A Sticking Plaster Mentality to Open Web Access in Schools

  • http://twitter.com/esafetyadviser Alan

    A very well written piece about filtering, and personally I don’t think it is an issue that will ever settle down due to the wide ranging views.  Personally I could not ever agree with an unfiltered school connection, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t believe we can – I’ll explain further shortly.  I posted a blog recently where I briefly discussed schools managing a filtered internet – http://www.esafety-adviser.com/blog – to me that is a fundamental piece of the safeguarding jigsaw that is missing for a number of reasons in the large majority of schools I have visited.

    Wearing my other hat, I am a Service Manager in a large UK local authority, my focus is schools, and therefore the responsibility for filtering lies with me.  I have always believed that schools know best – therefore in the context of this discussion if a school asks our support provider for a particular site to be unblocked for any reason, my instruction is “unless there is any legal, safeguarding or security issue that cannot be mitigated against then the site is to be opened”.  The problem with this approach is that when you open for one school, you open for all (depending on how policies, groups etc are set up).  Therefore, a school could phone up and say they want the same site blocked.  A good example of this would be a legitimate educational gaming site.  Many schools simply will not allow that type of site in their school!

    To overcome this, the filtering solution used allows schools to take local control of their own filtering.  This allows schools to override the LA settings and manage their filtering properly in accordance with their own needs and wants.  All secondary schools have taken this up, one primary school out of over 300 has taken this up.

    In discussions with many of the primary schools, they simply do not want the extra burden of responsibility, and this is perfectly understandable.  Yet will still complain that the LA filtering is too restrictive (which it isn’t).

    In a roundabout way, this brings me back to why I do not believe we can have unfiltered access.  Firstly, I don’t think our culture is ready for it.  By that I mean that despite the work of Becta and many other agencies, some schools just don’t get e-safety.  To them it is a technical issue rather than a safeguarding one.  Actually the issue is one of governance, policy, procedure and education.  
    To those schools who do allow unfiltered access and say they don’t have a problem, I would ask, “how do you know?”   I’ll give a true example going back 3 years of one student who was trying to access i_n_c_e_s_t sites (I’ve spelt it that way to stop all the inappropriate spammers).  This young person had typed in the address of 20 of these sites, in other words he knew what he was looking for, he hadn’t searched for them.  Thankfully the IWF blacklist kicked in and he couldn’t access any of the sites.  I called the Headteacher to make him aware of this very concerning behaviour.  His answer?  “Is he doing that again?  I’ll get his class teacher to have a word with him.”  Suffice to say, I reported the matter to Safeguarding!  Another example would be of a primary teacher who gave her username and password to all her class so that they could get onto YouTube (our filters allow for staff access).  When she had returned from making a cup of coffee she was horrified to see the children watching an extremely graphic movie – not as horrified as the parents were!

    To summarise, should we allow unfiltered access within schools?  Yes, in my opinion.  Teachers should be allow to teach, they know best and we should not be seeing these forced restrictions.  Can we have unfiltered connections?  No, the culture is not there, the knowledge is sparse, and the vicarious liability to the school is too great.

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  • @Psycho65

    A thought provoking and well written overview of this contentious issue. Filtering remains a massive hurdle in allowing children to becoming true independent learners. The guidance of educators in how to self-filter, be eSafe and access appropriate content is difficult if not impossible to achieve in the training pool of content available to many schools. We then expect the students to tread water in the ocean when they get home.

  • Karyn

    May I preface my response by saying that (a) I am not a school teacher and (b) I have huge regard for those who are able to stick with the teaching profession in the face of increasing limitations and strictures, and who seek creative ways to actually educate their charges (hooray for responses like @andyhudson77).

    That said, my own (totally unscientific) observation is that those limitations and strictures are producing a breed of teacher who is purely a consumer of suggested resources and an unquestioning follower of government guidelines. It’s the easy way to be able to say ‘I’m doing my job’ without fear of contradiction. It’s the path of least resistance. And with all the administrative boxes teachers have to tick nowadays, an understandable choice, I guess.

    I found myself in a cohort of people with this mindset some time back, and many of them were mildly scandalised by my suggestion that they should teach students to negotiate the wider Internet with wisdom and discernment instead of trying to restrict them to only the safer, ‘shallow end’ where they couldn’t ‘get into trouble’.

    Living in my home right now is a young man who regularly quotes nuggets he has picked up, not from watching an entire YouTube clip, but from the caption underneath it. This, in his mind, is ‘research’.


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  • http://www.mrstucke.com Daniel Stucke

    My extended views and an interesting discussion are in this blog post http://danielstucke.com/post/14124761599/youtube-for-schools-solving-a-problem-that-doesnt-exist#disqus_thread

    I’m in complete agreement with you Tom. I accept there are some issues at Primary level. But at Secondary/K12+ level the filtering needs to stop.

  • http://elearningr14.blogspot.com/ Kimberley Rivett

    To add to this, now that I have had the chance to read all of the comments too, I have to say that I totally agree with the idea of ‘swimmers drown because they never learnt to swim’. However, we need to remember that many of the strongest swimmers also drown, so the idea of teaching kids ‘to be safe’ on the internet does not mean that they will never get it wrong. We have to use the ‘oops’ moments in our classrooms and teach within those – using the ‘mistakes’ made on the internet give us the chance to teach discernment and create open opportunities for the children to have ‘safe’ problems occur – one where they know to tell an adult, they feel comfortable reporting what has happened.
     Last year, there were about 2-3 incidents per term in my classroom. Because we have a class agreement as well as strategies in place, and are always open to problem-solving together rather than blocking things, the children quickly reported their problems and mistakes and we all had the chance to learn from them together. Never putting them in a pool doesn’t mean they will never drown.Teaching them to swim doesn’t either, but boy it’s a good start…