Around the blocks
The TESS surveyed all 32 local authorities about their web-blocking practices and received 29 responses. What emerged was a long chain of communication, which explains teachers' complaints that unblocking sites takes forever.
Almost two-thirds of authorities had a written policy for blocking websites in schools. Most used commercial software (such as Websense, Smartfilter and Symantic) which automatically blocked whole website categories. Social networking sites were almost always blocked.
Many authorities had procedures for unblocking a site if a teacher believed the benefits outweighed the risks, but these were often elaborate.
Inverclyde said: "Not all requests can be accommodated, as the filtering will not allow this. The categorisation of sites is at a group level, not . individual website level."
In Glasgow, any request to unblock a site had to be submitted by the school's headteacher to the education department's information security officer. The site would then be assessed for inappropriate content or its effect on the security of the network: "File sharing or shareware sites will remain blocked."
In South Ayrshire, individual teachers had a mechanism for requesting access to blocked sites, "providing a curricular case is made". There has been a "gradual build of formerly blocked sites as teaching staff have requested access. Usually such requests are from a number of teachers."
Just over half of the authorities (18) had differentiated levels of access, usually just between pupils and teachers. In Stirling, this was only for secondary teachers.
Only a quarter of authorities (8) differentiated access according to the age and stage of pupils. So in the majority of Scottish schools, the same blocks are in place for five-year-olds as for 18-year-olds.
A few Scottish authorities operated the type of "managed" system recommended by Ofsted. Teachers in Midlothian had "maximum access and minimum blocks", said an IT spokesperson. Students had "a baseline filter, a green list and a white list". There was also "an additional list for adult students".
In Clackmannanshire, website access was monitored by an experienced teacher. "Websites are blocked using a range of techniques and sources," said a spokesperson. "Lists of known inappropriate sites are maintained. Blocking and unblocking of other sites is done at the request of schoolsindividual teachers. We provide a range of levels of access, with different levels for primary and secondary."
In East Renfrewshire, consultation with ICT coordinators in schools resulted in a list of categories being supported and blocked. There are also two "exception lists". One bans access to websites that are allowed according to the categories, but deemed unsuitable by staff; the other allows access to websites that have been banned, but requested by staff.