Primary Computing – Risky Business – managing eSafety

Digital Safety

Lock engaging online down or manage it?

eSafety in Primary Schools

The primary computing curriculum aims to help young children develop the skills to become digitally literate enabling them to fully participate in an increasingly digital world: to communicate, collaborate, create and express themselves using technology.  The ever-increasing wealth of technologies available presents exciting, and rapidly evolving, opportunities to interact, socialise and learn online. But it also poses potential dangers and the new National Curriculum for Computing at KS1 and KS2, rightly, has a focus on teaching children to stay safe online.

In our changing technological world, we teachers need to better understand digital education as a pedagogy and I often get asked how I teach and manage eSafety in my classes.

As a computing teacher, I’m a keen advocate of the benefits that engaging with the digital world can bring to education and always try to use technology creatively across the curriculum to enhance and enrich learning.  Of course, I recognise that there is the potential for children to encounter harm, as there is in all areas of life, but am anxious to avoid using a ‘locked-down’ approach to children working online in the classroom.  Instead, I try to raise awareness and teach children the strategies and skills they need to manage the potential risks of participating in, and contributing to, the digital world and help them to build resilience.   Banning the use of certain tools – YouTube and Google being an example – not only inhibits what and how I want to teach, thereby denying children access to rich source of educational content, but it also does not reflect or prepare children for their online experiences in the wider world.

All of this discussion raises the question of when and how  eSafety should be taught.  Personally, I do not believe in it being taught as a separate subject, but I know that some schools cover it as part of PHSE.  In our scheme, I clearly signpost safety issues within the lesson plans and give guidance on classroom discussion but also provide free separate units for each key stage using third-party resources for those who want to cover it discretely.  I feel that talking about and teaching digital citizenship (teaching children to become safe, responsible and respectful participants of the digital world) should be part of the daily dialogue we have as primary school teachers with our pupils and embedded within every subject we teach.  Talking regularly about the children’s activity online, at school and at home, enables us to become aware of potential risks and help them learn how to avoid the worst and manage the rest.

Classroom discussions are difficult to demonstrate to school inspectors, but you can show that digital safety is integral to school life through your policies and planning.  Providing and managing tools that improve online safety, having an acceptable use policy, highlighting opportunities within your planning to cover digital safety issues and assessing your children’s understanding of how to identify and manage them all point to the value and emphasis your school places on helping your pupils engage safely and appropriately online.

There is a lot we can do, but only so much of it can be done in school.  Parents play a key role in managing their children’s access to computers, consoles and mobile devices.  As teachers we also need to have an ongoing dialogue with parents about how they can help their children stay safe at home.  Many parents report that they do not know where to get information about how to protect their children online.  It is our responsibility to help them with this.  I hold informal digital safety sessions for parents.  Talking to them and demonstrating how to use parental controls at home gives me the opportunity to stress what is, in my view, the single most important step they can take towards helping their children stay safe online: keeping computers and mobile devices out of bedrooms.  Having computers in common areas enables parents to monitor, discuss and even participate in their children’s online activities.  This provides opportunities for parents to be aware of potential risk, and limits exposure to inappropriate materials and interactions that their younger children might inadvertently stumble upon but their older children may actively seek out.

Ultimately, we must not let our fear of the most extreme risks that children could potentially, but thankfully rarely, encounter prevent them from accessing and enjoying the exciting opportunities that engaging with the online world can offer.  Technology is key part of young people’s lives.  We need to equip children with the knowledge, understanding and skills that enable them to be aware of, identify and manage risk – not avoid it entirely.

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About Liane O'Kane

Liane is a Computer Scientist (BSc (Hons)), Software Engineer & author of iCompute for Primary Schools which supports schools with schemes of work for teaching computing in the EYFS, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. ERA Awards Finalist 2016-2019, BETT Awards 2014-2018. Featured on BBC Bitesize for Primary Computing and The Hour of Code (code.org)
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