The learning environment has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, one of the most influential changes being the evolution of technology and the seismic shift towards it’s everyday usage within schools. This has made the learning environment for students a richer experience with infinite pools of research and knowledge readily available.

However, one of the main issues with the integration of technology in schools is that, if pupil activity is not properly monitored online, pupils can potentially be exposed to e-bullying, explicit and malicious information and exploitation.

NSPCC research and briefing statistics on bullying, collated from Government reports show that 38% of young people have been affected by cyber-bullying within schools. In addition, Ofsted has warned that pupils are regularly accessing sites where they can be targeted with “grooming” and abuse. Teacher training on Internet safety, meanwhile, has been considered “weak” in 60% of the schools assessed.

Ofsted has recognised this as a serious issue and in January 2012 placed e-safety at the heart of its ongoing inspection criteria. It has continued to judge the effectiveness of school safeguarding against online “bullying and harassment” during the course of 2012, monitoring how consistently schools “manage pupil behaviour” and how they develop pupils ability to “asses and manage risk appropriately and … keep themselves safe.”

To continue to raise awareness of e-safety, Ofsted has placed a lot of focus on the Safer Internet Day (SID) campaign. Begun as an initiative of the EU SafeBorders Project and managed by Insafe since 2004, SID promotes safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, especially amongst children and young people across the world.

In relation to this year’s Safer Internet Day, David Brown, Ofsted’s National Adviser for ICT reflected on the positive work that schools have already begun to implement by raising awareness of e-safety with pupils and parents. He also stressed that the most effective schools made e-safety a priority in the curriculum, in staff training, in support for pupils and in raising awareness of the issues with parents.

These findings show that schools, teachers and parents understanding of the dangers that children can be subjected to is growing and they are demonstrating a higher duty of care when it comes to pupils using the Internet and teachers/schools mediating Internet usage.

Some argue that children who have just begun primary school need to be introduced to the Internet, and boundaries need to be explained and implemented easily so they get used to having parameters when surfing the net. This will ultimately condition a safe usage ethos and identify where potential problems may lie and highlight unsafe scenarios.

Threats can be identified quicker, noticeable incidents and behavioural patterns will be highlighted and logged and cyber-bullying can be isolated and addressed accordingly. However, when it comes to e-safety, Schools have favoured a lockdown approach in the past.

This can have an adverse effect and can block good educational and learning resources. If schools want to benefit from Internet access they need to find a balance as filters cannot be relaxed unless the appropriate e-safety systems are in place.

Not only will this technology education protect pupils, it will also openly demonstrate to Ofsted that systems are in place to stop explicit, offensive or dangerous content being available to students without introducing a full lockdown approach that can ultimately stifle learning. To make sure that schools adhere to meeting Ofsted’s challenge, with the focus on safeguarding rather than censorship, schools need to consider adopting more intelligent e-safety systems.

Misuse of the Internet will always be a concern for schools, teachers and parents alike. However, understanding the potential risks, implementing safe and responsible practices and adopting a more intelligent e-safety service are all crucial steps towards developing a managed approach to keeping children and young people safer online.