The internet is a critical resource, especially in modern schooling, but it also brings risks that must be safeguarded against. So how do you get the balance right? 

Not only does the internet affect how we interact and connect socially, it impacts how we shop, play, think and importantly learn. Technology has helped to redefine modes of teaching as well as learning, changing the educational landscape with new opportunities.

However, alongside a multitude of benefits, it brings risks that schools today must be aware of and attempt to mitigate through clear online safeguarding policies, monitoring tools, and open communication with both pupils and parents.

At Sinclair House School (SHS), the internet plays a key role in children’s engagement with different aspects of the curriculum. The IT syllabus is structured to encourage digital literacy and equip pupils with the knowledge and ability to use a range of technological tools strategically for different purposes.

This includes online research and evaluating information for projects, connecting with others for collaborative learning, using a range of online resources for homework and self-testing, learning to code, and practising designing, producing and sharing content, such as e-books for English and Art projects, or programmes for school events.

Though Prep schools have a responsibility to control the accessibility of sites and use of mobile phones on the premises, the pace of change across the digital landscape, combined with the rise of social media and networks mean that ‘e-safety’ within school life also encompasses technology children may use while at home. The social impact of digital interactions and online messages exchanged outside of school hours can easily encroach into friendship networks and social dynamics inside the classroom, as well as students’ sense of self-worth and safety.

In a mobile age, it is impossible to completely protect children, even with the most advanced privacy and surveillance controls, particularly when new sites and apps that target children are constantly emerging. Censorship and blocking mechanisms can be useful for both schools and parents, but ongoing education and conversations with children facilitates their own empowerment, which is a more powerful tool in the longer term.

In a mobile age, it is impossible to completely protect children, but ongoing education and conversations with children facilitates their own empowerment, which is a more powerful tool in the longer term

In today’s world, e-safety has become less about technology itself and more about teaching children to have a positive relationship with the internet and digital media. It’s important for parents to encourage their children to think carefully about the way that they, and others, behave online, and how they might react to and deal with difficult situations.

Schools have a responsibility to support families with resources and workshops that help parents to define what responsible use of the internet might actually look like. At SHS, children are taught within ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) lessons about different aspects of internet safety and online activities. Also, parent briefings are led by an independent e-safety expert and provide a forum where families can share concerns and discuss how to manage potential dangers, as well as find ways to frame discussions with their children.

Early use of digital technology has been shown to improve language skills and promote children’s social development and creativity. But it is vitally important that children understand that what they see or do online, and who they might contact, could have huge repercussions.

Just as critical is that young pupils feel able to come and talk to an adult if they are exposed to content or comments that distress or confuse them, within the school or at home. Working together with parents, schools can infuse children with a digital literacy that helps to keep them safe online, while allowing them to take advantage of the social, entertainment and educational opportunities that technology offers.