Online Safeguarding: Why Web Filtering Isn’t Enough

Online Safeguarding: Why Web Filtering Isn’t Enough

In schools across the country, web filtering is used as the frontline of online safeguarding. While this can limit the level of inappropriate content children access, it doesn’t teach them anything about the way the internet works. One in three children now own some form of tablet or smartphone. This number is only set to increase, so online safety training must offer greater safeguarding against digital threats.

Children today are categorised as digital natives. They have all grown up in a world dominated by technology and surfing the web is second nature. Undoubtedly, this gives them an advantage over less tech-savvy generations. But, it also comes with an increased risk. Internet safety is no longer just a process of restriction. It should also be an opportunity to teach children about the importance of digital citizenship.

Online Safeguarding: Learning to Thrive in an Online Community

Half the world will be connected to mobile internet by 2020. While such a large communal network comes with many benefits, it also increases the risk to uneducated users. In order for children to use the web’s abundant resources safely, online safety training must help them identify the potential dangers. Just blocking adult material is no longer an adequate solution. Children must be taught to identify real-life threats for themselves.

Social media has changed the way we present ourselves and communicate with others. Three-quarters of 10-12 year olds have access to a social media account. Although the use of these accounts is prohibited at school, educators have no authority over their use at home. But, an educational environment is still the best place for children to learn about the misuse of sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

Our digital footprint reveals a lot about both our online activity and our personal lives. If we aren’t tagging our friends in images, then we are more than likely being tagged ourselves. It’s virtually impossible to disconnect from this level of consistent exposure. This leaves children vulnerable to cyberbullying and grooming. Teachers who commit to online safety training can help students understand how and why these issues occur.

Online Safeguarding: Leaving Behind a Positive Impression

As digital citizens, it’s our duty to implement the same societal expectation online as we do in the real world. Although the internet is a platform for free speech, discriminatory and deceitful claims should still be treated with reproach. If we can’t take this approach as adults, how can we expect children to follow suit? Students need to be taught the impact of their digital footprint from an early age.

But what exactly does our digital footprint cover? Online safety training highlights all the aspects of online behaviour that many of us overlook:

  • How technology is changing the world we live in
  • The way children present themselves online
  • The ethical side of online communication
  • Issues with online privacy and security

Web filtering cannot prompt a frank, open discussion on these subjects. In order to prepare children for a life online, digital citizenship needs to become the main focus of internet safety lessons. For example, reputation management and information literacy are rarely covered in traditional teaching. But, learning how to conduct yourself on social media and the principles of identifying disreputable news sources are crucial to children’s digital development.

As educators, it can often be easy to underestimate a child’s vulnerability. Despite growing up in a digital age, children still need guidance. 43% of them have messaged a stranger online and 28% have made in-game purchases on apps. Why? Because there aren’t enough online safeguarding measures in place to prevent them. It’s not a question of restricting children’s freedom; it’s about preparing them for the challenges they may face online.
In the short term, web filters do their job. Elicit material is kept at arm’s length and children browse the web oblivious to it. However, once they begin to experiment with social media and messaging services, things change. As educators, we are the frontline of child protection. With online connections becoming far more accessible, it is our duty to raise children that will become informed and intuitive digital citizens.


Teacher Working Hours : How Many Hours do Teachers Actually Work?

Teacher Working Hours : How Many Hours do Teachers Actually Work?

On paper, teaching seems like one of the best lines of work to get into for a happy work/life balance due to the contracted teaching working hours. With up to 13 weeks paid holiday each year and weekends off to relax, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that teachers have one of the best jobs on the planet. Their apparent ‘free time’ is certainly something that draws envious eyes from those that work in different careers.

Why then, is the industry struggling so badly with staff shortages that English schools have had to spend £800m on stand-in teachers in the last year alone? Dig beneath the surface, and you quickly start to find an industry bogged down in paperwork and unpaid overtime.

A study published by the Education Policy Institute last year found that teacher working hours in England are longer than almost anywhere else in the world. Despite this, they actually spend less time (around 20 hours) in the classroom than many other developed countries.

