Ofsted and eSafety – Finding a Balance

Few things strike fear into the heart of a teacher in the UK like the moment you find out that Ofsted are winging their way towards your school. For me, there’s a lot to worry about. I teach across two departments with two completely different pedagogical approaches, and as eLearning coordinator, I also have to worry about making sure everything is in order, as Section 5 inspections do include this being analysed.

Ofsted released a briefing note called Inspecting e-safety in schools in September 2013. It’s available as part of a package of briefings etc from the Ofsted website. It’s quite a handy document, detailing the background to schools effectively managing esafety in order to help reach an Outstanding judgement, as well as a list of recommendations.

One of the main points is about unlocking filtering systems for pupils. It heavily advocates freeing up restrictive filters and teaching students to be better digital citizens and to self-manage their internet usage. This is all well and good in theory, but in practice presents something of a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Our school is in the process of moving from County Council-provided internet and filtering, to which I have devolved filtering access, to a new ISP that allows us more flexibility thanks to opening up proxies as well as on-site filtering with far more control than we currently have. At the moment, I can unblock some websites (devolved access does not actually mean that I simply open things up, however useful it may be) and I can unblock some categories of websites, for example social media. I have no control, due to our infrastructure, over who sites get unblocked for: all pupils and teaching staff are on the same network.

When we finally roll over to the new system, I’ll be able to choose groups from all students to year groups, classes or individual students. I’ll have full access and will able to be able to block/unblock at will. In terms of the Ofsted recommendations, that’s quite a positive.

The dilemma is about the timing of opening up our filter. I know, as many others will, that students can be likened to the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” – constantly testing the fence for weakness. The moment I start to unblock whole categories, students will get wind of it and the news will spread like wildfire. This can lead, as evidenced so regularly in the press, to all sorts of concerns including but not limited to cyber bullying.

Students need to be explicitly taught about a number of aspects of eSafety, from digital citizenship to how to protect themselves from bullying and harrassment, as well as the concept of their digital footprint.

Real-world-digital-world

All of this takes a great deal of time, something that isn’t necessarily in our favour in the face of constantly changing curriculum and other constraints on timetables, as well as the threat of an Ofsted inspection hanging over our heads.

The solution, for the moment, is a bit of the old combined with a bit of the new. Until the new ISP is in place and the filter up and running, there’s little that can be done in terms of opening up the internet to pupils. However, we can and are implementing eSafety schemes of work across the curriculum – in Computing, in Citizenship and, later in the year, in the year 7 cross-curricular subject Skills for Learning. We’re also hoping that elements of eSafety and digital citizenship can be incorporated into subjects including History and English.

When the new ISP is finally in place, we’ll be able to gradually unblock more and more content for users who have completed the eSafety modules. I’m considering creating something of an eSafety passport or licence for students who have done this, as a method of both keeping a record of those students who have completed the modules (as whilst year 7 students will do this in Autumn term, not all year groups will – it will have to be drip fed to students so as minimise impact on existing courses including GCSE) as well as providing evidence for Ofsted. This can also be used as reinforcement for students who choose to ignore the school’s Acceptable Network Use Policy, for students to revise/reconsider as part of a first level sanction.

Ultimately, it’s not possible to simply open up the filter and expect that students understand and respect the limitations of using the school’s internet. However, it’s equally impossible to keep it locked down and to hope to succeed during an Ofsted inspection. The best I can hope for is that Ofsted stay away for this year and allow us to get our new systems in place and our students trained as digital citizens.

And of course, amongst all of this work with students, we also have to help train their parents!

I’d love to hear how other schools are implementing these new guidelines. Please leave a comment, tweet me @FlyMyGeekFlag or email me – flyingmygeekflag@gmail.com.

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