Whole-school responsibilities and acceptable use policies
The requirement to ensure that children and young people are able to use the internet and related communications technologies appropriately and safely is addressed as part of the wider duty of care to which all who work in schools are bound. A framework of e-safety, or acceptable use policies (AUPs) can help to ensure safe and appropriate use. The development and implementation of such strategies should involve all the stakeholders in a child’s education from the headteacher and governors to the senior management team and classroom teachers, support staff, parents, and the pupils themselves.
An infrastructure of effective policies and procedures will provide a backbone to effective e-safety practice within the school. Acceptable use policies are documents detailing the ways in which ICT facilities can and cannot be used in school by both pupils and staff, and listing consistent sanctions, procedures and support strategies for dealing with misuse. The policies need to balance the desirability of fully exploiting the vast educational potential of new technologies with providing safeguards against risks and unacceptable material and activities.
The first challenge is to establish a clear understanding of the responsibilities of all those involved in the education of children and young people with regard to e-safety. These include the headteacher and governing body, senior managers and classroom teachers, child protection and guidance staff, librarians and parents, and the pupils themselves.
Headteachers, with the support of governors, should take a lead in embedding effective e-safety practices into the culture of the school, while a designated senior management role of e-safety coordinator can assist with co-ordinating e-safety activities on a day-to-day basis. This member of staff should act as a central point of contact for all e-safety issues within the school, ensuring that policies are in place, current and adhered to, instances of breaches and misuse are monitored and reported, and that all staff receive relevant information about emerging issues.
It may be useful for the e-safety coordinator to convene a school e-safety policy team to review and advise on appropriate policies. This may include the ICT co-ordinator, network manager, pastoral care staff, the special educational needs co-ordinator, the child protection liaison officer and the school librarian, although any other member of staff with an interest in this area should also be encouraged to participate. It should also include governor, pupil and parent representatives. The knowledge and relevant perspective of each team member will contribute to the depth and breadth of the school’s e-safety policies and programme.
Due to the sensitivities of some of the issues covered, it may be appropriate to convene a separate e-safety management team consisting of key representatives from the policy team, but without governor, parent or pupil representation. This will provide an opportunity for specific cases or instances of misuse to be discussed and reviewed in confidence.
There are many factors to consider when developing acceptable use policies, and much will depend on local circumstances or the infrastructure of the school. In some instances it may be more appropriate to develop a number of documents as part of the acceptable use policy – for example a management document, a staff use agreement, a pupil/parent use agreement, policies for educating staff and pupils on e-safety issues, and specific procedures for responding to any incidents of misuse. Remember though that it is as important for those involved to have understood and considered the issues as it is to have a written policy document. Where possible, e-safety should be embedded within wider school policies.
An acceptable use policy must also be wide-ranging. It must consider both the fixed and mobile internet; technologies provided by the school (such as computers, laptops, webcams and digital video equipment); and technologies owned by pupils and staff, but brought onto school premises (such as mobile and camera phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and portable media players). It should be flexible enough to deal with new and emerging technologies, but should also recognise the important educational and social benefits of such tools.
There are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies. Schools must also be aware of the local authority's role and policies regarding e-safety issues.
Remember, also, that an effective e-safety policy needs to be tailored to the individual needs of your school. Your policy must consider the particular circumstances of your school, such as race, gender, ethnicity and religious beliefs of pupils and staff, and factors such as the digital divide and access to ICT outside school, which may all have an impact upon the ways in which children and young people use the new technologies, and the types of potentially risky behaviours they engage in. It is not sufficient to merely take a template and insert your school name – the policy will lack ownership and authority, and may leave your school open to risk.
To be truly effective, all school e-safety policies need to be regularly reviewed with all stakeholders and updated to take account of new and emerging technologies and changes in local circumstances. Ideally, school e-safety policies should be embedded within a cycle of establishment, maintenance, ongoing review, modification, reporting and annual review, supported by technological solutions wherever possible. By following this process, schools can ensure that they have a rigorous and effective e-safety programme in place.
Further information on whole school responsibilities is available in the Becta publication E-safety:Developing whole school policies to support effective practices which is available to download from the Becta publications website.
See also Effective school-wide e-safety policies and procedures on this site.