The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Alan Mackenzie

E-Safety in 2016: onwards and upwards

E-safety often has to evolve as quickly as technology itself. Alan Mackenzie looks at what we’re learning and how schools can keep up-to-date.

Step back, and take a look at what's happening now

  • Prevent
  • high-profile media reporting
  • increased Ofsted focus
  • pressures of the curriculum
  • incidents outside school impacting in-school
  • difficulty engaging with parents.

These are just a few of the concerns facing e-safety at the moment. The focus on e-safety has never been more than it is now, and it’s growing.

A bit of history

The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 and it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when significant numbers of people started to jump online and have a go (remember that dial-up modem?). The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) wasn’t formed until 2006 and we didn’t have the landmark ‘Safer Children in a Digital World’ report from Professor Tanya Byron until early 2008, which for many, myself included, established the building blocks for a greater understanding of the huge challenges ahead.

The landscape of ‘online’ continually changes as technical innovation drives forward with sometimes scant regard for privacy and security.

Online behaviour

But whilst we’re learning more all the time, we’re still in relative infancy when it comes to understanding this whole notion of online risk. There are so many variables and whilst including e-safety under the umbrella term of safeguarding is vital, there is far more to it.

From a knowledge and understanding perspective science is starting to have a positive impact in our understanding of online behaviour and why that behaviour can sometimes change as a result of technology use. For a long time I have stated what children and young people are doing online is not as relevant as why they’re doing it. If we can understand the why, we can help with the what.

What we’ve learnt

Since I started on my e-safety journey back in the mid-noughties I think we have moved on significantly in some areas, not so much in others.

For example, I have recently been asked by a local authority to deliver a course for schools about using Facebook as a way of engaging the wider school community. Some may lift an eyebrow and question the relevance but to me this is hugely significant. It’s a small but important sign of the times and fits in with my personal motto: ‘e-safety should never be a barrier to the innovative use of technology.' This sort of course simply wouldn’t have existed a few years ago. But continuing to concentrate on the negatives means some will struggle to embrace the positives.

The point I’m making is that in the past many have understandably listened to the rare horror stories and used that as justification not to innovate.

If we as adults and professionals can’t use the very tools that technology gives us, then how on earth do we empower children? There are some truly horrendous things going on out there, in the real and virtual worlds, but education must be about balance and context.

Empowering our technical selves

Those who have seen me speak in the past are probably tired of hearing the statement: ‘If we continue to tell children not to talk to strangers, at what point do we tell them it’s okay?’

Not an easy question to answer, but hugely relevant. What about the sentence, ‘don’t share personal information?’ What does ‘personal’ mean in a connected age? Used as statements with significant educational context these sentences may be relevant in some circumstances, but as rules to keep safe they’re outdated.

Remember that technology is just a set of tools with a defined purpose. ‘I know nothing about technology’ is a statement that needs to disappear: we’re in 2016 and we all use technology. 

Open, honest and engaging conversations are key to empowering positive behaviour, increasing knowledge and risk mitigation and the fact that risk does not necessarily mean harm. Behaviour should be the focus; the concerns of children don’t always mirror our own assumptions so listen to the children and learn from them.

The number one piece of advice

All of this can put an enormous strain on schools; which set of priorities do you juggle whilst dealing with this priority? How do you know what the priorities are? I can’t answer that directly, all schools will be different, but if I could give one piece of advice that I know works, the one thing that will allow you to move onward and upward, it is: establish an e-safety group or committee. 

Simple? Yes.  Effective? Without question! 


  • Wide membership to allow multiple inputs, including pupils.
  • Shared responsibilities to reduce the pressure on one person.
  • Agreed terms of reference so that everybody is clear.

This one initiative alone, if done correctly, will significantly reduce the pressure on responsible persons, allowing you to embed e-safety, strategically plan in particular regards to the curriculum and education need, incident management, staff and parental awareness and so much more.

Listen to my podcast on how to establish an e-safety group through iTunes for free. 

Practical strategies for safeguarding 

Your safeguarding obligations are constantly growing, guidance is regularly updated and new threats continue to emerge. 

Our 12th annual Protecting Children Update conference provides an opportunity to engage with the country’s leading safeguarding experts, providing you with practical strategies to ensure no child slips through your safeguarding net.

Secure your place now. 

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