Alan Mackenzie, specialist adviser, gets technical about e-safety

Alan Mackenzie, independent, specialist adviser with a focus on e-safety, defines e-safety and takes a look at the challenges that schools are faced with including keeping pace with an ever evolving digital-landscape

I’ve worked in this area for about 10 years over which time it has evolved into something which is difficult to define as there are so many different parts to it. Additionally, the context can be very different depending on the people you’re talking to – for example, police, social care, etc. From a schools’ perspective, it’s about safeguarding but, realistically, we know it’s far more than that.

What are some of the challenges?

The web as we know it is still in its infancy yet the technology involved moves forward at such an extraordinary rate that our knowledge of its positive and negative impacts with regard to behaviour gets left behind. These are challenging times; we want a very free and open web experience to explore the wonders that technology provides, yet that very freedom exposes children and young people to some extraordinary content that can impact negatively. Then there are the contact and conduct issues, too.
There’s one myth that we need to bust – that e-safety is a technology issue. It isn’t; it never has been. As children and young people grow through various life-experiences their behaviour changes and their use of technology can be an aspect of this. I personally believe we need to be taking a much more psychological approach in order to understand why behaviours change under certain circumstances – for example, from an offline to an online context. This will enable us to support and guide children and young people on their journey and to navigate the risks and reduce the likelihood of harm.
This is why I prefer to talk ‘with’ children and young people, rather than ‘at’ them. It’s important to discuss the real things – the platforms they are interacting with – whether it be YouTube, their games, social media or something else. Best practice in terms of e-safety means having an open discourse about online etiquette.
Whilst animations and cartoons have a place in the curriculum, and can be great fun, talking about real life has the greatest impact of all and can sometimes lead you down unexpected paths as children and young people open up and engage. Another great outcome of this is that members of staff who have little idea about the technology being used learn so much more – which can lead into staff training to raise their awareness.

What advice would you give to schools?

As time moves on we’re learning so much more, which allows us to identify where there are significant gaps in knowledge and understanding in terms of e-safety – it seems like a never-ending battle sometimes.
Schools are under a lot of pressure to do more and that just isn’t realistic; it’s about doing better. What I mean is that, as we continue to build our knowledge, we understand more and can apply that to education – both how we use online resources to teach and how students use them to learn.
Get feedback from students and poll parents – what do they want to know and how can you inject the important safeguarding aspects into that? Don’t concentrate on all the bad stuff – there has been way too much of this in the past. There are times when we must be realistic, cautious even, because of some of the serious issues that exist but it’s important to remember that we don’t educate by fear.
Keep yourselves up-to-date with the issues.

About the author
Alan Mackenzie is an independent, specialist adviser with a focus on e-safety and helps schools and other organisations across the country with training, support and guidance. For more information, and to keep up-to-date with e-safety, visit his website or you can follow him on twitter: @esafetyadviser 
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