E-safety is, quite rightly, uppermost on many people’s minds, especially when it comes to mobile devices. There are number of e-safety issues to be mindful of, such as:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Taking inappropriate photographs.
  • Sexting.
  • Accessing inappropriate websites.
  • Intellectual Property Rights issues
  • Data Protection issues
  • Personal safety issues.

None of these are the exclusive province of mobile devices. However, mobile devices present some unique challenges for a couple of reasons.

First, the smaller the device, the harder it is to tell from a distance (such as from the front of the class to the back of the class) if the device is being used appropriately. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be at a distance. In one school I was told about a girl was texting her friends under her teachers’ noses almost by hiding the phone on her knee, under her skirt.

Second, if the device is 3G- or 4G-enabled, it is possible for pupils to completely circumvent the school’s wireless and filtering systems. It is, theoretically, possible to block the mobile data networks over an area to include the school. Unfortunately, it also happens to be illegal.

Now, before throwing up our hands in horror and saying “We are doomed, we are doomed!”, let’s get a little perspective on this. Not every pupil in your school is likely to be wanting to put their device to as much nefarious use as possible. In fact, a report by UNESCO last year stated:

... it is important to review them [statistics on how phones have been used for cyberbullying etc] in the context of similar behaviour that is happening offline or via other ICT, rather than simply condemning mobile devices as unsafe. Online behaviour usually mirrors offline behaviour in the physical world, and children at risk of abuse in the real world are at risk in the virtual world.

Mobile Learning and Policies: Key Issues to consider http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002176/217638E.pdf

Obviously, though, you can’t simply do nothing: schools, and individual teachers, have a duty of care to ensure that pupils are safe. Here are some ideas to consider, bearing in mind that I am not a legal expert so the usual sort of disclaimer applies!

Undertake a risk analysis

This is an excellent starting point, and one which can involve not only teachers but your ICT technicians, the pupils themselves and, crucially, their parents. What it involves, in a nutshell, is identifying what the risks are, trying to gauge how likely they are to materialise, judging how serious would be the consequences if they did happen, and then deciding how to mitigate against the risks. There’s a good article about this here: http://www.esafety-adviser.com/blog/e-safety-and-risk-assessment/.

It’s good to talk

It’s a good idea to talk to the pupils themselves about the sort of standards of behaviour you expect from them. You have no doubt already done so, of course, and probably have an Acceptable Use Policy. One approach that an increasing number of schools are taking is to adopt what is called a Responsible Use Policy. This puts the onus on the pupil to act appropriately, rather than  the top-down approach of the traditional AUP. Indeed, some schools have gone so far as to ask the pupils to draft it, or at least to contribute their thoughts to it.

Whichever approach you adopt, the AUP or RUP will make it clear to pupils that there will be consequences of behaving badly. However, the response should be proportionate, and the ‘offence’, depending on what it is, could perhaps be used as a ‘teachable point’.

Filtering and monitoring are important

It goes without saying that you should have a filtering system in place. It would be a brave school indeed that decided against having one. However, it is equally important to enable teachers to have some flexibility, and perhaps even be able to override certain aspects of the system when necessary. For instance, not all of YouTube is bad, and even FaceBook has something to offer in terms of teaching about using social networking properly and setting up a business ‘shop front’ using the Pages facility.

Depending on what devices are used and how they are managed, it may not always be possible to link a particular device to a particular pupil (“someone borrowed my tablet, Sir!”) – but that is no reason to give up on the idea of monitoring altogether.

Inappropriate behaviour is not simply an e-safety issue

This is important to bear in mind. As one teacher I spoke to said, when kids are up to mischief, they give off signs. Basically, you can usually read a guilty expression or shifty body language. It’s not just about the technology.

E-safety is not just an ICT issue

Cyberbullying, to take one of the issues mentioned earlier, is bullying with or through a digital device or context. It is still bullying, and dealing with it should be embedded in the school’s behaviour policy.

Similarly, sexting is likely to involve child protection issues, so the school’s Child Protection Officer needs to have appropriate training, as does the school counsellor, if there is one.

Procedures and processes are vital

One thing that is absolutely crucial is that there must be an agreed set of procedures and processes to follow should an incident, especially a major incident, occur. In extreme cases, making it up as you go along could even lead to legal difficulties later.

There are four other safety-related issues which ought to be mentioned. These are as follows.

Data Protection

This is a matter for school management rather than pupils, and relates to where data is being stored. A very useful document is the Information Commissioner Office’s Guidance on the use of cloud computing

http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/data_protection/topic_guides/online/cloud_computing.aspx.

Intellectual Property Rights

This is an issue which comes from using the web, rather than mobile devices per se. Put simply, pupils (and staff) need to be aware that using other people’s pictures and so on may be a breach of copyright unless permission to copy is given in a licence (eg a Creative Commons licence).

Privacy matters

Taking photos and videos of people in a public place is easy, and publishing them online may be OK if certain conditions are met. For example, crowd scenes would likely be fine, but a close-up of one or two people probably would not be. In any case, how would you feel if you suddenly came across a video of yourself on a website without anyone having had the decency to ask your permission to do so?

Will my child be mugged?

This is a common area of concern for parents, worried that as soon as word gets out that the kids are getting shiny new tablets or netbooks, the local muggers will come out in force. The sorts of security measures that schools adopt include:

  • Making the devices look unattractive
  • Security-marking the devices
  • Setting up a system whereby the device becomes useless once a particular command is issued
  • Making sure that the bags used to carry home the devices are not obviously laptop bags
  • Keeping the devices safely in school and not allow them home (though you may wish to ameliorate the effects of this by establishing homework clubs where pupils can work on their devices after school has finished for the day).

None of this is a walk in the park, but there are plenty of places you can go to for advice and guidance. In the first instance, have a look at the ones listed below.

This article has looked at some, though not all, of the issues associated with e-safety But do remember all the potential benefits of having a one-to-one device programme. It is not all doom and gloom!

If you would like to investigate more detailed E-safety options RM offer a wide range of products, consultancy options and training!

Further information and resources

The Information Commissioner’s Office, for guidance on data protection, privacy and copyright issues: http://www.ico.gov.uk/

The South-West Grid for Learning: http://www.swgfl.org.uk/Staying-Safe/For-Schools/Resources

The London Grid for Learning: http://www.lgfl.net/esafety/Pages/policies-acceptable-use.aspx

Ofsted: The safe use of new technologies: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/safe-use-of-new-technologies and Inspecting e-safety: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/briefings-and-information-for-use-during-inspections-of-maintained-schools-and-academies

Think U Know - Staying Safe Online: http://ceop.police.uk/#panel-5

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