Pupils’ internet safety is part of the overall strategy for safeguarding children from online radicalisation and is required of all early years providers and schools in England and Wales. However, with the recent introduction of Prevent Duty, which is part of the national counter-terrorism strategy known as CONTEST, educational providers must make sure children are “safe from terrorist and extremist material when accessing the internet in school” (HM Government, 2015). Schools must introduce appropriate measures that allow students to access and use internet safely without being exposed to a harmful content.
The internet has become one of the most important means for extremists to spread their ideologies, to radicalise and to recruit — and they have already begun to target women, families, and younger people. Extremists use social media, publish websites dedicated to racial hatred, and create online forums on which they inspire hateful discussions and post messages encouraging support for extremist ideology.
These efforts are not exclusive to ISIL and similar groups, but are also employed by neo-Nazi and right wing groups racist views. Students are one of the most vulnerable, easily-influenced demographics, as they rely significantly on the internet being for educational, informational or social purposes (HM Government, 2015). It is crucial to educate them about safe internet use and to make them aware of possible threats from extremist organisations’ internet activities.
What schools and Teachers Can Do
Internet safety needs to be taken seriously, and schools need to have appropriate systems in place to protect students from negative influences. Schools must adopt various tools and approaches and involve not only school leaders, but also all teaching staff, administrative staff, and the students themselves. The best solution is to treat school as a community.
The following is a list of absolute must-haves for schools in order to be able to demonstrate that they comply with recent requirements and are committed to protecting their students from online radicalisation.
Understanding the Process of Radicalisation
While effective e-safety systems in place are necessary at every school, students also need to be aware of the threat they are facing. Because a great part of extremist recruitment is conducted online, students should understand the mechanisms that extremist groups adopt to attract potential victims and the vulnerabilities they tend to prey on.
Teachers can organise regular sessions to outline and further discuss matters related to terrorism, extremism and radicalisation to make sure that students have a chance to actively participate. Debates, discussion panels or group projects are excellent tools to activate students and to inspire their curiosity and creativity. Such sessions also provide great opportunities for teachers to get to know their students’ points of view, to identify potential vulnerabilities, and to offer further support when necessary. Learning about radicalisation can be done as part of the overall cross-curricular approach, but it can also be easily covered during Computer Literacy or PSHE lessons.
Digital Literacy Curriculum
The Computing curriculum can be effectively used, adapted and enriched by extra resources, meaningful activities and projects that empower students and give them confidence about safe browsing. To plan such sessions effectively, teachers can use already-available resources or adapt them to meet their students’ needs. These teaching materials can be found in resource banks such as www.digital-literacy.org.uk and childnet.com where they can be browsed by Key Stage or Year Group. PSHE lessons can also provide excellent opportunities to discuss healthy digital behaviour while Computing classes give space for practicing safe Internet use.
E-Safety Policies and Procedures
Rigorous e-safety policies and procedures help staff and students understand what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what needs special attention or further support. Such policies should outline safe internet practices both for students and staff, draw boundaries, and discuss issues related to personal data protection. Substantial policies should explain what is meant by inappropriate content or behaviour and what kind of websites, internet resources, and materials cannot be accessed, distributed, or promoted. Internet safety is essentially a safeguarding issue; e-safety policies need to be linked to already-existing safeguarding and behaviour management policies. Existing policies need to be regularly reviewed and updated when necessary and students, staff, and parents should be fully involved in the process.
Appropriate Filtering and Monitoring
Apart from policies and procedures that outline expected behaviour, schools must make sure that they limit students’ access to content related to extremism and terrorism so that certain dangerous content cannot be viewed, downloaded or stored in a school’s IT system. Schools are required to establish appropriate levels of filtering and monitoring, but at the same time they must make sure that they do not introduce unreasonable restrictions (HM Government, 2015).
Safety Features on Social Networks
Since using social networks is a standard practice among young people, helping them understand how to use them safely is a priority. The majority of social network providers offer tools to protect users’ privacy that can be easily turned on and personalised by users. Teachers can cover social network safety features during e-safety training, but they need to bear in mind that it is not enough to make students aware of the importance of protecting their privacy. Students need to be able to turn on and set the safety features themselves even before they start using social networks.
To address the issue of internet safety, schools can arrange further training by booking educational sessions for pupils, parents, or staff via Childnet or South West Grid for Learning.
Protecting students from online radicalisation is effective when approached from a broader perspective and when school leaders, senior staff, teachers, students, and parents are all involved. At the moment, schools and teachers can receive support from various organisations that offer engaging resources on e-safety and radicalisation to be used during classes. They can ask for assistance with developing or updating schools e-safety policies and procedures, or look for additional courses organised for staff, pupils and parents.
Internet safety must be approached responsibly to ensure that students are not exposed to harmful contents and influences without unreasonably restrict their freedom.
Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales. HM Government, 2015
Counter-Extremism Strategy. HM Government, 2015