Making our schools safer online

The safety of children at school has always been a prime concern of parents, teachers and school leaders. As the mother of three school-age kids, I understand this implicitly. But safety at school has become much more complicated in recent times, thanks to the internet, which can enable a single incident to ripple outwards and have consequences for the entire school community.

We have all, unfortunately, seen headlines along the lines of 'School rocked by TikTok video scandal'.

As well as a physical community, every school is now an online community. And students need to be kept safe in both these spaces.

That’s why eSafety is constantly working with educators on school safety issues and to improve online safety education.

It’s hard to think of a school safety issue that is not complicated by the internet. Bullying, an issue that schools have been grappling with ever since there were schools, can now follow students home, with little reprieve for the targets of cyberbullying. The same goes for any kind of conflict within the school community, which can escalate once it is taken online. The internet also gives third parties, who may wish students harm, new ways of gaining access to them. And with these and many other issues, school safety no longer begins and ends at the school’s physical borders: the challenges can emerge from anywhere and at any time.

As highlighted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, technology use has become a significant component of many child safety issues. As schools and students learn and communicate online, it is crucial students are protected from online harm.

The good news is that help is at hand. All of these risks can be managed using the right mix of precautions and strategies.

A national approach to online safety in schools

This week we have launched our eSafety Toolkit for Schools — a suite of guidance materials to support schools in creating safer online environments. These free resources are available to all schools on our eSafety Education website.

We spoke with teachers and education stakeholders across the country about online safety issues and what information gaps were presenting challenges to student safety. The teachers and stakeholders we worked with offered broad support for eSafety’s development of rigorous and practical tools in collaboration with the sector.

As the agency responsible for leading and coordinating online safety efforts across Australia, we want these resources to encourage a consistent, national approach to online safety. At the same time, the resources are flexible enough in their design to be tailored to the needs of individual schools and across states, territories and the non-government sector.

This means that no matter which school a student attends, or what stage the school is at in its online safety journey, school leaders will have the tools to help keep their students safe online.

Elements of a safe online environment

When it comes to our own online safety, we know there’s more to it than having a strong password, as important as that is. We also need to have the right privacy settings on our social media accounts, limit what personal information and images we share online and employ numerous other precautions as well.

Well, it’s no different when it comes to creating safe online environments in schools — online safety is a journey, not a destination. (One presentation at the beginning of a school year definitely won’t cut it!)

The elements of a safe online environment are multifaceted and need to be embedded across everything a school implements — from policies and procedures, to the way school communities engage online, to the support in place to respond to online incidents.

The eSafety Toolkit for Schools reflects this multifaceted approach and has been categorised into four elements, with resources that:

  • prepare schools to assess their readiness to deal with online safety issues and provide suggestions to improve their current practices
  • engage the whole school community to be committed and involved in creating a safe online environment
  • educate by highlighting best practice in online safety education and supporting schools to develop the online safety capabilities of the school community
  • respond to incidents effectively while supporting safety and wellbeing.

eSafety will be adding to these resources throughout 2020. To make sure you’re staying up to date with our content, sign up to receive updates about all things eSafety Education and access new resources as they’re delivered.

It’s true that online safety creates new challenges for principals, administrators and teachers, but none of these are insurmountable. There are so many wonderful online experiences for students and teachers to explore together. Let’s help them do it safely!