Protecting Teachers Online

At the present time the UK government, so alarmed at the dangers coming from the online world are planning on sweeping snooping powers that would allow the state to capture and monitor every email, text message and website use as part of a scheme that they cannot even say what benefits it would bring nor provide any reasons for it.

These proposals are an extreme over-reaction to many existing problems but what is needed is better safety online for people – not the end of freedom of thought or expression online.

Such networks are used by many to keep in touch, to get in touch and to share life events, movies, images and as I mentioned previously – as a huge opportunity for learning.

Regrettably, as Elish Angiolini said yesterday, they can also be used for hatred.

However, where we draw the line online is becoming an evermore nuanced question. For social networking undoubtedly played a significant part in the Arab Spring – helping people to educate, agitate and organise in the name of democracy yet, to many teachers and schools it has been a major bone of contention.

Though, it seems to have slowly died a death – can folks remember the famed ‘Rate my Teacher’ website? Where pupils after having been on the receiving end of a ‘telling’ could anonymously log on and then berate the adult who had the audacity to want to teach them maths. That site has fallen in popularity as people not just the young have access to an array of social networks including:

facebook, twitter, google plus, pinterest, twitpic, ping, BBM, youtube, digg…the list goes on and on…as do the possibilities for staff in schools to be abused.

Such cases are increasingly becoming part our work in defending and protecting members.

In a recent interview for the BBC’s Newsbeat a teacher claimed to have been forced to quit her first teaching job due to cyberbullying by pupils who made up allegations and spread stories about her online.

Recently also, a school rep approached me for advice when pupils had been caught taking images of teachers and using them to superimpose the teacher’s face on another and much more inappropriate image.

In this case, the culprits were caught the images deleted and parents informed. But congress, I’m not so sure that in all schools or in all local authorities there is sufficient support and protection for staff that are treated in this way.

Mostly, as far as I can tell the focus of councils has been to prevent staff from utilising the online world to criticise their employer – not responding to cyberbullying. This motion seeks to redress that and calls on all councils to ensure that staff are protected from abuse – from preventing it occurring and in dealing with it when it does.

Now Facebook and other social networks have made many changes that allow people to immediately flag up inappropriate content. This has been due to governmental pressure and pressure from groups concerned at the potential for abuse of children. However, there is much deeper concern with regard to facebook and others.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Facebook is about to launch itself onto the stock market in what may be the fourth biggest stock flotation in history with estimates valuing the company at $100 billion dollars.

It, along with google makes its money through targeting adverts at you based upon data it gathers about you. It needs therefore to have its users share as much as possible about themselves to draw more advertising revenue.

Of particular concern is the routine changing of privacy settings on websites that render what was once private – more open and available to onlookers.

The GTCS guidelines seek to help staff protect themselves from online abuse, from breaking their employers policies and potentially facing discipline through sensible advice and sensible precautions because increasingly here teachers (and others) have come a cropper by posting items online that they thought were just being seen by friends but in actual fact were available to all.

The GTCS are to be commended for being realistic – there is no point bolting the stable door on social networking – it’s too late. The reason why facebook is ‘worth $100bn – is that it has almost 900 million users – with a huge proportion of them being the pupils in our schools.

This issue affects not only teachers but pupils too and it’s a fundamental reason why blocking social media is not the answer.
Blocking hides away the potential for educating responsible usage


We must ensure that our members are protected from abuse online and the only way that will be done is by promoting responsible online behaviour that respects people even if they disagree with them. Since this noble idea is but an ideal, in the meantime, our employers must protect us from abuse when it does occur and must advise staff on how to stay safe.

Safety online doesn’t mean censorship online, nor does it mean tracking every email, facebook message or tweet. It doesn’t mean closing off the internet because to be safe online we don’t need to regulate the internet, we require to regulate our children or rather their parents.

As the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur recently wrote:

“Frankly, I’m amazed by the tales of parents who let their children have TVs or computers in their bedroom. First of all, it’s like telling them not to socialise with you; and it’s by socialisation that we work out what we do and don’t accept as sensual, and sexual, and pornographic (and where the line lies). Watching TV together means you can discuss what you’re watching. Having computers in shared spaces (effectively banning solitary use), using the filtering systems that they have built in – these are solutions that work. They don’t need legislation; they don’t need complicated filters that will be routed around in a flash… they just need to be part of the family. You can’t turn off the internet, nor make its denizens respectable. You can, however, turn off the computer, or explain respectability to your child.”

Congress, It falls to us, as an association to protect our members and therefore it makes sense for to create user-friendly guidance for them on how to behave online and be protected too.

Please support the motion.

Changing the SSTA view on Tech

President, Congress

The area of IT is one where this audience, like the society it reflects, have mixed experience and expertise.

Regardless of this, there are some things that are very clear indeed.

First, the social media genie is out of the bottle and it isn’t going back in.

Second, we are now living in what amounts to a post-PC world with computing increasingly mobile and based on apps on smartphone and tablets rather than clunky old style boxes that sit on our desks.

