Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Safeguarding backup

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Teddington School received an outstanding grade for safeguarding in its recent Ofsted inspection. Kevin Watling explains what inspectors were looking for and the steps the school has taken to ensure that it is on top of e-safety.

Safeguarding students in the real and virtual world is part of the duty of care that applies to everyone working with young people. At Teddington School, we view e-safety not as an ICT issue but as a child safety issue. As an extension of the general safeguarding of our students, e-safety is managed and led by the same team that deals with associated issues, such as bullying, in the real world: the pastoral managers and heads of houses.

Our journey towards e-safety began in 2006 when our local authority appointed an e-safety officer. This prompted the school to take a closer look at the area. We began by collating as much background information as possible. The Byron report, for instance, is invaluable and helped us focus on key areas. We then looked at our acceptable use policy (AUP), and used the Becta e-safety checklist which provides a useful snapshot of the risks and issues for schools to consider.

Rather than implementing our e-safety procedures as a draconian measure, students, staff and parents were encouraged to be involved at every stage. This was vital for buy-in and ensured that everyone felt part of the decision-making process. The message was the same for everyone: the advantages of technology should be embraced, but users must be aware of the associated risks and dangers.

Brainstorming ideas

In the early stages of developing our e-safety policy, focus groups were organised, which allowed everyone to voice their opinions and brainstorm ideas and to see issues from different perspectives. As teachers we sometimes have a very structured approach to our lesson planning with clearly defined outcomes and lesson objectives which match our prescriptive curriculum. Sometimes we need to break out of this mould and allow students to take learning in a direction appropriate for their needs and aspirations.

The student focus group met at the office of the IT consultants who were involved in our new building. Discussion was supported by one of their staff who had the relevant technical expertise but was also used to working with young people and could tease out some of their ideas.

The students discussed how they were already using new technologies such as social networking, how they shared and exchanged information, and ICT issues such as safeguarding. For instance they said they used social networking sites to communicate with friends outside of school time so access during the school day was less of an issue. However, to support their learning, they wanted access to video clips and resources such as YouTube.

This helped to concentrate our thinking and contributed enormously to our policies, which were then written in language that was simple and easy to comprehend. Once the policies were established they were launched in a series of year assemblies which reiterated the key messages. We stressed that students' well-being was important to us and being safe online is one aspect of that.

Inappropriate language

Policies were only one facet of our approach. We realised that we must stay vigilant in order to protect our students effectively, and therefore decided to install computer monitoring software. We decided on Securus which monitors our network for inappropriate language or swearing and provides alerts if students appear to be bullying or using threatening behaviour. It also captures screenshot evidence of visits to inappropriate internet sites or computers being used for unacceptable personal use during lessons.

Finally and crucially, it can also notify us of potentially harmful situations, from signs of depression, self-harm or suicide to students viewing sites with content relating to drugs and pornography.

For instance, it highlighted a potential grooming issue by identifying key phrases in an online conversation, capturing screenshot evidence of the violation, and immediately alerting a designated member of staff. This allowed us to take relevant action and address the matter before it escalated.

When we started using Securus, there were initially four or five incidents where it was necessary to talk to students and parents about inappropriate internet use. Generally this would be for swearing or unkind comments in an email. Occasionally, it was an IT-savvy contingent trying to bypass the computer system, access blocked websites or look at proxy servers. Young people certainly love to push the boundaries!

However, after the first couple of months it settled down to a minimal level of intervention and there have been few repeat offenders as the students soon learnt that unacceptable behaviour would not be tolerated.

Juggling skills

Our approach to e-safety also has a strong curriculum link. For instance we are currently looking at social networking issues with the year 9 students. We allow access to YouTube which has become an invaluable learning resource and we encourage our students to use it responsibly.

One student is currently using YouTube videos to help perfect his juggling skills, while another is improving her freestyle football through watching video clips of experts. Without question, technology is helping our young people to become more creative. The students even developed a video about their digital futures, facilitated by a production company.

It was a tremendous collaborative effort over two days, and will go some way to informing debate on the digital age white paper coming before Parliament in the near future. The video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzdmWFZNl9M

Monitoring the school's computers has drastically reduced inappropriate use of ICT while helping students to feel safe and supported. This was a key factor in Ofsted inspectors awarding the school an 'outstanding' grade for our students' well-being at the beginning of 2009.

Of course, with the new Ofsted framework introduced in September, there is a greater focus on safeguarding in inspection, making sure that policies and procedures are effective and risks to young people are significantly reduced. As part of inspection, Ofsted now includes e-safety measures which assess to what extent learners feel safe and adopt safe practices, especially on the internet. This forms part of the self-assessment questionnaire that schools are asked to complete before the inspection takes place. It covers issues such as whether students feel safe from bullying and the extent to which learners have the confidence to talk to staff and others when they feel at risk.

As part of inspection schools now receive a grading for safeguarding arrangements, including e-safety. Any school which receives a grade four (inadequate) is likely to be awarded an inadequate grade for its overall performance.

Our Ofsted inspection involved a tour of the school, plus interviews with teachers, students and parents to ascertain our level of e-safety. Inspectors completed a review of documentation which included our e-safety policy, AUP, information supplied to parents, teachers and students, staff training and so on. They also looked at how e-safety was monitored, how incidents were recorded and acted upon, and if and how e-safety was embedded in all appropriate school policies and procedures, such as child protection and behaviour.

Ofsted stated that we have a very good system for recording incidents of poor behaviour, including electronic violations, and that our procedures for child protection and safeguarding students are robust.

Regardless of school size or level of ICT provision, all schools want to ensure a safe teaching and learning environment. Teddington School has achieved this through an infrastructure of designated responsibilities and thorough policies and procedures; an effective range of technological tools; and a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.

Kevin Watling is assistant head at Teddington School, an 11-16 school with about 1,100 pupils in Richmond, near London.

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