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A Progressive Approach To The Internet In School

A post I’ve been meaning to write for many months…


I have had my battles with Internet filtering in the past, but I’m now the man in charge.  Every school I have worked in so far in my opinion has had an old fashioned ‘head in the sand’ view to filtering and acceptable use of the Internet within school.  I’ve ranted about this in the past.

Reversing a Head In The Sand mentality. CC licensed image from David Barrie at Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/addictive_picasso/


I would estimate that 95% of our pupils now own a mobile phone, and that 80% of these have unrestricted access to the Internet on these devices.  This doesn’t factor in devices such as netbooks, iPod Touches and PSPs that are also brought into school.  What this leads to is unrestricted, unfiltered access to the Internet within our school, and at a pace and quality that is ever increasing.  I also regularly receive requests from teachers to block this that and the other as a classroom management tool.

Battle plan:

I strongly believe that in response to this situation we need a new approach to Internet access within schools, something that still protects our children but also that prepares them for the World in which they live.

This comes in 3 parts:

  1. An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that is relevant, understood by all parties and linked closely to general school behaviour policies.
  2. Relatively unfiltered Internet access.
  3. Quality monitoring solutions.


For months at my new school we had been battling with the filtering solution provided by our LA.  I won’t name the system, and whilst I’m sure it is not such a bad piece of software in every situation, the installation at our LA was seriously flawed in my opinion.  Whilst it did a sterling job of blocking just about everything, there was effectively no reporting available to us within school.  No way to easily check users network history and no way to quickly spot those trying to behave inappropriately.  These difficulties with an audit trail gave me personal concerns as ultimately it is my responsibility to ensure pupils do not access inappropriate things.

In conjunction with this filtering & monitoring software we had a very traditional Acceptable Use Policy.  This lasted for many sides and had such lovely details as the acceptable use of news-groups.  Nobody read it, nobody understood it, it just sat their in it’s meaningless glory in every student’s planner.  It was signed by parents each year, but really, what does that mean?!


Acceptable Use Policy: A new acceptable use policy was created by me.  I took great inspiration and indeed a framework from some great work online at Educational Origami.  I tweaked things a little to fit in with the language that runs through our school and our School Improvement Plan.  Here it is:

Stretford High School – IT Acceptable Use Policy

In using the IT systems provided by Stretford High School you are agreeing to abide by this acceptable use policy:

  • Respect Yourself:  I will show respect for myself through my actions.  I will select online names that are appropriate, I will consider the information and images that I post online.  I will consider what personal information about my life, experiences, experimentation or relationships I post.  I will not be obscene.
  • Protect Yourself:  I will ensure that the information, images and materials I post online will not put me at risk.  I will not publish my personal details, contact details or a schedule of my activities.  I will report any attacks or inappropriate behaviour directed at me.  I will protect passwords, accounts and resources.
  • Respect Others:  I will show respect to others.  I will not use electronic mediums to bully, harass or stalk other people.  I will show respect for other people in my choice of websites, I will not visit sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate.  I will not abuse my rights of access and I will not enter other people’s private spaces or areas.
  • Protect Others:  I will protect others by reporting abuse, not forwarding inappropriate materials or communications; and not visiting sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate.
  • Respect Intellectual property:  I will request permission to use resources.  I will suitably cite any and all use of websites, books, media etc.  I will validate information.  I will use and abide by the fair use rules.
  • Protect Intellectual Property:  I will request to use the software and media others produce.  I will use free and open source alternatives rather than pirating software.  I will purchase, license and register all software.  I will purchase my music and media, and refrain from distributing these in a manner that violates their licenses.  I will act with integrity.
  • Respect the Stretford Way:  I will use school computers only as directed by my teachers, for the purposes of teaching and learning only.
  • Protect the Stretford Way:  I will not post anything on line that could bring the school into disrepute.

All IT use is logged and monitored; violations of the AUP will be dealt with on an individual basis in line with whole school behaviour policies.

I chose not to involve signatures.  I don’t feel that these were really worth the paper they were written on.  Pupils were allowed access whether their copies were signed or not.  Instead our homepage clearly has a link to the Internet and a statement that in using our services you are agreeing to follow the AUP.  In my opinion we’re not looking for a legally watertight contract here, just common sense and acceptance that these are the rules that we all abide by on school systems.

I was careful to refer to the whole school behaviour policies, behaviour on-line should not be differentiated from that off-line, nor should the consequences of poor behaviour.  This new AUP was promoted through our Forms, each Form Tutor went through this in detail with their pupils.

