New email rules are 'a complete cop-out'

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Tony Blair's pledge that every school pupil would have an email address by 2002 has been abandoned following new guidance that tells schools to adopt whole class addresses.

It is one element of the Department for Education and Employment's (DFEE) Superhighway Safety pack intended to protect children from unsuitable material on the Internet in schools.

Michael Wills, learning and technology minister, said the Govern-ment was determined to ensure pupils were protected and had safe access to appropriate content.

A DFEEspokesperson added that the policy change was justifiable. "We feel now that it would be inappropriate to give pupils Internet email addresses. The world has moved on from 1997 and we know more about the risks of the Internet than we knew then. Class-based email addresses will offer more protection as students will remain unidentifiable."

However, Professor Stephen Heppell, who has worked extensively with the DFEE, said the move was "completely insane" and branded the guidance "lazy, inappropriate and a complete cop-out".

He said all research evidence indicated that children needed their own online identiy - achieved through a personal email address - for learning online to take place. This was possible through safe, closed environments such as, utilised by the DFEE's GridClub.

The guidance has been accepted by the computer advisers' association NAACE. Steve Bacon, general secretary, said the rise in the targeting of children on the Net by paedophiles could not have been predicted. "Schools need to take every precaution, even if it seems over the top. It's a sad reflection on 21st century society," Bacon said. Class email was not a significantly different experience for pupils than a personal address.

The DFEE was ensuring that schools with personal pupil addresses had "effective security filters in place to prevent access to unsuitable material".

Both Heppell and Bacon said many pupils already had one or more email addresses and nothing could be done to prevent their use outside school. Carol Vorderman, an Internet safety campaigner, praised the DFEE's speedy reaction. Becta's Niel McLean said the change was not a knee-jerk reaction.

Chris Johnston

Superhighway Safety

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