In a world filled with more online socialisation than ever, how do parents and teachers keep up? We found out with the help of Battle Abbey School

At Battle Abbey School we very much see parents as partners in a collaborative effort to keep children safe online. Smart phone technology and the multitude of apps that are available for children to communicate on has inevitably made it harder to define the boundary between our responsibility as a school and the responsibility of parents. As such, education on proper conduct online has become one of the cornerstones of our pastoral education. 

Historically, this focused on Key Stage 4 pupils, or pupils entering their GCSE years, but technology and apps are increasingly being picked up and used by younger pupils. Now most of our efforts are focused on giving pupils a solid grounding in Key Stage 3, from Year 7 and up, though our visiting speaker schedule is open to, and attracts, parents from our Prep School and Key Stage 2 as well.

The primary way we address these issues is through dedicated units that form part of the Battle Abbey School PSHE programme. This is decided annually but tends to be reviewed termly as it needs to adjust to which apps are trending with our pupil base. Luckily the school is small enough to be able to move very quickly should one of these trends create a problem or be of particular concern to teachers and parents. Tik Tok replaced Snapchat for a while as one of our main concerns but collaborative gaming has also been a more recent focus and the simple WhatsApp group always has the potential to create problems in peer groups. 

“we pride ourselves on giving each pupil a strong moral compass”

Keeping children safe in all these arenas is obviously critical and we do our best to educate staff, parents and pupils alike. Our pre-covid visiting speaker programme was not just aimed at pupils and we often had visiting speakers talk to pupils in the afternoon and stay on for an early evening talk to parents. 2019 saw Dr Aric Sigman visit the Abbey to talk about the problem of Screen Dependency, and Bill Woodside spoke to parents and staff about keeping pupils safe in the digital world. In line with our legal duties on PREVENT we have also had guest speakers in to talk to families about the signs to look out for to stop children being radicalised online. 

It can be particularly tricky to set the line between what online behaviour we are arbiters of, and what should be managed by parents. Whilst there is a clear responsibility if something happens on school property, or using a school system, things are not always so clear cut. A school year or social group may have a WhatsApp group or similar setup. If offensive content is posted on these outside school hours and away from school property, who has the responsibility for discipline? It is challenges like this that mean we have to work very closely with parents whilst keeping tabs on both social trends and government advice. Not an easy job, but in a school where every pupil is known and we pride ourselves on giving each pupil a strong moral compass on these matters, we find any transgressions tend to be few and far between, and of a relatively minor nature when they do occur.

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