Social networking should be taught more widely and in more depth in schools. No longer are we able to stick our heads in the sand about these communication tools. Nor should educators distance themselves from using them.
What concerns me is that the use of social networking has become part of a hidden social curriculum in which teachers have no part. Children are talking about it earlier and earlier in primary schools, and it quickly becomes part of the way they interact - an extension of the playground.
Of the 20 million reported minors using Facebook across the world, 7.5 million are under the age of 13, with five million of them under 10. In Europe alone, 38 per cent of nine to 12-year-olds have a social-networking profile - that equates to, say, 12 of your class of 30.
These seem conservative figures to me, and I think key stage 2 is where a great deal of good can be done to support young pupils and help them to develop lifelong habits.
The vast majority of schools block social-networking sites, giving a loud and clear message of "we distance ourselves from these tools and they are not to be used here". Which has greater impact: blocking sites or e-safety weeks? We can't have it both ways.
A flurry of PSHE and ICT teaching sometimes takes place when negative incidences of social networking occur. These knee-jerk reactionary methods are unsustainable. We have to look at the broader teaching of online communication, citizenship and interaction, with these tools in the centre of our gaze.
A decade ago, it was all about embedding ICT in and across the curriculum; nowadays our efforts should be about refining this point of view. It is about time we sorted out the C for Communication in ICT and helped our pupils to improve their navigation of the social-networking landscape.
That is not to say we advocate our Year 4s signing up to Facebook, but we should look more broadly at how we can use these tools in a positive way to support learning.
- Lesson and curriculum activities should develop collabora- tion and communication skills by working together online, with individual classes within schools or with other schools around the world. It is all about communication, and the more widely these types of opportunities are used as part of the broader curriculum, the more positive the impact will be.
- Where appropriate, classes should be using blogs and other social- networking platforms to publish and celebrate work and to engage pupils beyond the classroom. Class blogs are a fantastic way to begin the conversation about online behaviours.
- Teachers and senior leaders need to get up to speed. Better CPD opportunities should be provided to schools, not just for policy writing, but also to examine how social media can support learning. We often fear things we don't fully understand.
- Teachers who use social media as part of their professional, self- initiated learning should be encouraged to act as role models to children in schools.
- Web access should be unfiltered and open.
- Parents should be frequently engaged in discussion about this topic, especially at KS2, as they also begin to seek guidance and understanding about what to do.
Tom Barrett is a senior consultant with Notosh Ltd
TES Resources has material to help you analyse the advantages and disadvantages of different social-networking sites - useful for generating classroom debate. There is a Teachers TV video exploring both the traps and treasures of social networks, as well as a video in which a languages teacher discovers the benefits of using social media in school.
All resources can be found at www.tes.co.ukresources001.