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Parental Engagement – 10 Top Tips

When it comes to e-safety, parental engagement is really hard.  Schools already do a huge amount of work engaging with parents in a variety of ways, whether it’s via email, newsletters, parents evenings, social media and more.  Ofsted added a new perspective to this in Sept 2012 as part of their e-safety inspection framework; they want the education of children to extend outside the school gates in regards to e-safety by engaging with the whole school community.

For many this is a really difficult task for a variety of reasons, for example:

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  • e-Safety isn’t seen as something which is engaging;
  • Many parents say they already know what to do to keep their children safe;
  • Busy personal/professional lives;
  • Younger children, can’t get into school in the evening;
  • Rural location, no transport.

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The reasons above are the main ones, and they are all completely understandable.  But, this leaves the school with a dilemma, how do you engage?

Unfortunately, no single solution works, it’s a matter of trying and then trying again.  Schools are already busy enough, so ideally there would be a solution for the minimum amount of work.

Rather than a single parents evening, think of it as a long term plan where you are gently building up to the end goal.  Here’s 10 top tips that make up a single strategic plan, but you can mix and match to suit your own circumstances:

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  • Don’t do it by yourself; use the power of school clusters in your area. It not only saves you money (if you’re getting a consultant in) it spreads the workload (when I say workload, there’s very little work involved in this).
  • Find out what social media services your parents are using; this is usually Facebook or Twitter. Don’t listen to all the ridiculous scaremongering about social media and e-safety; embrace it and use its power. There are ways to set up these social networks so that you can mitigate any risks. I haven’t visited a single school (who is using social networking as a method of engagement) who haven’t reported a massive rise in parental engagement.
  • Start to drip feed interesting facts, don’t overwhelm them with “scare” stories, balance the risks with great stories too (another good reason for using social networking services).
  • Try to be innovative, forget the word “e-safety” when communicating with parents; commonly they won’t understand the term or will associate it with something else.
  • Talking of being innovative, get the students involved too. Parents are more likely to turn up to an evening if their children are doing something. For example: poll the students and ask what concerns them about the internet, use that as part of the drip feed.
  • Take one of their concerns and create a small play, this has the added advantage of showing parents that e-safety has got little to do with technology and more about behaviour, for example bullying.
  • Similarly you can poll the parents, they are more likely to turn up if you are responding to their own concerns. If you are looking at polling the parents, you might not get many answers back if you simply send a letter home. Think of other ways to do this, for example you could set it as homework for the students and get them to question their parents. Back at school they can put their answers onto a single Google document which has the added advantage of compiling the results automatically for you.
  • If you have one, get the PTA involved. The best parents evening I have been to was organized by the PTA; over 80% of parents turned up.
  • Closer to the event, use your local media. Tell them what you are doing and why. Let them run a story about what you are doing and invite them to the evening as a follow-up. This has the added advantage of great PR for the school.
  • Entice them in: cheese and wine; coffee and biscuits; make it a multi-event evening. As simple as it sounds, it does work.

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Before or after the event, you will find you will have some parents that are really interested.  Invite these parents to become part of a committee to further spread the word, collaborate on your e-safety policy, or to raise any concerns of parents with the school.

If you think the tips above sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t.  Again, your key is social media for all the communication.  Granted you won’t get all of the parents, but I guarantee that far more will see a post on Facebook or Twitter than will read an email or go to your school website.

If you want to poll your students or parents, I’ve got a couple of quite basic question papers on the Resources page of my website HERE.  These are due to be updated in the next couple of weeks; if you want to be informed when they are updated just follow me on Twitter

If you want to drip feed information, you can sign up to my free school and/or parents newsletters HERE and just copy some stuff from there.

Have you had success doing anything different to the tips above?  Share in the comments below so that others can see.

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Is your local authority “blocking” or “managing” your internet? Here’s some tips

We all know the value of internet access at school, there is no need to explain that; but from an e-safety and risk management perspective there is still too much emphasis on the risk rather than the management.  This is true of internet sites, specific categories such as blogs, and particular internet services such as Evernote and Dropbox.

