Some chilling facts: a survey carried out by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, of 6,000 young people with the internet at home, found that one in four had agreed to a face-to-face meeting with a stranger they had encountered online. With 57 per cent of UK homes online, the potential danger is huge. The good news is that 80 per cent took another person along with them; the bad news is that 80 per cent of those companions were other children.
These figures were recently presented by Jim Gamble, chief Executive of CEOP, to a National Governors Association conference. He left no doubt that child pornography is big business and that internet chatrooms are a favourite place for paedophiles to make contact with children.
What's this got to do with governors? A lot. Governors have a statutory duty "to make arrangements for carrying out their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children". This does not mean trying to put some protective umbrella over them - impossible in any case. What it does mean is seeing to it that our schools engage children in learning to protect themselves. Education is the best means of protection.
One simple step is to ensure children are aware of the "Report Abuse" button that features on an increasing number of social networking websites. With one click they can get through to the CEOP if they suspect the motives of the person they are chatting with. Another step is to ensure that your teachers receive training in how to instruct pupils in online safety; the CEOP runs free training courses.
This is not a matter of getting hysterical, but of taking Every Child Matters seriously. We'd expect the school to teach safety before letting children out in a boat; now we need them to teach safety before they go surfing the net.
Stephen Adamson, Vice-chairman, National Governors Association.