We need a safety net for pupils who are 'raised online'

28th March 2008 at 00:00

Teachers should include e-safety in ICT lessons to counter parents who leave them unsupervised

Online safety is likely to become a more important part of the national curriculum after a government-commissioned review found parents' lack of awareness about the internet was leaving pupils vulnerable.

Tanya Byron, the TV child behaviour expert, was asked by Gordon Brown to look at the risks internet and video games posed to children, and found that parents did not have the confidence to deal with them. Her report, published yesterday, asks ministers to look at how "e-safety" could be applied to the Personal Social and Health Education or ICT national curriculum.

Dr Byron found that many parents seemed to believe that leaving their children surfing the internet was similar to them watching television. She said in fact it was more like opening the front door and letting a child go outside to play unsupervised.

The report also asks the Government to look at what support on e-safety can be provided to schools, and for Sir Jim Rose's primary review to take account of the issue.

It comes after the Institute for Public Policy Research found that British children were spending more than 20 hours a week on the internet, mainly on social networking sites, and were effectively being "raised online".

One 16-year-old girl told the researchers: "My mum will ask sometimes, `Is it safe?' But she doesn't really know."

Dr Byron's review recommends the creation of a new UK Council for Child Internet Safety, reporting to the Prime Minister. She wants the internet industry challenged to take greater responsibility in supporting parents. Her report also calls for stricter age rating on video games and guidance on how they are advertised.

The Government announced this week that its cyberbullying taskforce would be looking at measures to protect teachers as well as children from what is a growing problem.

Chaired by Kevin Brennan, the children's minister, the taskforce will include representatives of social networking websites and teachers. It will look at what can be done to ensure all schools have discipline policies protecting teachers from cyberbullying; that school staff use powers already available to them to counteract the problem; how to work with the industry on the issue; and how to explain to parents the impact of cyberbullying and their responsibility to take it seriously.

The group will consider whether there should be a national point of contact for school staff to direct complaints about abusive material as well as specific guidance for those who have experienced internet abuse. NASUWT, the teaching union, has been campaigning for action and has cited many examples of its members experiencing cyberbullying.

They include a female teacher at a Surrey secondary, whose pupils set up a page about her on the Bebo social networking website. It invited others to "tick here if you hate Miss XXX", and contained offensive and sexually explicit comments. Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said: "Cyberbullying of teachers should be treated as a serious disciplinary offence. I want to make it clear that teachers should feel confident about reporting such harrassment to heads and, in more extreme cases, to the police."

Virtual schools, page 8.

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