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15 October 2013
By Rebecca Avery

Online Safety FAQ - How can we get families more involved in Online Safety?

A common question from received from schools and settings is about engaging with parents, either following a concern regarding children's online behaviour when at home, or after the school have held a parents evening 'e-Safety' workshop to which only 3 parents attended!

Why don't some parents engage?

Technology can often seen as a "scary" or "frightening" issue to many adults and using the words "ICT", "Technology" etc can sometimes put parents/carers off attending 'e-Safety' events as they may be concerned about not having sufficient computer skills to help protect their child. Online safety is not about the technology, it is about keeping children safe online and so parenting skills and not computing are the most important thing.

Sometimes parents/carers may think they are doing enough to protect their children by putting filters on search engines, installing antivirus software, having a laptop downstairs and banning children from using certain sites without considering how successful these tools are or if their children could access the internet elsewhere, so it is important to highlight that discussion and education about safe use is the key. It is important that schools and settings focus on the importance of keeping children safe online and that online safety is not seen as a purely ICT issue.

By working together, parents and carers can help to reinforce the e-safety messages and they can encourage positive behaviour wherever and whenever children go online. Awareness-raising with parents and carers should focus on:

  • The different ways children and young people use and access technology e.g. mobile phones, games consoles etc not just laptops and computers. It's important to highlight the positive use of technology as otherwise online safety can easily become frightening - be aware that the vast majority of interactions on the internet are positive!
  • The importance of developing risk awareness and risk management by children and young people (according to their age and ability) and resources parents/carers can use to help discuss online safety
  • Practical tips for online ssafety in the home such as using filters, parental controls, creating appropriate user profiles and home computer security

How can Schools and Settings engage with families?

Often parents/carers can be a very hard-to-reach audience due to a number of reasons so it is important that schools explore a number of options when raising the profile of online safety within the school community.

  1. Parental Awareness Sessions and Face to Face Training sessions
  2. Online safety Links on School Website/Learning platform. School websites can be great communication tools for busy parents/carers and can be used to highlight new resources and information for parents to use at home with their children. Schools can register their school website as a CEOP Digital Asset. Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre offer a number of free downloads which can be added to websites, which are  available when you register, each designed to provide users with a one-click route to advice, guidance and if required an ability to report online crime. Register at . One school I've worked with set the pupils the task or designing the e-Safety area on the school website - the children had great fun finding resources and then went home and helped their parents explore the site!
  3. Regular Communication with parents/carers. Use regular school communication channels e.g. newsletters, emails, texts or letters home to ensure the schools e-Safety ethos is clear to all members of the School Community. This could include "top tips" or references to new and useful resources. This can also be a great way of engaging with parents before offering e-Safety events. One school I worked with had the students write the e-Safety newsletter which meant they went home and read it with their parents.
  4. Events for or by Children on e-Safety. Turnout to e-Safety sessions or presentations have been noticeable improved by involving children, such as putting on a play or children presenting themselves at a whole school assembly. Some schools invite parents to attend children's lessons or workshops to help improve parent/child learning. These sessions could be lead by the school, but sessions which are led by the children can often have a greater impact (as well as improved attendance).
  5. Including e-Safety at open evenings or well attended events. Many schools have found that opening up the school to parents/carers for a day or an evening has increased the number of families engaging in e-Safety. Schools have offered open ICT Suite sessions where parents can drop in (alone or with their children) to explore useful websites. Highlighting e-Safety at other events can also help to reinforce that this is about safeguarding, not ICT.
  6. Linking in with other School events. Attendance for Parental Awareness Sessions can often be poor or may not always engage with the most vulnerable families. It can sometimes be more useful to highlight e-Safety when parents would already be coming into school and some events which schools have said work well are schools discos (one school offered free entry to the children whose parents attended!), school plays (a large and captive audience!), transition events, school fetes (summer, Christmas etc) etc.
  7. Home School Agreements. Many schools ask parents to sign consent forms or Acceptable Use Policies before letting children use the schools computer systems. Whilst these are an excellent idea, they can often be hard to manage and to have returned to the school.  An alternative is to add a reference to the schools e-Safety policy and procedures in the Home School Agreement - which all parents/carers MUST sign before a child can join the school. This can then be discussed as part of new entry to the school to help share the schools ethos at an early stage.
  8. Questionnaires/online polls. This can be a useful way of seeing where a school may need to focus its delivery or awareness raising. A good idea is to send questionnaire or online polls to parents and then compare these with answers given by pupils to highlight any gaps or concerns.
  9. Sharing your Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) or School e-Safety Policy for use or adaptation in the home and inviting feedback and discussion from parents/carers. Use school parents groups/associations to help raise awareness and they can be a great place to talk about ways to engage with parents.
  10. Think outside the box! Screens (TV, computer) around school can also be a good way of getting parents more engaged with e-Safety by using a rolling presentation at parents evenings, school fetes, or other times when visitors are in the building such as school opening and closing times. Some schools have made a computer with internet access available to parents/carers (with AUPS) so that those without internet access at home can still access important emails and messages.

Running Parental Awareness Sessions to achieve a good attendance

Parental awareness sessions can be a really good way of engaging with parents about e-Safety in the home to promote a consistent and clear message. However attendance at such events can vary and therefore should not be used in isolation. To ensure the best turn out schools could try the following methods:

  • Send out an invitation letter to all parents/carers and the local community - this can be via a printed letter, text/SMS services and/or email. This should be sent out a few times as reminders.
  • Schools could also highlight the event on the school website and/or School newsletter.
  • Schools could display posters in the reception area, in public areas (e.g. fences, display boards in the playground) and also in the wider community e.g. Children Centers, local Shops, display boards etc.
  • Work with local agencies e.g. Police, Community Wardens, Children's Centers, Libraries as they can help promote your event and may be able to help you engage with families who may not have attended otherwise.
  • You may be able to entice parents by including a raffle or a reward for attending. Some schools have obtained prizes from local industry and raffled these at the events; other schools have offered discounts to school events or "freebies" etc.
  • Providing refreshments can be a good idea (cake and tea/coffee is always a winning combination!) and some schools have found that offering a creche or space for children to be supervised whilst parents attend has increased attendance.
  • It is also a good idea to ask parents when they would prefer the session to be offered e.g. morning, afternoon or evening, to ensure as many parents as possible can attend. Coffee mornings/afternoons can allow parents to attend just after or before the school run and evening sessions may help to accommodate families who work during the day.
  • The best attended events have been organised with engagement and encouragement with the Schools Senior Leadership team and if possible any parents groups/associations or Family Liaison Officer/Parental Support Adviser etc.
  • Sometimes avoiding using any technical terms can be helpful to stress that this event is not about ICT and computers, but is about keeping children safe.
  • Using outside speakers such as local police can be very helpful to reinforce the schools messages however schools should not become too reliant on this approach as it can mean the school lose ownership of the issues. When using outside speakers schools should ensure that they are promoting the schools ethos (and are using up-to-date and appropriate materials) and make sure staff attend the session as outside speakers will not know your school , the pupils or the community.
  • Don't be put off if the first event has a lower than expected attendance. If you've got the right balance then you'll find that word will spread on the playground about how useful the session was and the numbers should increase in the future.

Helpful resources

Useful films/resources which can be used to run sessions and events for parents/carers include:

Please feel free to share useful resources or ideas you've found to help engage with parents/carers in the comments section.

This post was last updated September 2017.