The survey also claims that the majority of a teacher’s average 48.2 hour week in England is spent on lesson planning, form-filling and marking. In comparison, the survey found that teachers in Italy worked on average just 28.4 hours a week.

Findings by the Guardian’s teacher network and Guardian jobs survey in March of last year backed up these figures, with a third of the survey’s 4,450 respondents claiming to work 60 hours or more a week – a figure that is illegal under European Union law.

What’s perhaps more worrying, is the influence that  teacher working hours are having on their health. Over eight in ten (82%) British teachers now claim that their workload in unmanageable. That pressure is having a knock-on effect on their physical and mental well being too, with nearly three quarters claiming that their job is having an adverse effect on their health.

That’s certainly something Laura Cox, a 26-year-old primary school teacher from Birmingham, can relate to: “I work through my lunch every day and end up having about ten minutes where I try to stuff down all of my food whilst setting up for my next lesson.

“At my new school, I have to do about 17 pages of planning a week, much of which I don’t end up using. It really does start to wear you down when you’re in work every morning at half seven and don’t leave until six because you have to do so much planning and marking.”

“I can say with some confidence that I won’t be in the profession in ten years’ time…I’m about done now.” She added.

How Do Teacher Working Hours Compare With Other Industries?

Last year, a person in full-time employment in the UK worked an average of 37.4 hours a week according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Over a course of a year, that would mean that teaching working hours are an extra 90 hours compared to their counterparts in other industries.


It’s little surprise, then, that the Trades Union Congress estimate teachers to do more unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry.

Speaking about the worrying teaching working hours late last year, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Excessive accountability measures, which have little to do with improving education, are the driving force behind this long-hours culture.

“On top of low starting pay and little or no time for professional development, it is hardly surprising that teachers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession in such large numbers.” He added.

Around one in five teachers are estimated to be thinking about leaving the profession in the next five years due to their current working conditions, but there could be a small glimmer of hope on the horizon.

According to figures from the Guardian, teachers who have pupils that use computers for projects during school for the majority of their lessons, work an average of 4.6 hours less per week than those who only use them occasionally.

How much time technology could save teachers in the future is a relatively unknown area, however, based on the recent worrying trends emerging from the industry, it is one the government should explore more closely.



One of the most difficult lines for a teacher to walk is between work and social media.  It can be used for school but encouraging students onto social media has a whole host of safeguarding issues.  Teachers naturally want a personal presence on the internet, it is as much a part of modern life as owning a mobile phone.

So, what is the best advice for teachers about Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the seemingly daily addition to the social media world. Here is some broad guidance, though in no way exhaustive:

  1. Read your school’s social media policy. This should be part of the safeguarding policy of the school and will tell you what is expected of professional behaviour of teachers.  The bottom line will be a demand that you a) maintain behaviour expected of a teacher whilst online and b) do not make connections online with any student from the school under the age of 18.  This is the same for 11 – 16 schools, then it is for the 11 – 18 schools.

  1. It is possible for you to be disciplined in school if your behaviour online is reported as being inappropriate. Having students below the age of 18 on your account could be interpreted as grooming.  This is a serious business and although there are issues of freedom of speech, the safety of children will always trump your arguments.

  1. When setting up your personal account use your first name and maybe your middle name, but avoid using your surname. Equally, do not state where you work on your personal account.  This makes it difficult for students to find you online.  Your school is also likely monitoring staff social media and so will make you invisible online to your workplace.

  1. Make sure your security settings include friends only, or equivalent across the social media platforms. ‘Friends of friends’ settings means your posts may inadvertently appear on students’ pages. This could compromise your professionalism in the classroom and could lead to your photographs being shared amongst students.

  1. Using social media as a learning tool is powerful. Students are more willing to write online than in any other format.  However, it is best to do this through the official school site, twitter account and if possible, Facebook page.  Setting up an account in your name, even if it is your professional name, sets up hazy lines between personal and professional.  It is frustrating, the potential appears endless.  However, there need to be clean lines between teachers’ homes and the professional workplace.

There is need for an educator code of ethics.  There needs to be clarity for professionals, so that the potential of the internet can be fully manifest.  At the moment, teachers are too vulnerable and therefore need to be more cautious than common sense dictates – as often common sense doesn’t play apart in sensitive issues such as child safety and the perception of what teachers should be.



