

  • recognise and manage the potential risks associated with online activities;
  • behave responsibly online;
  • recognise when pressures from others in the online environment might threaten their personal safety and well-being;
  • develop effective ways of resisting pressure.

There was also praise for one local authority where schools adopted a ‘think before you click’ policy. Pupils were taught that, before clicking onto a site, they should ask questions such as:

  • Who wrote the material on this site?
  • Is the information on it likely to be accurate or could it be altered by anybody?
  • If others click onto the site, can I be sure that they are who they say they are?
  • What information about myself should I not give out on the site?

The practice echoes the ‘Click Clever Click Safe’ campaign launched recently by the government. The campaign encourages children to avoid common risks online by following this simple code:

  • Zip It – Keep your personal stuff private and think about what you say and do online.
  • Block It – Block people who send nasty messages and don’t open unknown links and attachments.
  • Flag It – Flag up with someone you trust if anything upsets you or if someone asks to meet you offline.

The Byron Review also placed a strong emphasis on ensuring that schools took action to ensure that e-safety was dealt with at a whole-school level, being ‘mainstreamed’ throughout its teaching, learning and other practices. It recommended that the government should encourage schools to use the self-review framework produced by the educational technology agency Becta to bring about continual improvement in e-safety within their use of ICT.

The framework is an online tool that lets schools review their ICT provision and performance by comparing it against a nationally agreed set of standards across eight categories:

  • leadership and management;
  • curriculum;
  • learning and teaching;
  • assessment;
  • professional development;
  • extending opportunities for learning;
  • resources;
  • impact on pupil outcomes.

Once schools have reached a certain level and completed the evidence sections for all aspects on the framework, they can apply for the ICT Mark accreditation. A revised and updated version of the framework was due to be made available on the Becta website this Spring.

Two years on from the publication of her original report, Professor Tanya Byron has written a review of the progress that has been made by the UK since then in keeping children safe on line. She said she was impressed with the work that has taken place so far but that there is still more to be done.

Professor Byron said that schools had made significant progress towards the ambition stated in her original report that they should empower children and young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to embrace digital technologies and keep themselves safe on the internet.

She backed Ofsted’s recommendation that schools move towards ‘managed’ systems, saying that: ‘There is a growing acceptance that simply blocking children and young people’s access to the internet in schools is not an effective way to keep them safe and increase their resilience.’

Do we have safer children in a digital world? A review of progress since the 2008 Byron Review is available from www.dcsf.gov.uk/byronreview

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: David Gordon is an author, writer, editor and qualified lecturer and has also been a parent governor. He has been the editor of School Governor Update since its launch in 2000.