The failure of some Internet filtering software to stop children accessing unsavoury material has recently attracted renewed press coverage (and see Book of the Week, Friday magazine, May 5). No one should be surprised by the news that there is no such thing as perfect filtering software, so what can schools do to protect their pupils? The first step is to use a dedicated educational service provider such as RM's Internet for Learning. These services invest time and technology in filtering web traffic and blocking thousands of web sites and chat sites.
Tim Clark, RM's Internet marketing manager, says schools need to contribute to solving the problem. (Parents too: putting the home PC in a child's bedroom is not a good idea, for example.) He urges all schools to adopt a responsible use policy, which explains to pupils how to use the Internet correctly - and the sanctions if these rules are not followed. An agreement should be signed by each pupil and a parent or guardian. Don't forget thate-mails and attached files can also carry banned words or material. Tim Clark recommends that all schools use an internet audit log which shows all the sites each pupil visits, and when.
With all this in mind, it's still worth remembering that the Internet is a fantastic medium for information, communication and publishing. Channel 4's Homework High website is a good example.
Written by teachers and designed to help pupils of all ages with their homework, the site doesn't simply give children the answers, but describes techniques for answering questions and explains concepts to help them tackle assignments. The site covers English, maths, science, geography and history, and is written for all ages. Pupils can email questions, use resource libraries and chat (although this facility is curretly being revamped). Homework High is open afternoons and evenings, seven days a week. You can find it at www.homeworkhigh.com The havoc wreaked recently by the "I Love You" virus shows the importance of having a sound virus protection system in place, and being careful about downloading attached files from unknown sources. And - this is worth repeating - make sure all your important files and documents are regularly backed up.
It's easy to forget that multimedia computers are great for sound as well as pictures. Sherston has launched three Oxford Literacy Web titles that use sound to help primary pupils learn about letters, sounds and rhymes. Big ABC has thirty initial sounds, Sound Activities has four listening and spelling activities, and Sound Stories contains 30 alliterative talking stories. Each title costs pound;35 pounds plus VAT for a single user (multi-packs are available) and will run on Apple, Acorn and PC computers. Contact Sherston on 01666 843200 or check out www.sherston.com Epson says its new PhotoPC 650 digital camera is ideal for use at both home and school. It's a point-and-shoot camera that comes with PictureWorks HotShots software which can be used to remove the dreaded red-eye caused by the flash. Other features include a 1.09 megapixel image chip, 1.8-inch LCD colour monitor and an 8Mb CompactFlash memory card that can store up to 88 images. It works with both Apple and PC computers and costs pound;191 plus VAT. More details at: www.epson.co.uk Looking for basic skills or special needs software? Educational publisher R-E-M has just published a free 82-page catalogue devoted to these areas. It covers all ages and all curriculum areas. R-E-M is mailing schools, but if you miss your copy, contact R-E-M at 01458 254700 or email: info@r-e m.co.uk