Like many other things over the past year, Online Safety Mark assessing is now being done virtually. This was my first remote assessment, and like several other assessors, I think that there is potential to continue offering virtual and face-to-face assessments once lockdown restrictions are lifted. No very early starts or long-distance travel for me, which was certainly a bonus, and the school were able to easily set up meetings via a secure online platform that they were familiar with in order to fit in around the timings and format of their day.
The school that I was assessing on this occasion was The Parkland Federation (Parkland Infant School and Parkland Junior School) (https://theparklandfederation.org/) in Eastbourne, East Sussex , part of the Swale Academies Trust (https://www.swale.at/). My first meeting was with the Head Teacher (Sally Simpson) and relevant members of the SLT (Liam McDonald, Deputy Head Teacher and SENDCO; Paul Johnson, Computing Subject Leader and Jane McCarthy-Penman, Chair of the Governing Body and the governor with oversight for online safety) to confirm arrangements for the day, plus discuss their completed 360 degree safe self-review. I had previously gone through the latter with a fine tooth-comb, noting questions that I wished to ask and highlighting items that I wanted to discover more about. The school had rated themselves either at or above the Online Safety Mark threshold for all 21 aspects and had provided detailed commentary and evidence to support their judgements. Sally and colleagues answered my questions willingly and confidently.
Next, it was a meeting with pupils from a range of year groups. This was not quite as easy as usual due to schools operating in class or year group bubbles, but they managed it very well. I tried to put pupils at ease from the onset and they were very forthcoming with responses to my questions.
Afterwards, it was time to quiz parents/carers and governors. Three individuals were invited to share their thoughts and the achievements of the school. It was clear that there was a strong rapport between pupils, parents/carers, teachers and governors.
Support staff of various guises were interviewed before I took a short break. These included TAs, administrators, site and welfare staff. I learnt from my years in teaching that these individuals are key to the smooth running of a school and ones to get to know really well! All were very friendly and their comprehensive answers reiterated many of the things that I had heard earlier.
Feeling revitalised and refreshed, I was ready for my next interviewees, namely teachers from different year groups. The foci here were the online safety curriculum and awareness. The school is in the privileged position of having a hugely competent Computing Subject Leader, who is available to teach across both sites (Parkland Infant School and Parkland Junior School). This ensures good coverage and progression; content is re-visited at the start of a lesson to reinforce key messages and then this is built upon. The curriculum is designed in consultation with those responsible for computing in other local primary schools and is reviewed regularly. Online safety is a continuous priority, but all children also receive a term of lessons related specifically to this. A digital survey is undertaken too, which allows for formative and summative assessment, as well as gap analysis to facilitate future online safety planning. Online safety is also reinforced by class teachers in other areas of the whole school curriculum. Each term, an online safety-themed assembly takes place, which aims to link to British Values as well. An external company, One Day Creative, visit the school bi-annually to deliver online safety drama workshops with each year group. Safer Internet Day (SID) is recognised each year; however, this spills over a week to enable teachers to produce a digital media production for parents/carers. This year was somewhat different due to the current pandemic; online safety was still addressed during a virtual assembly and classes engaged in related activities during the day.
Paul Cadman gave me all the ‘techie’ detail that I needed; how they deal with any technical issues that arise, monitoring, reporting and audit logs. It was encouraging to learn that the Federation were fortunate to receive a number of Chromebooks through the government’s scheme to support remote/home learning and further investment was made to ensure their systems were secure both on and off site. As part of the Swale Academies Trust, they are lucky to have access to a Central Support Services Team. This includes IT support services that are able to provide technical expertise and assistance, alongside advice on new technologies.
A good half hour was allotted to reviewing documentation/evidence and reflecting upon what I had seen and heard. After discovering how secure and tight their systems were (several attempts were made to share a folder of evidence with me, but with limited success), we resorted to sharing documents via Google Classrooms. I later received all documentation via a We Transfer link, so was able to delve into this further before and whilst writing my final report.
It was then time to meet with the Head Teacher and members of the SLT to provide feedback and conclusions. I was delighted to inform them that they had been successful in attaining the Online Safety Mark. We agreed some ‘action points’ from here on in, so that the school could build on their successes to date. These included:
- Looking at additional ways in which they could engage with parents/carers and members of the local community. Consider inviting the PCSO, a member of the local church’s safeguarding team and parents/carers with a role in the field of computing/online safety/safeguarding to sit on their Online Safety Group. Lead by example and support local community groups and early years settings in using the equivalent self-review tool to assess their online safety provision and needs (360 Groups and 360 Early Years).
- Explore further avenues for schools within the Trust to work together. Perhaps, hold a virtual multi-schools event with an online safety theme?
- Consider a subscription to SWGfL’s Online Safety BOOST (https://swgfl.org.uk/products/online-safety-boost/), so that an anonymous reporting tool is available (Whisper), as well as being able to easily monitor the Federation’s online reputation (Reputation Alerts).
- Update their Online Safety policy more regularly/to include reference to recent remote/blended learning developments.
- Use the term ‘online safety’ rather than ‘e-safety’.
- Consider registering with SWGfL’s Project Evolve (https://swgfl.org.uk/products/project-evolve/), a free and rather unique online safety digital education toolkit, and rolling this out across the Federation/four local primary schools.
It was a real pleasure to assess The Parkland Federation. I look forward to hearing about, and seeing, evidence of their online safety-related activities in the not-too-distant future; much easier once Covid-19 restrictions are finally lifted.
Good luck for the next few weeks and months ahead!