You are like a walking target for well-meaning  new teacher advice.  Some will be the best teaching advice ever, like ever, and some will be bad teaching advice. But, one of the things you should always do is attempt to keep your sense of humour.  So, with a quick search on Pinterest, here is the best funny teacher advice out there.


So. Annoyingly. True. You can spend ages organising your resources, being super organised, laminating as if you had shares in laminators… and then everything changes.  Soon you will be so scared of putting too much prep in too early – you will turn up to school at 7.05am with nervous anticipation at what might have changed in the 10 hours since you left.  Exaggeration? Only slightly.


You will make a promise not to shout at students.  Sometimes you will shout at children.  You would never think of throwing things when the children are there… but it is highly likely that something will fly across your empty room at some point.  It is an emotional game this teaching malarkey – don’t be disappointed in yourself if at some point the inner child makes a prominent showing in your day.


No-one knows what they are doing – everyone is guessing.  I used to tell kids that teaching is blagging in a confident voice.  You can say anything in class and as long as you sound 100% convinced, then you are correct and you are wise.  Sit in the staffroom and look at the cockiest teacher and know they are blagging more than everybody else.


Everyone went to school, so everyone thinks they are an expert in the classroom.  I always found that the photocopying lady was always the most expert classroom practitioner in the school – the amount of advice she seemed to throw around.  The only people I used to really listen to where teaching assistants – those people follow these kids around the school and have observed more lessons than any teacher will ever be able to in a career.  They are clever people. Listen to them!


Seriously, kids hate change.  If you want to mess with their heads, move the tables.  They will walk in and pin themselves to the walls.  They will not know where to sit and suddenly all the rules in the classroom are up in the air. You have shattered their sense of what is known in the world. You are now once more God of your room – go forth and impose a seating plan.

Now, I told you there was some advice out there that was amazing – the best advice ever, like ever.  And, I guess you stopped reading and thought – well share it then- and I moved on and was flippant and silly and just plain enjoyed myself.  Well, this is a case of show and do.  The best advice ever, like ever: When a teacher enjoys teaching kids just know.  Love the job and kids will love learning with you. There. That is the best I got. Enjoy.

How to create the perfect teaching job application over the Christmas holidays

How to create the perfect teaching job application over the Christmas holidays

Congratulations on making it to the end of this year’s first term. It seems to me like the Christmas holidays arrive faster every year!

But no matter what fun you have planned, it is worth using a little of this time to take a moment and plan your next few steps. The Christmas break is the perfect time to get your head down with your teaching job application. And with a bit of smart planning, you’ll have your feet up in front of the fire in no time.

So before you crack open that bottle of bubbly, here is some great advice to help you nail your teaching job application this Christmas.

Managing Your Time

Considering how busy we all get over Christmas, time management is crucial if you want to get your teaching job application done right, and done in time. To help you manage your time more wisely, here are a few points to consider:

  1. Aim to submit your application early. Christmas is a very busy period. If recruiters receive lots of applications, they may close the recruitment window earlier than stated. As such, it pays to get your application finished sooner, by starting on it as soon as possible.
  2. Split your application into small, manageable chunks. Rather than rushing your application, try approaching it with regular, smaller steps. This helps you get your application finished fast, while making sure you pay attention to important details.
  3. Set time aside to practice a few online psychometric tests. You may be asked to complete one of these tests as part of your application, so it pays to be familiar with the process. Practicing these tests will not “improve” your score, but it will help you learn what to expect, and reduce some of your anxieties.

Doing the Right Research

Your application will be sitting in a big pile of other applications. If you don’t make it stand out, it might not get the attention it deserves.

You can make your application stand out for the right reasons by doing a bit of clever research. Here are a few fact-finding tasks you should aim to complete:

  1. Visit the school. If possible, visit the school you’re applying to. This will help you get a feel for what it might be like working there, and could give you some information to use in your application to prove that you have gone the extra mile.
  2. Explore the school’s website. By doing this, you will learn about the school’s visions and values, and you will find out how they approach teaching. Use the information you find to support the development of a tailored application.
  3. Check Ofsted reports and achievement tables. Knowing how a school is performing is another way of finding out good information that will support your application.
  4. Read the application pack. This is possibly one of the most important steps of all. If you don’t thoroughly read the application pack, you might miss an important step that the school really wants you to take. Showing that you can follow instructions and that you pay attention to detail is important.

