A post I’ve been meaning to write for many months…
I have had my battles with Internet filtering in the past, but I’m now the man in charge. Every school I have worked in so far in my opinion has had an old fashioned ‘head in the sand’ view to filtering and acceptable use of the Internet within school. I’ve ranted about this in the past.
I would estimate that 95% of our pupils now own a mobile phone, and that 80% of these have unrestricted access to the Internet on these devices. This doesn’t factor in devices such as netbooks, iPod Touches and PSPs that are also brought into school. What this leads to is unrestricted, unfiltered access to the Internet within our school, and at a pace and quality that is ever increasing. I also regularly receive requests from teachers to block this that and the other as a classroom management tool.
I strongly believe that in response to this situation we need a new approach to Internet access within schools, something that still protects our children but also that prepares them for the World in which they live.
This comes in 3 parts:
- An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that is relevant, understood by all parties and linked closely to general school behaviour policies.
- Relatively unfiltered Internet access.
- Quality monitoring solutions.
For months at my new school we had been battling with the filtering solution provided by our LA. I won’t name the system, and whilst I’m sure it is not such a bad piece of software in every situation, the installation at our LA was seriously flawed in my opinion. Whilst it did a sterling job of blocking just about everything, there was effectively no reporting available to us within school. No way to easily check users network history and no way to quickly spot those trying to behave inappropriately. These difficulties with an audit trail gave me personal concerns as ultimately it is my responsibility to ensure pupils do not access inappropriate things.
In conjunction with this filtering & monitoring software we had a very traditional Acceptable Use Policy. This lasted for many sides and had such lovely details as the acceptable use of news-groups. Nobody read it, nobody understood it, it just sat their in it’s meaningless glory in every student’s planner. It was signed by parents each year, but really, what does that mean?!
Acceptable Use Policy: A new acceptable use policy was created by me. I took great inspiration and indeed a framework from some great work online at Educational Origami. I tweaked things a little to fit in with the language that runs through our school and our School Improvement Plan. Here it is:
Stretford High School – IT Acceptable Use Policy
In using the IT systems provided by Stretford High School you are agreeing to abide by this acceptable use policy:
- Respect Yourself: I will show respect for myself through my actions. I will select online names that are appropriate, I will consider the information and images that I post online. I will consider what personal information about my life, experiences, experimentation or relationships I post. I will not be obscene.
- Protect Yourself: I will ensure that the information, images and materials I post online will not put me at risk. I will not publish my personal details, contact details or a schedule of my activities. I will report any attacks or inappropriate behaviour directed at me. I will protect passwords, accounts and resources.
- Respect Others: I will show respect to others. I will not use electronic mediums to bully, harass or stalk other people. I will show respect for other people in my choice of websites, I will not visit sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate. I will not abuse my rights of access and I will not enter other people’s private spaces or areas.
- Protect Others: I will protect others by reporting abuse, not forwarding inappropriate materials or communications; and not visiting sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate.
- Respect Intellectual property: I will request permission to use resources. I will suitably cite any and all use of websites, books, media etc. I will validate information. I will use and abide by the fair use rules.
- Protect Intellectual Property: I will request to use the software and media others produce. I will use free and open source alternatives rather than pirating software. I will purchase, license and register all software. I will purchase my music and media, and refrain from distributing these in a manner that violates their licenses. I will act with integrity.
- Respect the Stretford Way: I will use school computers only as directed by my teachers, for the purposes of teaching and learning only.
- Protect the Stretford Way: I will not post anything on line that could bring the school into disrepute.
All IT use is logged and monitored; violations of the AUP will be dealt with on an individual basis in line with whole school behaviour policies.
I chose not to involve signatures. I don’t feel that these were really worth the paper they were written on. Pupils were allowed access whether their copies were signed or not. Instead our homepage clearly has a link to the Internet and a statement that in using our services you are agreeing to follow the AUP. In my opinion we’re not looking for a legally watertight contract here, just common sense and acceptance that these are the rules that we all abide by on school systems.
I was careful to refer to the whole school behaviour policies, behaviour on-line should not be differentiated from that off-line, nor should the consequences of poor behaviour. This new AUP was promoted through our Forms, each Form Tutor went through this in detail with their pupils.
Filtering & Monitoring: After much research and an impressive demo (not to mention tasty smoothies!) at BETT 2010 we decided upon investing in Smoothwall School Guardian as our filtering solution. Hosted on-site and with particularly impressive monitoring capabilities this put the filtering and monitoring of Internet use firmly in our hands. We still have to go through the LA system but have turned everything off to the minimum that they will allow.
This is the area where we still have work to do, I now have fantastic ability to drill down deeply into users browsing habits. I can also run reports to highlight many things such as high-bandwidth users. What I would now like to develop are bespoke reports that highlight early those pupils who are using our resources inappropriately. Allowing us to be ‘pro-actively reactive’ to on-line behaviours. We have already found that once pupils know they are being closely watched their behaviours alter quickly. Ultimately I’d like to be able to send reports to Form Tutors automatically of any violations of our policy so that they can quickly speak to the pupils concerned. We’re not there just yet but working towards such a goal.
Pupil Responsibility: I’ve also adapted some great work by the great Coolcat Teacher to produce a 5 Steps For Safety poster that has gone up in every classroom in the school. This tells a pupil just what to do if they come across something inappropriate online. I think it’s brilliantly simple. The poster is embedded below, and if you’d like the original high-res version feel free to take it from here.
Along with the better reporting that I have already discussed, I still have work to do with staff. Changing staff mindset so that they realise that it is their responsibility in lesson if pupils are watching Youtube videos rather than working, just as it would be their responsibility if the pupil were doodling in their book is a tough one! Looking back I also now realise that I developed the AUP myself, their was little or no input from Staff, Students or indeed Parents. This isn’t best practice and perhaps I should take this back to them for further consultation. When you’ve come from such archaic starts it is easy to be complacent. We also need to fine tune the filtering, too much is being blocked still for my liking, and Smoothwall has a strange habit of accusing innocent users of looking at Swedish Pornography – amusing but irritating!