This weeks blog is linked to the most recent Webinar in the “Your Digital Life” series, which focused on safeguarding in the digital world. We recognise that the last 12 months have been some of the most unprecedented and turbulent in modern times. It has placed tremendous strain on so many aspects of our ‘normal’ routine including lifestyle, learning and relationships. It has also highlighted the positives and negatives in terms of the digital world in which we live. This week we will try to give you an insight into how we safeguard the wellbeing of all members of our community and manage many of the online challenges. We were delighted that the recent COBIS accreditation team recognised our commitment to safeguarding and awarded us a commendation for the unstinting commitment to safeguarding across the whole college and Beacon School international status as a world leader in this field.
Safeguarding and Child Protection involves establishing and maintaining an effective framework so all pupils feel safe and protected from any form of abuse. The detail of the framework is given in the College Safeguarding Children (including Child Protection) policy which you can find on our website. Just to make the distinction:
- the term safeguarding is used to cover the framework in place to reduce risk or harm
- the term child protection is used to cover cases of actual or suspected abuse
Having both in place means we cover both the proactive (safeguarding) and reactive (child protection). In an ideal world, our focus would be solely on safeguarding and there would be no cases of any children coming to harm. Sadly that is not the world we live in and we need to be vigilant in both safeguarding and child protection matters.
Our policy has various sections and provides a framework for action; there is obviously a lot to cover so it provides us with guidance to reduce risk of harm to our pupils. Easy to see how it spans to 15 pages, however, that was not enough to cover our revised procedures for COVID-19 online delivery. Rather than change our policy, to include the online delivery, we added an appendix. A couple of additional pages give us guidance on staying safe whether we are in the physical or virtual world.
With the advent of online learning, just as we were required to update our overall policy through the addition of an appendix, we needed to reassess the risk and reconsider our monitoring procedure. In doing so it was clear that our risks, together with our learning, had largely moved online. In terms of our policy, we were focusing on E-safety and how to keep our children safe online. Whatever the age, the risks online are quite frightening, and the greater the awareness of them amongst our pupils, staff and parents, the more confident we can be on minimising these. When schooling moves online it places more young people at risk due to ‘predators’ and amoral social platforms. In terms of our procedures to monitor safeguarding and child protection matters, the ‘regular’ review processes have been supplemented by fortnightly meetings to monitor any online incidents attended by Pastoral and IT managers.
Such meetings focusing on pupil online wellbeing and relevant risks have informed our continued commitment to online safety and digital citizenship as part of MCM’s Digital Learning strategy. Digital citizenship continues to be a key component of digital learning and as we continue with the CMCO and head into the break, we felt it was the ideal time to highlight the opportunity to reflect and consider the habits and characteristics of a good global digital citizen. Having moved our curriculum to an on-line model over the last year, it has meant that we have all become increasingly reliant on the internet to facilitate learning which has subsequently meant a greater degree of screen time. As we enter the CMCO phase, the break from online learning will give us all the opportunity to balance our time with friends and family and to find our “happy medium”.
Online safety is a commonly used term that embraces using the internet safely and minimising any risks that could be posed. As we are well aware the rewards and educational value of using the internet to gain knowledge and socialise with friends needs to be tempered with the potential risks that can also arise. Our lives are more connected than ever to the internet and it has been a cornerstone of our educational experience throughout the MCO period. A phrase that I commonly use with all forms of digital literacy and digital citizenship is, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. As obvious as it sounds we are constantly learning about the content of the internet and as such online safety will look different now from what it looked like in 12 months ago.
Internet safety or “e safety” has become a fundamental topic in our digital world and includes knowing about one’s Internet privacy and how one’s behaviors can support a healthy interaction with the use of the Internet. (Common Sense Media, 2020)
It is however the underlying principles that we will continue to educate pupils on, as well as share experiences with parents on how devices can be managed. Pupils will make mistakes; this is part of growing up, however, our job as educators is to reduce the risk associated with these mistakes, especially when they enter an online environment. As part of the wellbeing curriculum our beaks have discussions with pupils about many aspects of being a good digital citizen and this week the Prep school have been focussing on ensuring that they understand the risks of exposing themselves to content or people that are outside of their circle of trust or age category. This article by Common Sense media is particularly good at highlighting the risks to children and will also give you an insight into our approach with the pupils at MCM – Common Sense Media Internet safety article
We encourage all pupils to consider the acronym T.H.I.N.K when using social media. Before they post is it: True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?
With respect to their online safety, we also talk to pupils about being S.M.A.R.T: Stay Safe, don’t Meet up, Accepting files, Reliable, Tell Someone.
Many parents ask about device management, and appropriate usage and limits. I have had many conversations with parents, surrounding screen time and content that their son or daughter is accessing online. I am a strong believer in pupil efficacy, as such helping pupils reach their goals means that there has to be an understanding on their part as to how they will reach these goals and with that comes responsible internet usage. Therefore establishing boundaries that are discussed and agreed upon rather than implementing rigid rules that could see your son or daughter wanting to push those boundaries is an essential starting point. That said it is important to ensure that our children are protected and supported through this process and boundaries established that are age appropriate. It is important to highlight at this point that children are at risk online whether they are 3 or 18. It is just the nature of the risk that is different. As a result of these risks we look across the whole college, taking a holistic view, addressing risks at all stages.
As we approach the holidays I wanted to address a key question “How can I have a conversation on what my child is doing online so I am confident they are safe”. Below are some guidelines. For more advice visit these common sense media parental guides – HERE
- Build a model of trust within the family, which creates open dialogue, rather than just setting boundaries
- Agree on time limits and times of the day for internet use
- Openly discuss and be interested in what your son/daughter views on line
- View their content with them
- Agree to monitor internet usage
- Implement device-free times or days, for example, device-free dinners
- Designate places in the house for charging, for the time when not used
- Don’t allow devices in the bedroom (this also helps regulate sleep patterns)
To be 100% sure that your children are remaining safe online, tracking can also be done through all Apple devices and most Android devices, as well as through most routers. Before engaging in an initial conversation with your children check your setting as you may also be able to block certain sites, depending on your router. As a father of three boys I have found that the key is open dialogue in the home and for children to establish good routines, so they understand and respect the boundaries that you have set and agreed upon.
I was delighted when we launched the “Your Digital Life” series of webinars. The first webinar addressed Digital Well-being, whilst the second focuses on on-line safety. We will be following up with Digital citizenship and Common Sense Media next term and I look forward to connecting with you during these webinars or hopefully in person.
Duncan Ogilvie, Director of Digital Learning, Teacher of Geography