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‘There’s only so much teachers can do about online safety’

At school, we can protect pupils from horrors online, but this safeguarding goes out the window once they leave the building

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At school, we can protect pupils from horrors online, but this safeguarding goes out the window once they leave the building

It was Friday after school and we were sitting in the airport lounge, excitement at fever pitch at the prospect of the weekend away.

“Will you go and check if our gate’s come up while I keep an eye on the kids?” I asked Mr Brighouse.

“Doing it now,” he replied, getting out his smartphone.

“What are you doing?” I asked him. “The screen’s round that corner, it’s seven metres away.”

“And my phone’s right here next to my pint,” he patiently explained.

I glared at him, walked around the corner and came back with the gate number a whole minute before the smartphone app had given it up.

“This is the kind of thing TS Eliot meant when he said the world ends not with a bang but a whimper,” I told him, but he was too busy checking the cricket scores to notice.

I have an uneasy relationship with the internet. On the one hand I love instant access to news, cinema times and school term dates; I get lost far less frequently now I have a blue dot to follow and I am officially “taking control” of my CPD by browsing Twitter to check out all the new teaching ideas I’m not implementing.

On the other hand, I could have learned a new language and read the entire works of Tolstoy if I claimed back all the lost hours I’ve spent scrolling through Trip Advisor reviews and photos of other people’s kids in ball pits.

It seems the younger generation have no such reservations but there’s no hiding from the fact that living large sections of your life online involves entering a murky twilight world where danger lurks irrespective of age.

Like last month’s great Momo scare, which became the talk of the playground, even among Reception children. Whatever the actual facts, the hoax showed that our readiness to slide into mass panic at the notion of online danger proves that we are edging ever closer to the prediction that humankind is destined to end up as pets for our Cyber Overlords.

As timing would have it, the Momo week coincided with a staff meeting on online safety. We talked through what we were already doing in school to keep children safe online (quite a lot) and what else we could do. One revelation was how much invisible backup we already had in this area. A few weeks ago a child typed a swear word into Microsoft Word and within 10 minutes the office received a call from IT Support alerting them to the fact. Just days later one of the senior leaders had cause to type the word “suicide” into a search engine and had someone from IT on the phone five minutes later asking if he was OK.

While I find this kind of support impressive, it did leave me wondering how they can achieve this and yet still take three months to sort the lack of volume on my laptop. I’m considering adding, “PS: Please fix the bastard computer before I set fire to it” to my email in the hope it might speed them up a bit.  

But even with all adults on message, all this online safety training will only go so far. However well we protect them in school, the hard truth is, like all preventative measures, once they leave the building it’s out of our hands.

Ultimately, when it comes to technology, dinosaur teachers like myself can only do so much to safeguard children in a world we don’t quite understand. Often this is no more than arming them with some facts, trying to instil confidence and the ability to say “no” then crossing your fingers as they leave your orbit.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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