Filtering & Monitoring: After much research and an impressive demo (not to mention tasty smoothies!) at BETT 2010 we decided upon investing in Smoothwall School Guardian as our filtering solution.  Hosted on-site and with particularly impressive monitoring capabilities this put the filtering and monitoring of Internet use firmly in our hands.  We still have to go through the LA system but have turned everything off to the minimum that they will allow.

This is the area where we still have work to do, I now have fantastic ability to drill down deeply into users browsing habits.  I can also run reports to highlight many things such as high-bandwidth users.  What I would now like to develop are bespoke reports that highlight early those pupils who are using our resources inappropriately.  Allowing us to be ‘pro-actively reactive’ to on-line behaviours.  We have already found that once pupils know they are being closely watched their behaviours alter quickly.  Ultimately I’d like to be able to send reports to Form Tutors automatically of any violations of our policy so that they can quickly speak to the pupils concerned.  We’re not there just yet but working towards such a goal.

Pupil Responsibility: I’ve also adapted some great work by the great Coolcat Teacher to produce a 5 Steps For Safety poster that has gone up in every classroom in the school.  This tells a pupil just what to do if they come across something inappropriate online.  I think it’s brilliantly simple.  The poster is embedded below, and if you’d like the original high-res version feel free to take it from here.

The Future:

Along with the better reporting that I have already discussed, I still have work to do with staff.  Changing staff mindset so that they realise that it is their responsibility in lesson if pupils are watching Youtube videos rather than working, just as it would be their responsibility if the pupil were doodling in their book is a tough one!  Looking back I also now realise that I developed the AUP myself, their was little or no input from Staff, Students or indeed Parents.  This isn’t best practice and perhaps I should take this back to them for further consultation.  When you’ve come from such archaic starts it is easy to be complacent.  We also need to fine tune the filtering, too much is being blocked still for my liking, and Smoothwall has a strange habit of accusing innocent users of looking at Swedish Pornography – amusing but irritating!

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  1. Hi Dan,
    Great to see you approaching this in a refreshingly open and sensible manner. I think this is a really great model to use… and was wondering if I could have your permission to take what you have and adapt it for proposing to my own school/authority?
    One thing that strikes me is that I would think this policy would need to be taught / explained to the pupils? Was this the case, or did you simply effect the switch and then started following up on breaches of the AUP? (Knowing how word spreads around a school, I suspect either would be as effective?)
    Out of curiousity, what sanctions do you apply to those who do abuse the policy? You mention that you have form teachers speak to the pupils, do you also contact the parents? (I’m aware that this may be a little bit difficult if the sites accessed throw up child protection issues) Do you ‘ban’ pupils (given that this may be pointless depending on the individual pupil’s personal technology)?
    Lots to consider here, and thanks again for sharing such an appealingly open and transparent system. I’d look forward to any updates you can share with us as the AUP becomes bedded in.

  2. Excellent post and addressing exactly the same issues that I am currently grappling with at my new school. I want access to the internet to be as open as possible but I need to break the culture that seems endemic in most students that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to stop them going on games or other unsuitable sites, not their responsibility to act appropriately. I will be giving your post a great deal of thought over this weekend.

  3. Thanks 🙂


    – Of course, feel free to reuse adapt etc, these ideas have all been culled from around the Web, I’m just in the fortunate position of being able to put them into practice.
    – AUP was explained/discussed by form tutors with their forms.
    – They quickly knew about the filtering & reporting when I started pulling pupils up.
    – Sanctions are normally just a word from me or the tutor, or class teacher if I pin it down to a time and place.  Haven’t needed more sever sanctions yet – but these would follow our whole school behaviour policies of parental contact, detentions, exclusion etc. depending on the offence.  I’m determined that the policing and sanctions isn’t my job but that of the teacher/tutor.  A threat of printing anything inappropriate and sending home normally does the trick nicely!
    -Temporary bans have been used and I’ll then print a copy of the AUP and give access back when it’s been signed by the pupil AND the parent.  But they are not used too often as they seriously impact teaching and learning.  I’m toying with the idea of setting up a more heavily filtered profile that I could put offenders in where they have no access to ‘fun stuff’.