With this [holding up an iPhone] I can call someone; email them; message them. I can search the web, shop, read a book and watch a film.

I tracked the development of my, as yet unborn baby and now record her growth as a child and then stream the videos to the net or the TV.

She is 6 months old and is growing up in an evermore connected world – and is learning to use devices that were once the stuff of science fiction.

Such devices have brought about a radical change in how people, especially the young communicate with each other.

Where we as adults view private space as being in our own home, many of our children view their private space as online.

Yet, there are many who view such technologies as a threat to the young, a threat to morality – and a threat to society as a whole.

Now, each time that there is a paradigm shift in communications technology there is an inevitable moral panic about what threat it poses to ourselves and our children.

As it was with the printed press, the radio and TV; so it is with the internet.

The connected and wireless internet known as Web 2.0 offers to us connection limited only by our imagination;

that is except when it is filtered or blocked or censored from being so.

By and large there are two kinds of places where mobiles aren’t allowed – Taliban controlled Afghanistan and your local school.

That learning and teaching are seemingly threatened by pupils and their mobile phones is an attitude typified by the head of OFSTED Michael Wilshaw who would rather see all such mobile devices banned.

In response to this, Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor in Learning Technology at Plymouth University blogged:

“The fact is, many schools are already harnessing the creative potential of mobile phones to inspire and engage students, both inside and outside the classroom. It’s also a fact that in schools where mobile phones are banned, many students continue to use them, and often for disruptive purposes.

Where schools do allow mobiles as a part of their daily learning activities, the devices come out into the open, are no longer illicit, and can then be better controlled and used purposefully as a part of lessons. Which ever way we examine this issue, mobile phones are now a ubiquitous part in society, and are already playing a huge role in the culture of modern living.

Simply attempting to ban them from a place young people regularly gather is an impossible task. Schools should instead consider ways that mobile devices can be used to enhance and enrich learning, for in so doing, we prepare our children for the future, instead of rooting them in the practices of the past.”


Teachers are finding the benefits of that connected world too.

Many teachers now blog about their work in order to share successes and failures and benefit from the exchange of ideas that then follows.

Twitter is used to swap links to web resources ranging from a news article to a whole course.

In the era of cutbacks and lack of support, teachers are forming their own personal learning networks and supporting one another.

One such example is Pedagoo – a blog borne out of a desire to have teachers exchange ideas to the benefit of their pupils.

Every Friday, teachers share a strategy or an idea in a lesson that went well that week and share it online – with any teacher able to join in.

TeachMeets where teachers have organised their own CPD sessions – coming together to share snapshots of their practice to support and learn from one another – whilst many more people follow the sessions online via videolink or via twitter.

Or BeerMeets – where the virtual staffroom retreats to the pub.

There are many, many more examples that could be said to be revolutionary.

But there’s another use of social media that we have to pay attention to and that is as a tool for the association enabling us to reach out to, inform and involve our members – something we HAVE been doing, and could make much more use of in future.

But Congress, it’s not all sweetness and light.

There are many barriers – artificial barriers, placed in the way of this revolution. Whether it is the attitude of the great and the good, the blocking of technologies from being used; let alone fulfilling their potential; – to a simple lack of access for a teacher to play with and learn.

Instead, we are forced to adapt to stupid IT schemes to report, track our pupils and other things made more difficult due to bad design and whilst IT isn’t a panacea in education; the wrong IT, poorly run and executed is however an undoubted disaster.

These things have to change.

Routinely I spend too much of my time waiting on flawed IT just to work, forcing me to think around it rather than involving it.

The experience is jarring and as I consider myself to be more adept with IT than the average person, I can hardly imagine what it must feel like to those who are still uncomfortable.

This is of course, before we even get to the issue of software – which too often simply makes the matter worse.

Click – hang – slow response – crash.


Contrast this with my iPad. I click on the home button and swipe-to-wake.

I then point at an icon on the screen and ‘boom!’ I am doing the thing that I want to do and soon am immersed in it in the same way as a reader is soon immersed in the story in a book. The hardware has blended away to become simply an unnoticed conduit to the experience brought about by the interaction with the application.

This is the future – mobile, app-based technology linked to the Cloud. The days of the desktop PC in people’s lives are numbered – indeed laptops are now outselling desktops left, right and centre – with the growth in iPad sales outstripping them all.

Unless and until schools can have IT ‘solutions’ that allow staff and pupils to immerse themselves in the task they are seeking to perform,
rather than immersing themselves in the inevitable frustration of hardware and software created without any thought of the end-user-experience – we will never see a genuine IT revolution.

It never fails to amaze me that the same people who seem to dictate IT policy and procurement – are the same people who simply do not understand it.

My daughter has been born into a post – PC world however, the educators she will be taught by have not.

They need the tools and the support to be able to adapt and adopt because we simply cannot expect teachers to use 21st century learning technologies if they are still trapped by 20th century frustrations.

Please support the motion.