Similarly we know that any internet service such as filtering needs to be appropriately managed, not used as a tool for blocking as this has the potential to increase risk due to a lack of resilience.

As an ex-LA service manager I am well aware of the daily and strategic challenges of managing such a large estate of services, so this blog post should not be seen as me having a go at any person or LA but rather a way to assist some schools that may be struggling.  Furthermore the topic is much much greater than that below so I’m just generalising.

To keep this post clear and concise I’m going to just jump straight into it.

1.  You can’t use this or that service (Evernote, Dropbox etc.) due to COPPA.
Unjustified – COPPA is a U.S. law, not a U.K. one.

2.  You can’t use this cloud service due to data protection.
Unless there is data which is subject to the Data Protection Act that reason is not justified.  Students and teachers sharing or collaborating with work will rarely be a data protection issue.  Actually using such a service is a very positive way of embedding positive e-safety messages such as appropriate sharing, password security, use of personal data.

3.  We don’t advise using a cloud service with your students as their work could be hacked.
Who in their right mind would be slightly interested, and even if the account was hacked what damage would that actually do?  If you’re worried, use 2-factor authentication.  Not the be all and end all but it’s pretty good as a mitigator.  There is no such thing as zero risk, just managing risk.

4.  The blogging category is blocked due to the potential of inappropriate content.
Not justified – there isn’t a single filtering category that won’t have the potential for inappropriate content.

5.  We don’t allow social networking.
That’s not their decision; you, the corporate parent are the decision maker in this respect.
(Just to expand on this one a little, it is sometimes a bit more complicated than that and is entirely dependant on how your provider or LA have the filtering groups set up.  In other words, there is sometimes a technical reason rather than a moral or risk management reason – however that’s not your problem!)

That’s just a few, but I think you can see the point I’m trying to make.  So what can you do about it?

1.  Engage with the LA.  There’s a very good chance that they don’t know that something is blocked and that schools want to use it.  Make sure you have your reasons and justification, that should only take 15 minutes to do.  This is normally the first and only step you need to take.

2.  Sometimes the IT support is outsourced, this can be a little more difficult.  I have found that outsourced IT support, whilst they have the best intentions of the schools at heart, really do struggle with this type of thing.  The reason being is that the support is normally managed by commercial tech people rather than educationalists.  These sometimes take a great deal more convincing.

3.  If you don’t get anywhere with the above, it’s time to take it up a notch.  A polite, formal letter to the head of service (if they have one) or Director/Asst Director.

4.  Many counties will have a school forum or something similarly named.  Essentially this is a forum of headteachers and governors who represent all schools at the county council and who normally meet once per term at the LA.  Although their specific charge is that of school finance and other matters, they are a very powerful voice to demand change.  These meetings are normally attended by at least the assistant director (Children’s Services).

5.  One very successful initiative we had was to set up a sub forum of the schools forum called the ICT Development Group.  Attended by governors, deputy heads and others, it was a small group of individuals who reported directly to the schools forum specifically for county-wide school ICT matters.

6.  Finally, the most important principle of all – you pay for that service, if it is unsatisfactory then someone needs to answer to that.  As budgets grow ever tighter and harnessing technology is but a distant memory you should be demanding value for money.

Have you had any similar problems?  Is e-safety used as a reason?  Leave me a comment or give me a shout on Twitter @esafetyadviser

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Parents e-Safety Survey Template

Parental engagement is an important part of whole-school and community e-safety. A fundamental part of this are the parents themselves.But if you don’t know what the parents do/don’t know, and you don’t know how children are using digital devices and the Internet at home you won’t know what you need to know. This is also a great way to prove to Ofsted that you are engaging with parents, as long as you can show tangible outcomes from the survey.

Below this text is a download link (Word document) for a sample parents e-safety survey that can be sent out either via traditional letter, via email, or host it on your website for parents to download and complete. Also included is a sample covering letter. Please note it is a sample only, you can add or delete questions as befits your own school environment, these questions are just a starter for ten.

If you want parents to complete the survey electronically you will need to “Protect” the document in MS Word so that only the Form elements can be altered.