    That’s now my biggest challenge.  I’ve found very few instances of pupils trying to look at anything they really shouldn’t (porn/hate/proxies etc).  But we do have issues with pupils playing games and watching Youtube when they should be working.  I regularly battle staff that want Youtube blocked for pupils, and it seriously hits our bandwidth at times.  I need to educate staff about their responsibility and move towards the mindset that they need to manage the use of the Internet in their lesson, they need to challenge pupils who are off task just as they would off-line.  But you’re right, it’s also about educating the pupils about their responsibilities – in the end it’s preparing them for working life.  I have been able to pull up individuals who are clearly doing this on a regular occasion as they pop up in my ‘highest bandwidth users’ report!  Again, a limited profile of sorts for these pupils might help in the battle but ultimately it’s got to come from the staff.  I still have things like Facebook and webmail blocked for students as at present this would lead to further distractions to learning and Youtube style battles.  Ultimately I can see the educational uses of these tools and would like them to be accessible.  Our number one distraction in school now seems to Blackberry Messenger – and that hits every lesson on or off line as an ever increasing percentage of pupils are getting ‘Crack’berries!

    1. I got YouTube and Twitter unblocked at my last school but I’m so concerned about the mindset of most students at my new school that I’m starting with just staff access until I can break this culture – not helped by some staff using games as rewards and/or babysitter. I’ve implemented a zero tolerance of playing on games but a lot of the kids seem surprised that I’m making a fuss. Education plus detection is what I need so that I can start to free up the restrictions on access.

  4. I’ve had the same issues with ‘rewards’ whilst battling a Summer Term Youtube fixation.  Speaking to individuals who had been using it excessively who were adamant (and truthful) that they had been allowed on as a ‘reward’.  I had to block it for a while as our (poor) Internet connection was swamped.  Fortunately the connection is much better this school year so that side of things is less of an issue.

  5. Dan,
    Excellent post and absolutely in tune with what we’re trying to do at my school: “globally-connected, internet-enabled everywhere, platform-agnostic, hand-held, learner-led, safe, simple and free.”  Ultimately, if you’re going to open up the school to the online world (as I believe we must), then the policies, paperwork, training and culture change have to go with it.  Not easy, but so, so necessary.

  6. One of the major issues is how teachers use ICT rooms. To stop babysitting, I’ve introduced a pretty strict booking policy (no assessable lesson plan, no booking). Not surprisingly usage of rooms has dropped but the actual ICT use in the booked lessons has increased.We’ve opened up you tube to teachers and will add Twitter after Christmas. Blogs etc and a lot of online content like the BBc are all open.

    I need to be convinced of the educational value of students needing to use You Tube since teachers can download as flash files.

    As regards an AUP, my current thinking is to avoid imposing yet another one but to engage the students in drawing one up. In other words achieve buy in because they will effectively write it. I believe it’s been done elsewhere. It seems to fit in with the idea of a more general maturity in dealing with this issue.

  7. Hi Daniel
    I have to say that I like your interpretation of the AUP and I love seeing it being used and adapted – thats what its there for.
    Is this the final version – I would like to link to it if it is as an adaptation of the original. Would you be OK with that?

    1. Hi, many thanks. This is our final version (if there is such a thing). Please do link to it and many thanks for all of the excellent groundwork!

  8. I’m glad to see you taking a refreshing approach to Internet use in your school.  As a classroom teacher, I constantly find myself frustrated by the filtering systems.  Frequently students can figure out a work around for sites like facebook. I know that it’s difficult to watch all the students as a teacher whenever I’m running around a lab working with individual students with their questions on a project.  I think more responsibility needs to be put on the students and a clear handbook policy on inappropriate use would be lovely.  I think ours is too vague.  However, the restrictions of the filtration at our school are too restrictive by far.  I’m a seat of the pants teacher who sometimes changes my mind before a lesson and wants to easily fix and change it.  So, for example, I wanted to bring up several movie reviews on the same movie so that students could see how professional critics wrote about it.  So I thought of rotten tomatoes since it aggregates reviews.  Only it was blocked because some part of the website had a discussion forum to it.   Or a student will find a vid on a website for a topic they are researching only to find the embedded vid is youtube and therefore blocked.  It’s these little things that drive me bonkers.  While I appreciate that I can’t watch every student in a lab, I also feel insulted by how restrictive access can be that even useful information is blocked and how I and the students can’t be trusted to use common sense to judge a site for ourselves.

    I worked at a public library while at university during a time when this very discussion was being debated by the ALA.  It was refreshing to find that libraries err on the side of public responsibility. They decided that filters and nannies were blocking too much useful content and that it would be better to monitor use of the patrons and restrict access when they were using public computers inappropriately.

    I think it’s part of my job as a teacher to teach students how to use information and technology safely, appropriately and respectfully.  How will students learn if it’s not an intentional part of the curriculum?

    1. Thanks for your comments. I know how frustrating it can be, been there and suffered that. Who controls the filters at your school? Who chooses them in the first place? can you influence them?

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