Ofsted: Teachers ill-equipped to protect pupils online


Teachers are ill-equipped to protect their pupils from the dangers of inappropriate websites, Ofsted has found.

The schools inspectorate found that staff are the weakest link in the chain when it comes to preventing children from viewing adult material at school. It listed social networking sites and chat sites as particular problems, as well as adult websites.

Ofsted said training needs of teachers should be audited, and parents' views sought, in order to better protect pupils. The inspectorate was tasked with establishing how well children are protected from online threats at school following publication in 2008 of the Byron review, which reviewed the risks to children.

Ofsted revealed its findings late last week in a report based on observations from a range of schools across the UK covering 7-14 year-olds. The report said: "Training for staff was the weakest aspect of e-safety. It did not always involve all the staff and was not provided systematically." Support staff often missed out on training, Ofsted found.

Ofsted also advised teachers to avoid blocking all inappropriate materials using specialist security software, and instead said that pupils should be given responsibility to avoid the content themselves.

"Schools should manage the transition from locked down systems to more managed systems to help pupils understand how to manage risk," Ofsted's report urged.

Becta, the government agency which is responsible for the use of IT in schools, said it recognised the threats to children that the internet brings, but said it agreed with Ofsted's approach to giving pupils' responsibility.

Becta's chief executive Stephen Crowne said: "Like Ofsted, Becta believes that the best approach to online safety in schools involves teaching pupils how to use the internet responsibly and then trusting them to manage the risks."

Ofsted found that pupils who weren't give responsibility did not know how to use the internet appropriately when they went home.

However, some organisations are less trusting of pupils. A survey by security vendor SmoothWall found that pupils were not only viewing inappropriate content, but were actively trying to circumvent the controls that were put in place by their school to stop them viewing it.