On 9 June, on behalf of Naace I attended the E-Safety Review 2009 sponsored by Forensic Software. The first session was devoted to the topic of Cyber Mentors featuring the “Beat Bullying” charity. A number of students spoke eloquently about their experiences with the programme and made some important observations to the educationalists attending. They spoke about the power of the internet for communication and research and highlighted the need for children to be trusted and to be allowed privacy. They acknowledged the need for some internet filtering but stressed the need for freedom. They also recognised the prevalence of cyberbullying and identity theft.
Niel McLean, Executive Director for Institutional Development at Becta, spoke on current government guidance and the importance of safeguarding next generation learners. He made the point that schools should protect children whilst they are in their care and educate them for when they are not. He stressed the need for schools to have an Acceptable Use Policy rather than relying on locking down systems. Niel noted that the new Ofsted Framework for September 2009 will have a stronger focus on safeguarding. He concluded by making the point that engagement and interactivity that support effective learning and that safeguard children are fundamentally the same.
John Parmiter from Warwickshire Local Authority spoke about local strategies that are used to reach both the school and home, whilst David Roberts from sponsoring partners, Forensic Software Ltd outlined new technology that supports successful e-safety strategies. Journalist and TV presenter Anna Richardson spoke about the making of The Sex Education Show vs Pornography and revealed how during the making of the show it was discovered that ease of access to pornography influences the views of young people towards sex and relationships.
The highlight of the seminar, however was Professor Tanya Byron who spoke candidly about her commissioning by the Government to investigate issues relating to online safety of children. Professor Byron described how she found “protection” to be an uncomfortable term to use to describe online safety except in the case of vulnerable children. She spoke of how we are in danger of reducing childhood experience with “zero risk taking”. She suggested that we should not take a top-down approach to managing online safety and described how the system is dominated by Luddites who don’t understand the issues. This has led to society becoming riddled with risk aversion. She described how we should look at what children are doing and embrace it to help them become more resilient. We should use technology, standards and education to help children become cyber-literate and safe. Schools should involve children in the development of Acceptable Usage Policies and all parties should work together on to develop a social marketing campaign, professional development for schools and expert panels to advise policy makers, schools, parents, teachers and children.
This was a very entertaining, profound and thought-provoking session.