Protecting Pupils in Norfolk from Internet Risks
Norfolk County Council is taking the lead in keeping schoolchildren safe from cyberbullying and internet grooming by supplying local schools with monitoring software. The Council recognised that local schools needed advice on internet protection and took a proactive approach. Some 30 primary and 20 secondary schools in the region now use the Securus software and it has already led to a marked decrease in bad behaviour online.
Securus searches for inappropriate words and phrases, monitoring potentially harmful activities whether pupils and teachers are using the internet and email, or working offline in other applications such as Word ®. Recognising that evidence is crucial in helping teachers deal with incidents, Securus provides screenshots of every violation, along with details of the user, workstation, time, date and nature of the incident.
Andrew White, Integrated Services Officer at ICT Solutions, Norfolk County Council’s children’s services ICT Support unit, said: “By implementing Securus it was found that the amount of ‘off task’ activity decreases rapidly over a short period of time. Schools using the software can be confident that their network is constantly being monitored for any infringements of their Acceptable Use Policy and Anti-Bullying Policy.”
Managing the system
The council has removed the burden from primary schools of managing the data Securus collects by reviewing the captured screenshots. Andrew White added: “Primary schools in particular don’t have the time or resources to research and run this type of technology. So the council does this for them – checking the violations, saving any serious incidents and passing them to the school to decide on what further action to take.”
There have been a number of incidents where the software has alerted staff to potentially dangerous situations. For example, an internet predator was caught attempting to contact a 14-year-old girl at a Norfolk school earlier this year. Staff at North Walsham High School were shocked when the software picked up an explicit email sent to a Year 10 pupil. The parents were contacted immediately and child protection staff investigated the incident.
Caroline Brooker, Headteacher of North Walsham High School, said: “This email sent to a young girl was repulsive and extremely explicit. The sender seemed to be enticing the girl to respond. If it hadn’t been for Securus software, this incident may never have come to our attention. All schools need some form of computer protection – it helps to keep pupils on task, prevents them from accessing harmful material on the internet but most importantly, it protects young people from predators.”
Eaton Hall School in Norwich, the only school in Norfolk to cater for students specifically with emotional and behavioural difficulties, was one of the first in the county to trial Securus. Barbara Lawson, Teaching Assistant at Eaton Hall School, comments: “We were finding that there was a growing trait among pupils to deliberately try to outwit the filtering system while knowing they could not generally be caught, nor their actions proven. Since Securus has been running on the system the number of attempts to visit inappropriate sites has been dramatically cut. Pupils now know their computer use is being monitored and that hard copy evidence of their wrongdoing is recorded.”
Securus not only picks up the activities of bullies and predators but also helps to identify students who are depressed and may be at risk of harming themselves. Chris Bell, Network Manager at Framingham Earl High School in Norwich, comments: “Unfortunately the Internet makes it all too easy for young children, who may not be fully aware of their actions, to retrieve data of an extreme nature. We discovered that one student had been researching on the web how to slit his wrists. We passed the incident on to our pastoral team and they gave the boy counseling.”
Bill Jenkins, Founding Director, Securus Software Ltd, said: “Issues such as cyberbullying, predator grooming and racism in all their insidious forms are a real and growing concern and schools need all the help they can get to control the problem. Schools need to be vigilant about protecting pupils and preventing them from accessing unsuitable material.”