Chapter 8 Schools
Young people engage the online environment to the extent that their
online lives blend seamlessly with their lives offline.
An equally seamless approach should be taken to cyber-safety, including
education, law enforcement, international cooperation, appropriate products and
In that context, this chapter examines ways of supporting schools to
improve cyber-safety for students and to reduce abuses in the online
Early cyber-safety education
Many participants in this Inquiry stressed the need for cyber-safety
education to begin early in life, particularly as the age at which many
children now enter the online environment is decreasing.
Educational research shows that early childhood is the key time to
develop qualities such as respect, peer support, leadership models and building
a sense of community. Cyber-safe practices should
be developed at home and started with the very young.
The time to reach parents about this approach is when children are between one
and five years old, when they want to do their best for their children. They
are receptive and eager to learn about what is going to be best for their
Most Australian children are not receiving cyber-safety messages from
school until Year 2 (seven or eight years old) when they may have already been
online for three years. The recreational use that begins at home, or elsewhere
with peer or friendship groups or older siblings, is not necessarily
accompanied by the kind of safety messages children need. In particular, it is
important that messages are delivered early about the ‘permanence,
multiplication and circulation’ of material put online.
It was suggested that use of the Internet should be in curriculums from
the first year of school, so that it is something that children grow up with
and is as common-place as other initiatives such as ‘Stranger-Danger’. It was
also important that this education happens before children had negative
By the time children are four years old, and certainly by the age of
five, teachers can have an indication of those who are engaging in anti-social
behaviour. At this age teachers can also identify those whose social difficulties
are such that they may not understand the impact of what they might do online.
For children judged to be at risk, there is more likelihood of success if
targeting their behaviours and attitudes begins early. On the basis that early
intervention and prevention is the key to this success, initiatives are being
targeted towards pre-school children.
Further, there has to be a clear understanding in school policy of
online ethics and the consequences of breaches. This can only be achieved
if students are introduced to these concepts, and later reminded of them, as
part of a program. It was stated by many participants in this Inquiry that such
a program must start when a child first enrols in school, and be continually reinforced
throughout their education.
Roles of schools
Schools are complex, busy, diverse and demanding places for students,
teachers and parents/carers. They are microcosms of their environments,
reflecting the societies and cultural contexts in which they are placed. They
have increasingly crowded curriculums, and are being asked by governments to
take on more topics. Teachers are expected to do more and more without
necessarily being provided with additional resources. Each new task brings
responsibility and accountability to parents/carers, students and to
Schools are the key places to work with young people and encourage them
to make changes to improve their own safety and online ethics. However, schools
have been reported to only have a 30 percent influence over what is learnt: 70
percent is outside that realm of influence. Principals are responsible for the
safety of their students and the staff within schools, and this extends in many
places outside their boundaries to the local community. Thus, Principals
Australia argued, cyber-safety has to be a whole-of-community issue.
Duty of care
Schools are important in providing young people with interpersonal,
technological and conflict resolution skills. Further, there is a
‘huge need’ to recognise that they are dealing with the whole social and
emotional development of their students.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation referred to the duty of care to
create a safe environment for students and staff.
Cyber-safety is part of this expectation, and Professor Hemphill of the Murdoch
Children’s Research Institute suggested that schools had to go back to their
policies on bullying to ensure that these, and any training for staff, covered
The nature of technology means that there is a great deal more
responsibility on schools to resolve cyber-safety matters.
There has been ‘a significant increase’ in the time spent by senior executive
and welfare officers in schools dealing with these issues. The time that can be
spent counselling young people appropriately can be ‘extraordinary’. This is
particularly so if restorative justice programs are included.
It is important for greater clarity be given on the question of the
responsibility of schools for student behaviour outside of school hours. The
NSW Secondary Principal’s Council stated that it was ‘not appropriate’ for
schools to spend such significant resources dealing with out-of-hours
communications that lead to student-to-student , or family, conflict. Nor, it
believed, should the consequences of such communications be the sole responsibility
The Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of NSW stated:
Some schools have reportedly buried their heads in the sand
with regards to the issues around online bullying and its repercussions. They
have suggested that, as the incident didn’t happen at school, the school is not
accountable and shouldn’t get involved. However, where children are bullied,
using any form of technology, the repercussions are often felt the following
day at school.
It is unclear how much schools are hampered by the ‘often unrealistic
fear’ of being sued. If schools are required to sign up to provide everything
relating to cyber-safety, it was pointed out that they could be subject to
litigation at a later time.
Powers of suspension and exclusion provide a discretionary point of
entry for principals in South Australia to talk about their concerns and the
dangers in situations. Some parents are very protective of their boundaries, so
that it is difficult for principals to talk about the behaviour of children in
out-of-school hours. Such actions can be viewed by parents as matters outside
the purview of school principals.
As a result of the pervasiveness of technology and its impact on
schools, two State education departments changed their policies on out-of-hours
South Australia has changed its legislation to give principals authority
to take action over behaviour that may occur away from the school or outside
school hours. Action can be taken at the time of, or after an event affecting
the wellbeing of another student, teacher or member of the school community.
Principals are empowered to suspend or expel students who act in such a manner.
The system in South Australia appears to be working productively, and
authorities in other States have evidently expressed some frustration that they
do not have similar processes. NSW has also changed
legislation to clarify that schools are responsible for occurrences outside
their premises and out-of-hours.
