If there is one topic in the RSC’s advisory work that causes more confusion and worry than any other it seems to be e-Safety. For a long while this was quite understandable, most e-Safety advice was aimed at the schools sector and what did exist emphasised the risks rather than giving guidance on good practice.
Last year’s revision of the Common Inspection Framework, in which safeguarding became a limiting grade, only increased the anxiety. A common response we have come across is to use technical means to block access to areas of perceived concern such as social networking sites. We have even seen it stated that “Clearly any college that blocks access to all sensitive sites and social networking sites is “effective” with its safeguarding policy…” This is a common misconception.
Amongst the recently published guidance materials is Harnessing Technology, Safeguarding Further Education and Skills learners in a digital world published by Becta. This document clearly states:
Organisations are finding that a blocking and banning approach, which merely limits exposure to risk, is not sustainable. Organisations need to focus on a model of empowerment; equipping learners with the skills and knowledge they need to use technology safely and responsibly and managing the risks, whenever and wherever they go online; and to promote safe and responsible behaviours in using technology at college, in the workplace, in the home and beyond.
Also recently launched was the Safeguarding section of the Next Generation Learning website. This includes lots of relevant resources and a number of handy checklists that will help you to review your e-safety approach and provision.
Amongst the concerns regarding e-Safety and Safeguarding is the legal position for the individuals and institutions involved. Last week JISC Legal delivered a webcast on the theme: Safeguarding – Meeting Your e-Safety Duties. What really came through for me from this session was the consistency of message. The guidance from Becta and the position of safeguarding in the common inspection framework are clearly derived from the legal position. There is a clear understanding that safeguarding risks can not be eliminated and what is important is that safeguarding and e-safety policies are properly developed and that any incidents are acted upon correctly – clearly a technical only approach to e-safety fails in this regard.
It can be difficult for those of us without legal training to understand the implications of the legal position especially when terms such as “reasonable” and “proportionate” are used so widely. A useful illustration of how these terms might be interpreted came in a response to a question about usage of Facebook when John X Kelly said “surely now we’ve come to a stage where these are learning tools” and that colleges need to make decisions about how they use them. This is clearly a long way from the restrictive approach that many assume to be the case.
It is also illustrative that it is up to the institution to make the decisions. I am aware that many people simply want a ready made e-safety policy that they can use. That isn’t going to happen. Important features of any e-safety policy are that it is based on consultation and is contextualised. Fortunately JISC Legal have produced a simple one page e-Safety Policy Checklist to help you make sure that your policy is correctly developed and fit for purpose.
Getting e-safety right isn’t easy – but hopefully now it is getting easier.