Online safety is a key concern for schools, and in primary schools there is a focus on getting the foundations right. But there is a real tension between teaching children how to stay safe and giving them the necessary access to online communication and collaboration tools where they can learn through first-hand experience.
Many schools are concerned about giving children access to the web that enables them to communicate with their peers 24/7, 365 days a year, whilst acknowledging that many primary-aged children are already doing so through unfettered access to platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
School systems to teach children how to behave online therefore must be designed specifically for the purpose, be age appropriate and have features that are designed to minimise risk. Such features should include a reporting system, filtering and flagging of content, full audit trails and restricted audiences. They should enable teachers to be able to turn functionality on and off to suit the specific learning needs of their classes, groups of children and individuals.
It should be acknowledged that risk is as real online as it offline, and that it can never be removed completely but it can be minimised.
The fear that children may somehow misuse technology is real. It happens. Children are learning and they make mistakes, but they should learn from them. Every incident on a school platform is a learning opportunity and that is the way it should be approached.
Even with the best security and safety systems in place occasionally something may go wrong. Children will find ways of bypassing filters, passwords may be compromised (either by over sharing or frequently due to carelessness), concerning information may be posted or inappropriate comment made. In these cases, a good platform will be supported to help schools resolve issues quickly and effectively.
What happens when things do go wrong?
Being prepared for things going wrong is essential. The more that children are taught about digital footprints, password security and respectful behaviour the better prepared they are to use the web appropriately. Such learning helps reduce issues arising, but it will never prevent them completely.
Fortunately, good school platforms enable schools to resolve such issues quickly either by directly accessing information themselves or through the platform providers themselves.
At New Era we are proud to support our schools and have helped several schools navigate difficult situations by looking at the data on their behalf and identifying potential solutions. We are happy to support by giving clear guidance as to where and when messages have been posted, who was logged in and at what time, patterns that emerge, prior login details. This information helps schools quickly resolve rare issues that do arise.
In this way we have helped resolve issues across a range of concerns from bullying to posting inappropriate content, from logging in as other users to concerns about self-harm or inappropriate behaviour.