According to the Annual Bullying Survey conducted on over 2,000 British teens, the level of cyber bullying statistics in the UK is a growing trend and 7 in 10 (69 per cent) of young people aged between 13 and 22 had experienced cyber bullying, with 20 per cent of those cases having been very extreme. Social media, mobile phones and access to the Internet means that e-safety should now be a priority in schools.

“Cyber bullying is the ugly and unacceptable side of new technology which requires concerted action across society to address it”, says Kevin Brennan, former Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families on online bullying and cyber bulling in the UK. Online safety is something all schools should now carefully consider, however this doesn’t necessarily mean preventing access to information; it is more about establishing the balance between effectively using ICT whilst maintaining control. While all schools are different, with different needs, the following processes could be implemented.

1. Passwords

All staff should have their own username and password which should be kept private. Always log on with your own details, and never use a colleague’s password. Pupils from Year 1 upwards should always have individual usernames and passwords too. They don’t need to be complex but having them teaches children to appreciate important concepts such as personal identity, passwords and security.

2. Managing Personal Data

E-safety also relates to data protection. Schools can easily tackle issues such as missing USB keys or stolen laptops by having the right infrastructure. This could include having data securely saved in the cloud, still accessible from anywhere but in an encrypted, safe way. It’s also important to have a reporting process. Staff should report any issues and understand the appropriate procedure should they see or hear about an issue that needs addressing.

3. Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)

AUPs are user agreements to honour the school’s confidentiality and data security rules and it’s imperative that all schools implement this. They are a normal standard of practice in business and should be within schools too. AUPs normally state that you agree to various stipulations, such as not posting messages without permission, not using the service to break the law, or not to send junk email etc. I suggest schools take advice from their ICT provider, but I do also advise that they involve staff and learners in establishing their approach.

4. Training

Schools need to train their staff to be able to recognise e-safety issues and should make this a priority. All schools should also consider having a nominated staff member who will be the e-safety champion. A school’s ICT provider should always start by asking the school what they are comfortable with when it comes to the training and if they are happy for the students to be involved. The next step is to build a plan with the school and work around what’s right for them. This could be evening e-safety training sessions involving staff, parents and students.

It’s important to also remember that in areas where there’s a high level of cultural diversity, potentially where English is not the majority of parents’ first language, that a different approach is used. Hosting parent evenings, e-safety sessions on the basics of the Internet is one example of what works very well in some situations. An essential resource that all schools and parents should be aware of is the UK Safer Internet Centre (UK SIC) where they can find e-safety tips, advice and resources to help young people stay safe on the Internet.

5. The Right Software

Schools need to have the right software in place which can monitor issues such as cyber-bullying, threats or inappropriate behaviour. Schools also need to make sure that its filtering systems are working, as well as its anti-virus software. However, e-safety isn’t just about having anti-virus software in place; it is vital to ensure a school’s complete Internet infrastructure is appropriate and secure. When used properly, the Internet is an excellent tool to help our children with their education but a balanced approach is crucial. We need to make sure that we provide the positive opportunities that technology can bring and educate our schools, learners and parents on the many aspects of e-safety. It’s essential our teachers feel supported, and know where to turn to for expert external support.