Remember, the research process is not only about finding information to help you prove your own worth – it is about finding out if the school is right for you, too. If you don’t like the school, then reconsider your application. Why would you take a job that you probably won’t enjoy?

Showing the Relevant Experience

One of the most important parts of your teaching applications is your references. By now, you should have completed a couple of work placements and gained some sort of experience. You should really go to town extracting every experience, challenge and success that you gained!

You might feel a bit uncomfortable boasting about yourself, but Forbes says that “bigging yourself up” in your application (and also in your interview) can really help you secure a place.

When writing about what you learned during your placement, you should think of the following questions:

  1. What challenges did I face and how did I overcome them?
  2. What successes did I achieve during my time at the school?
  3. What training was I exposed to during my placement?

As well as making sure you talk about everything you learned on your placement, make sure your placement schools are prepared to receive a reference request – it is good manners, and it gives them chance to prepare some nice comments about you.

A Few Final Thoughts

Christmas break is the perfect time to work on your application. But you should also remember to find time for yourself – if you burn yourself out, you’ll be no good to anybody.

Here are the key take-home points that you should remember:

  1. Plan your time wisely and aim to submit your application ahead of the closing date
  2. Research each school and tailor your applications accordingly
  3. Don’t be afraid to really “sell yourself” by drawing on all relevant experience

Good luck with your teaching application, and don’t forget to take some quality “me” time over the holidays.

Evaluating Teaching – Can Pupils Objectively Judge the Quality of Teaching?

Evaluating Teaching – Can Pupils Objectively Judge the Quality of Teaching?

With the publication of the latest version of Education Scotland’s school self-evaluation tool came the announcement that there would also be a version of the document aimed at pupils.1 The purpose, apparently, is to involve pupils in evaluating teaching. Understandably, this has caused considerable consternation amongst teaching professionals. Yet while it has been acknowledged that some teachers may feel uncomfortable about this, the official message appears to be: ‘Tough, you’re just going to have to get on with it.’

Why involve pupils in evaluating teaching?

In our increasingly service-based culture, performance targets and customer evaluations are ubiquitous. Even a simple online purchase or trip to a restaurant usually results in energetic requests for feedback. Any commercial organisation with an eye on high-quality delivery exhorts its employees to listen to its customers. As pupils are the quasi-customers of schools and witness first-hand a teacher’s performances in the classroom, perhaps it’s not surprising that this ethos is now pervading the education system.

But it’s not just about evaluating the teacher’s performance at the front of the class. It’s also about giving pupils opportunities to provide feedback about their own progress.

Can pupils really be objective?

In theory, it may seem obvious that pupils should have some say in how they are educated. However, there are many who have considerable reservations about allowing pupils’ opinions to hold much – if any – sway when it comes to school inspections, on the basis that pupils will not be sufficiently objective.

Most of us had a favourite teacher at school. How many of us, though, as adults still believe that individual was their best teacher? Evidence suggests that the correlation between the most popular teacher – often the one who puts on a show every time they stand in front of the class – and the highest quality of teaching is much weaker than we would believe as children. This theory has been explored further by researchers in the USA, who studied pupils’ responses to a lesson delivered by an actor whose performance was certainly entertaining and convincing. However, the content of the lesson was almost entirely fictional.2 Perhaps as expected, the pupils gave very positive evaluations of the lesson, yet they hadn’t learned anything of substance.

The article then goes on to examine other ways in which pupils may be involved in evaluating teaching quality, before concluding that they are at best unreliable judges.

As teachers, we can probably all add our own anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion. Will the easily led child who follows another child into trouble and is then chastised give the teacher a fair evaluation? Probably not, if they suspect the incident may be mentioned to a parent who will then also reprimand them. They’re probably more likely to give the teacher a slating at home in an attempt to devalue whatever the teacher may subsequently have to say to the parent. What about the quietly compliant child who is privately frustrated because they can’t keep up with their friend in class? There’s a good chance they will feel their teacher is somehow being unfair rather than look to themselves for reasons why they may not be as achieving as much as their friend.

