Lock out the www.undesirables

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Raymond Ross looks at what is being done to stop access to pornographic or racist websites on school computers

Internet safety remains a major concern for schools even though their filtering software is much more powerful and expensive than that of home computers. There is no foolproof system for filtering the Internet or e-mail, warns Nick Morgan, of the National Grid for Learning Scotland.

"Schools have done some work to make sure pupils are protected, filtering out stuff like race hate material and pornography,"he says. "There's a lot of it out there."

There is a danger of pupils meeting unsavoury characters through chatrooms, but as these are named sites, most schools should be able to cut them off. This does not happen in Internet cafes, though.

E-mail is harder to monitor than Internet access. "Filtering systems don't pick up misspellings, so a deliberately misspelt swear word will get through," says Mr Morgan.

Schools should have a policy laying out what are the acceptable uses of school computers, which parents and pupils of a relevant age can sign.

The Scottish Executive's working party on Internet safety, of which Mr Morgan is a member, will be making recommendations about the provision of safety advice at the end of this month.

He says:"We will want to update the Click thinking programme which came out in 1999 and we will want schools to look at other measures that can be taken, like the use of hotlines.

"For example, a pupil can use Childline if they are upset by something they come across, just as teachers can contact the police over undesirable material."

The working party is keen to increase the proportion of pupils using e-mail, which can vary greatly from local authority to local authority, although actual percentages are impossible to determine.

Mr Morgan says: "We want to increase access without compromising safety. There are big safety issues, like bullying by e-mail or pupils being targeted by outsiders."

In addition, Mr Morgan would like to see improved computer skills among teachers. "Local authorities run their own courses and some are better than others. But a lot of teachers haven't yet undertaken the New Opportunities Fund training,"he says. "They are largely untaught or self-taught and can't, therefore, give pupils the best guidance.

"We need to guide teachers towards projects like the European-funded Susi Project, which aims to improve skills among even novice teachers and parents, and gives advice and training in plain English."

In his seminar at the SETT show, Mr Morgan will consider Internet safety issues and plans to draw attention to European-funded projects and Internet efficiency materials from BECTA (the English equivalent of Learning and Teaching Scotland) that aim to raise Internet skill levels of general class practitioners to key stage 2.

Nick Morgan, tel 0141 337 5000; e-mail n.morgan@ltscotland.com Internet Safety on September 19 and 20 at 11.30am

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