Alternatively, if you are feeling really adventurous, you could copy the questions and Form elements into a Google doc, and cross-reference the Form elements to a Google spreadhseet so that it is updated automatically.

I have included my logos on the covering letter, but I’m not precious about them; feel free to replace with your own school logo. But, I would ask two small favours. Firstly I would be grateful if you could share your survey results with me (the completed results). This is purely for professional interest and so that I can get more ideas for my newsletters. Secondly, please point parents to the free parents e-safety newsletter on this website (www.esafety-adviser.com/newsletter). If they subscribe it again shows to Ofsted parental engagement.

If I get enough results, I may look at blogging them or writing up a report to share with you along with some opinions/recommendations.

NOTE: I do not recommend asking questions such as, “Has your child ever told you he/she has been bullied on the Internet?” You are asking for disclosure information, and this type of survey is not the place to be doing that.

Do let me know if you have any comments:
Alan Mackenzie
alan@esafety-adviser.com

Download: Parents e-Safety Survey (MS Word Doc, about 140Kb)

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e-Safety : it’s so boring!

What a strange thing to say; but it isn’t me saying it, it is the very people we are trying to help stay safe.

A quick scan through some of the more popular social media sites and you won’t have any difficulty finding posts from children and young people about an e-safety lesson they’ve had; from the downright derogatory to the “I’m never going on Facebook again”.

This is concerning; if we are scaring young people or they are laughing in the face of it, then surely we are creating a risk not mitigating it?  For the former the issues are potentially being forced underground; the risk here is that should anybody get into difficulty they may not feel they can talk to someone.  For the latter they are either completely risk averse or possibly just don’t care, and therefore even more at risk.

Or are they?  The latest research from FOSI (Calming Parental Anxiety while Empowering our Digital Youth) confirms a long-held belief that we adults are simply assuming the risks and dangers are far greater than they are.  So are we using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?  Are we targetting all children and young people rather than those whom we know or suspect to be at risk?

Here’s a thought I’m having and I would value your opinion:  I think there are two sides to this; very generally speaking those at primary school and those at secondary and beyond.

Those at secondary school and beyond are far more likely to be connected, no not with the Mafia, but with a digital device, probably a mobile or smart phone; they are more likely to be experimenting sexually; peer pressure could be significantly greater; emotions are probably running all over the place and much more.  This is a really difficult area to target but if we are to assume that most teenagers are comfortable with online privacy, risk-taking behaviour etc. then we can change focus to helping those at risk.

Does that mean we should stop any e-safety initiatives to the wider audience? No, positive reinforcement is always a good thing.

Primary children are a different ball game entirely.  Again I’m speaking very generally, but one can assume that they are not yet fully aware of the big wide world.

Let me put it another way.  It tore me apart when I had to put my dog, Neo to sleep at the beginning of this year.  Before you think I’m comparing children to dogs, it’s an anology.  Neo was the most gentle animal; I remember when a cat scratched his eyeball, the pain must have been horrendous but instead of reacting he licked the cat as if to say, “sorry my eye got in the way of your claws!”  From a very early age he was subjected to every noise, every risk possible.  He was taken on the bus, he was taken outside when the noisy binmen came, he was taken to the fireworks, he was introduced to other dogs and lots of children, into the city where there was lots of traffic and people….and much more.  He knew exactly how to behave.

This is similar to young children; they are not going to learn a life skill in a lesson, they learn by doing things in a managed environment.  There is very little point in the “don’t do this, do that, everyone is at risk, danger danger turn everything off” attitude I see from some “experts”.  Over time the managed environment allows for continuous positive enforcement of e-safety skills, namely risk assessment and behaviour management.  These skills have to be learned over time so that the younger children are empowered.  By the time they take the leap from primary to secondary they are in possession of a valuable life skill.  This is why e-safety must be embedded over a long period of time, not taught in a lesson.  It is why adults who work with children (and of course parents) must have the knowledge and skills to fortify the embedding process, not simply download a video and an activity from the internet.

Anyway, this is just a few thoughts I am having rather than firm opinion.  What are your thoughts and experiences?  I would love to hear them.