So how can pupils contribute to the evaluation of teaching?

Most teachers would probably wish for open dialogue with the pupils in these scenarios, as the pupil’s point of view is often very informative. But for such evaluations to be taken as proof of a teacher’s effectiveness or otherwise is ludicrous. Children’s true motivations are often complex, emotionally driven and, at times, carefully concealed, so while it may be hugely beneficial for a teacher to understand the reasons why a child is behaving in a certain way, there is danger inherent in taking a child’s opinion completely at face value.

One of the aims of any decent education must be to help children learn how to make fair judgements, to understand about subjectivity and to voice opinions respectfully. Allowing children to discuss how they feel about their learning environment with members of staff and other pupils is arguably an effective way of developing these skills, particularly if they feel that their views are being taken seriously. Part of that process should include consideration of the possible impacts of an overly negative – or positive – evaluation, as well as encouraging pupils to understand how their own actions and emotional responses may have influenced their opinion unfairly.

However, creating a situation where pupils’ snapshot evaluations of teaching quality hold weight in high-stakes inspections seems irresponsible, particularly if the pupils are not required to account for their opinions. Such a situation might well foster the belief that voicing strident opinions without taking any responsibility for them is acceptable, while doing nothing to help pupils develop the skills necessary to deliver constructive feedback in the future.

A far more productive approach might be for inspectors to require schools to show that they have in place procedures for acquiring and responding to feedback from pupils, while the actual content of that feedback remains confidential.



How to bring life to the dullest topic on the curriculum

How to bring life to the dullest topic on the curriculum

Come on now… there are some parts of your subject that even make you want to chew off your arm to escape talking about it again. For me – it was grammar – I know, I know – I was a Head of English – but I grew up in the 80s when all English teachers did was get you to write a range of stories – mostly – from memory – with a twist in the tale.  So, I learnt grammar whilst I taught it to the kids – and a lot of the time I blatantly made it up.  There is at least three years of students at the start of my teaching career who walked away believing that hyperbole was pronounced hype-a-bowl-y rather than hi-per-bo-lee.

So – the art of teaching – which is in no way a science – is making the dull palatable.  Now – obviously just getting through it is not a high aspiration.  There are some topics where this is what we do… we might even preface the lesson with: “Sorry – we have to cover this – it is dull –let’s just get through it.” The justification is that this will be on the exam – and we say this phrase in the hope it will stop the kids eating us before the hour is over.

Therefore, it might be that we need to aspire higher – even if we can’t imagine in the first instance how this might be possible.  Maybe aim for making them curious is as a good place to begin as any – especially if you feel inspire is too much too far beyond reach.

So, let me give you an example of a topic that I used to hate… subordinate clauses… eugh.  It makes me shiver even now.  So, I decided to teach the students through descriptive writing – which I love. I love painting with words – it makes me geekily happy.  I started by build-up the sentence from a noun – we played with noun doodling.  This is pretty cool – you name things in an image – but like an artist you insist the kids see the details, the subtleties.  Then, ask them to add an adjective – a lot of adjectives to each noun – then a lot of verbs – then a lot of adverbs – with the idea of making choices about which to use to craft your sentence.  As this goes on the kids have an A3 sheet full of doodled sentences.  Then, I invited the student to select two sentences they like the best – that seem to be connected – focused on the same subject.  From here we started playing with how to link the sentences and move around the different clauses – separating the components with commas or semi-colons or hyphens.

The process from noun, to noun phrase, to sentence, to the joining up of sentences with common topics – either with a semi-colon – or when we finally got to subordinate clauses – with subordinators.  And, to be honest, by the end of the lesson even I enjoyed messing about moving my subordinate clauses from the end of the sentences, to the beginning, to the middle – considering the effect on the rhythm and flow of the description.

P.S. no-one was more surprised than me when this ended up being something more than interesting… but art is often about happy accidents I am told.