E-safety should be embedded across all areas of the organisation and link to existing policies concerning behaviour, safeguarding, anti-bullying, and health and safety, says Elizabeth Walker reports.

Developments in technology have transformed learning in recent years, and early years practitioners should embrace the opportunities offered by advances in information and communications technology (ICT), while ensuring children are safeguarded and protected from potential harm. Provisions must develop rigorous e-safety policies and procedures that are essential for safeguarding children online.

Risks

It is hard to believe that young children face the risks associated with online technologies, but research suggests that an increasing number of preschoolers use smartphones, tablets or similar devices on a daily basis and often without adult supervision.

Experts believe that by raising awareness of online risks at an early age, children will be better protected as they grow up.

All early years provisions have a duty to ensure that children are protected from potential harm, both within and beyond the learning environment, and therefore it is vital that e-safety is a priority for managers. The risks that should be recognised include:

  • prolonged exposure to online technologies, particularly from an early age

  • exposure to illegal, inappropriate or harmful content

  • grooming

  • cyberbullying

  • making, taking and distribution of illegal images and “sexting”

  • physical, sexual and emotional abuse

  • identity theft

  • privacy issues

  • addiction to gaming or gambling

  • pressure from the media and targeted advertising

  • theft and fraud from activities such as phishing

  • viruses, malware, etc

  • damage to professional online reputation through personal online behaviour.

Demonstrating how risk will be managed and how all reasonable precautions will be taken to protect users should be essential practice for early years provisions.

Parents and carers should be fully involved in e-safety practice within the provision and the home environment, and there should be clear guidance available to families on promoting e-safety and where to seek further information. Up-to-date e-safety policies and procedures should be available to both staff and parents/carers.

Policies

The key areas that should be considered when developing e-safety policies and procedures include:

  • age-appropriate filtering of content

  • monitoring use of the network

  • use of a recognised internet provider or regional broadband consortium

  • use of recommended firewalls and antivirus software

  • password protection

  • email use

  • mobile phones

  • cameras, photographs and videos

  • use of social networking sites

  • data storage and security

  • e-safety training for staff

  • e-safety lessons for children

  • reporting systems

  • use of laptops and tablets

  • an acceptable usage policy that establishes responsibilities and expectations for behaviour while accessing the internet, email or related technologies, both within the provision and beyond

  • sanctions for the misuse of technology and breach of policy.

The e-safety policy should be written in plain English, updated regularly, and cover both adult and children’s uses of technology. It should be integrated with other relevant policies to ensure a consistent approach to e-safety across the whole organisation.

Managers should also involve staff and families when developing their policies and procedures.

Other policies

Behaviour policy

This should include up-to-date information on anti-bullying guidance and should cover cyber-bullying. There should be consistent expectations for appropriate behaviour, and any breaches of policy should be dealt with seriously whether they occur on or offline.

Safeguarding policy

This should include the management of incidents that occur as a result of intentional or unintentional misuse of technology. Any allegations of abuse or other unlawful activity are to be reported immediately to the senior designated person for safeguarding, who will ensure the correct procedures are followed immediately.

Health and safety policy

The use of ICT should be covered in the health and safety policy and should include guidelines for the safe use of display screen equipment, electrical cables and wires, etc.

Curriculum

While safeguarding issues are paramount, the risks of technology must be balanced by the educational benefits.

Technology is firmly embedded within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and this is reflected in the early learning goals. Practitioners should therefore support children in the use of a range of age-appropriate technology, such as computers, cameras and CD players, and show them how to use them safely.

E-safety can be incorporated into the curriculum in the early years and there are resources available to introduce young children to e-safety in an engaging and fun way.

Good practice

Good practice is best achieved by embedding e-safety across all areas of the early years provision. Key indicators of effective management include:

  • ensuring e-safety is seen as a priority by managers and that a consistent approach is being adopted across the whole organisation

  • staff and parents/carers being aware of e-safety issues

  • providing regular up-to-date e-safety training to all staff

  • ensuring e-safety policies and procedures are up to date and regularly reviewed

  • a secure infrastructure that is actively monitored

  • effective management of personal data

  • clear reporting procedures

  • ensuring e-safety is incorporated into the curriculum

  • ensuring e-safety practice is monitored and evaluated.

Creating a safer online environment will be an ongoing and ever-changing challenge as new advances in technology continue to develop. It is therefore essential that early years provisions have clear monitoring, evaluation and review procedures in place for all e-safety practice.

Last reviewed 3 September 2014