Cyber-policing: A "Managed Approach"
With Ofsted’s latest e-safety clampdown looming, Paul Evans, MD at Redstor, argues schools can prevent cyber-bullying and sexualisation of children, without draconian censorship
The implication of a series of recent developments is clear: the social-media revolution is eroding the modern school’s control over pupil safety and exposing children to e-bullying, explicit material and exploitation.
With Ofcom’s latest survey indicating that over half of children between 8 and 11 now have an online profile, a recent Anglia Ruskin investigation into the social-media phenomenon found that one in five school-pupils have fallen victim to cyber-bullying. Ofsted recently warned that pupils are regularly accessing sites where they can be targeted with “grooming” and abuse, and that teacher training on internet safety was “weak” in 60% of the schools it assessed.
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In an alarming snapshot of the scale of the current e-safety problem, a recent survey of 100 schools found that pupils accessed pornography from school computers up to 30 times a day. Schools in the town of Reading have reported sixty Facebook-related crimes in the last six months alone.
And this cyber-world is intruding on reality with increasingly tragic consequences: Sam Leeson was driven to suicide by Facebook bullies, while Sam and Natasha McBride’s online profiles continued to be stalked by remorseless “cyber-trolls” even after they had taken their lives.
And several high-profile incidents indicate that staff misuse of computers may also be slipping through the e-safety net: one teacher was found to have pursued lovers on a school
webcam and shared confidential pupil information over live chat-rooms, while pupils were recently offered counselling when a teacher accidentally beamed pornography to an entire class at an £11,200 private school.
It is clear that the explosion of social-media apps, mobile devices and school PC’s provide a growing multitude of portals into an uncensored world, through which harmful content can invisibly infiltrate classrooms, and bullies can evade detection.
But many schools are adopting the wrong approach, by closing the gate instead of managing the risks.
Many schools place such draconian restrictions on internet use that even basic sites cannot be accessed without a technician. Yet this is inadvertently exposing pupils to cyber-threats outside the school gates: Ofsted recently warned that cocooning children within the artificial safety of a “locked-down” school IT system, leaves them ill-equipped to protect themselves on the un-supervised home PC.
Critically, a crude “locked-down” approach often blocks innocent and educationally useful sites, while failing to impede access to inappropriate content. When even a Google search for World War Two can turn up a neo-Nazi site, Youtube can combine the sublime and the sinister on one platform, and teachers must carry out endless Firewall updates to stay ahead of their IT-savvy pupils, it is clear that no amount of filtering and blocking will close every loophole.
Ofsted found that only those schools which abandoned the heavy hand of censorship in favour of a “managed approach” were rewarded with “outstanding” status.
At a time of increasingly-squeezed public-sector resources and expanding PC numbers, it is imperative that schools find new and cost-effective ways to safeguard pupils across the modern virtual-learning environment.
The Invisible Policeman
The IT industry has moved rapidly to meet Ofsted’s challenge of striking the balance between safeguarding and censorship. Redstor’s e-safety software screens both online and offline activity for potential risks, red-flags inappropriate images, emails, search terms, website content and even sentences typed in Word documents, and instantly notifies staff at a remote PC.
The software captures screenshots of inappropriate activity, recording everything from the user identity to the time, date and severity of the violation, and securely storing the information online to maintain a bullet-proof audit trail. Critically, it frees school time and resources by automating many “safeguarding” functions such as identifying, recording and reporting incidents. The flexible system can plug into any existing school network, and uses cloud-technology to avert the need for new hardware or software.
The software does what filtering and blocking alone can never achieve: giving pupils the ability to independently manage online risks by educating them about the dangers, while giving teachers a constant watchful eye inside every pupil’s computer.
Chiming with David Cameron’s recent call for the IT industry to adopt “social responsibility instead of censorship” child-protection charity the Lucy Faithful Foundation recently
partnered with Redstor to create a comprehensive school e-safety service for schools.
By combining the child-protection expertise of charity staff and the technical support of IT professionals with the latest innovations in cloud-tech and e-safety software, the service offers schools the opportunity for a new approach: opening up internet access, while policing user activity and helping children develop the risk-awareness they will need outside the school gates.
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