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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

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

  1. A colleague and myself had this exact conversation at school this morning. My feeling is that smaller authorities often don’t have the legal advice or technical knowledge and so block by default. I am not excusing them, just explaining. Our LEA doesn’t block, I manage the filtering for both my schools with no interference from them at all – in fact the opposite, they are very helpful with filtering issues. In my experience it’s the HT’s in some primary schools who are over cautious and default to blocking/ denying requests, usually based on a lack of understanding and interest in engaging with ICT. They are covering their backs and i guess this is also understandable. Whose duty is it to better inform the HT’s? i guess that responsibility tends to fall to the LA where schools buy in that support. However, most of our advice comes through the local learning grid and they seem to be default ‘safe’, for example with COPPA advice. I was generally advised that if the company/ site concerned was based in the US then the law applied to all users of that site, wherever they themselves were based. This really held back our learning last year esp with sites such as Prezi. I am grateful for a different interpretation of the law – is there a source I can quote please? Just to confirm, are you saying it’s the law in the country where the user is based, not where the site is based, that applies?

    Thank you so much for all the advice you so freely give, it is much appreciated.

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