Once the internet is part of the learning process, the problem of keeping children safe looms large. The government is committed to ensuring children are taught about internet safety. Learning to go online safely is part of the National Curriculum and Safer Internet Day is widely promoted in February. Younger children will be introduced to the internet in schools via programmes such as Think U Know (from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) and Kidsmart (from Childnet) which transmit the safety message in a non alarmist fashion and in a language and format suitable for the age group they are trying to reach. The youngest of these is the 5–7 bracket. Older children, in both the state and private sectors, have regular workshops and talks about web safety.
Within a primary school environment, and while using school equipment, parents can generally assume that their children are safe. The government-backed body, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), has issued guidelines on child internet safety for internet service providers. As a parent, one can expect younger children only to access specific sites, monitored by a teacher, and older children to be operating independently within strict firewalls. Increasingly schools use intranet sites, sometimes within groups of schools (for example the Alpha Plus group), to share resources and learning online. A number of schools use individual computers as an integral part of the learning process – Orchard House has a collection of iMacs for use by their KS2 pupils and at Falkner House all children from Year 5 upwards have personal iPads. However, these devices will be limited by rigorous, regularly updated firewalls.
The problems occur not so much while using school equipment as when children use their own devices, whether at home as part of a homework assignment or at school on phones and tablets with internet connectivity.
According to Janette Wallis of the Good Schools Guide, “The biggest problem we see – which is never addressed adequately – is that so much homework is now set on computers. Teachers of children in years 4 and 5 don’t think twice about assigning children ‘research’ on some historical period as prep. Never mind the nightmare this is for parents to supervise. Never mind that children of this age don’t have the skills to assess the quality of information they find online.”