This accepted duty of care that schools owe students is complicated by
the 24 hour/seven days per week nature of technology. Where it used to be
relatively easy to identify bullying behaviour in the schoolyard, the challenge
for teachers is now what happens between 3pm and 9am, or over weekends.
There is legislation in the United Kingdom that provides schools with the
authority to address student misbehaviour for 24 hours/seven days, wherever it
Suspension and Expulsion of School Students - Procedures specifically
recognise that behaviour that may warrant suspension includes “hostile
behaviour directed towards students, members of staff or other persons
including verbal abuse and abuse transmitted electronically such as by email or
SMS text message”.
As previously mentioned however, the New South Wales Secondary
Principals Council expressed the view that it was ‘not appropriate’ that
schools spend such significant staff resources dealing with communications
If responsibility is to be taken for students’ actions outside school
hours, and for the measure to be effective, it will be necessary to ensure that
the necessary resources are available, and that the appropriate educational
unions are involved in the process.
That the Attorney-General, as a matter of priority, work
with State and Territory counterparts to develop a nationally consistent
legislative approach to add certainty to the authority of schools to deal
with incidents of inappropriate student behaviour to other students out of school
National Safe Schools Framework
The National Safe Schools Framework (NSSF) was originally endorsed by
all Australian Ministers for Education in 2003. It included an agreed set of
national principles to promote safe and supportive school environments, and
appropriate responses schools could adopt to address bullying, harassment,
violence, child abuse and neglect.
As a result of a review, the revised NSSF was endorsed in December 2010 by
the Ministerial Council of Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth
Affairs. Ministers undertook to implement the Framework in all jurisdictions
and use it to inform the development of safe and supportive school policies.
The NSSF was launched on 18 March 2011, to coincide with the National Day of Action
against Bullying and Violence, and is available to all Australian primary and
The NSSF is supported by a comprehensive and practical online resource
manual. This includes an audit tool that assists schools to make informed
judgements about what they are doing well, and to identify gaps in existing
policies and procedures.
All Australian schools are encouraged to use this Framework as a basis
for developing approaches to address bullying. It recognises that sustainable
approaches are required to reduce bullying in the long-term.
The NSSF is ‘highly regarded’ by Australian and international researchers
and practitioners, and is the only national Framework of its kind in the world.
Cross-cultural collaboration and effective working relationships across all
jurisdictions, and with other key stakeholders, underpin the success of the
Curriculums and programs
The Ministerial Council for
Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, comprising Ministers for
Education and Training, has previously stated the goals for education in
Australia. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young
Australians (2008) provides a mandate and guide for schools about
curriculums. It made four important points about information and communications
young people need to be highly skilled in its use;
schooling should also support the development of skills in areas
such as social interaction, cross-disciplinary thinking and the use of digital
media that will be essential in all 21st century occupations;
successful learners have essential literacy and numeracy skills,
and are creative and productive users of technology as a foundation for success
in learning areas; and
for further learning, curriculums will include practical
knowledge and skills development in areas such as ICT and design and
The Australian Council of Educational Research noted that the generally
low adoption of ICT, especially in the middle secondary years, is ‘by no means’
specific to Australia. It did not signal a lack of interest to the use of ICT
in curriculums. One study nominated technological reliability, limited access
and limited bandwidth as barriers to greater uptake of ICT in these years.
The Queensland Catholic Education Commission suggested that ICT programs
tended to lack credibility because they are not seen as part of the mainstream
curriculum. Concerns were also expressed about ‘bolt-on subjects’ that students
generally see as down-time.
Symantec Corporation recommended that a national approach is required so
that cyber-safety is included in a standardised, mandatory curriculum. The Queensland
Teachers Union also observed that if there was to be an effective campaign on
cyber-safety, it had to be appropriately funded and resourced, and not just
‘forced’ on to the ever-increasing curriculum.
The Australian Parents Council advised that:
schools have been at the forefront of efforts to incorporate
principles of resilience and well-being
in their students in the offline environment through a number of programs and
cross curriculum initiatives over past years. So perhaps it is not a change of
the culture of schools that is needed but the expansion of existing prevention
and intervention strategies that have proven successful in offline environments
to promote cyber safety.
Including ICT material in any curriculum is complicated by the lack of
data on trends, successfulness of intervention programs, restorative justice
initiatives and perpetrator rehabilitation. Research in such areas would inform
the development of prevention strategies, as well as a national curriculum.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is
developing the Australian Curriculum. With particular reference to cyber-safety,
it has been identified that students will develop ICT competence when they
apply social and ethical protocols to operate and manage emerging technologies.
Conceptual statements are being prepared by the ACARA for publication to
support teachers and schools wishing to use them to assist the development of
their teaching and learning programs. Each document will include:
- the conceptual framework, evidence and references for the
a continuum of learning, showing development across bands of year
For competence in ICT, this work will include descriptions of
developments expected of students at the end of Years 2, 6 and 10.
Partnerships with the Australian Communications and Media Authority
The South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools acknowledged the
work of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in:
providing access to free, high quality cyber-safety training
through the Cyber-Safety Outreach Professional Development for Educators program
and the Internet Safety Awareness Presentations to students, teaching
staff and parents in school communities ... Feedback from Catholic school
communities is consistently favourable about the relevance and usefulness of
the training and resources.
Further, on 16 May 2011, ACMA launched the Connect.ed interactive
e-learning program for teachers that buttresses the professional development
Probably the single biggest driver for take-up of our
professional development workshops for teachers has been their concern about issues
relating to cyberbullying and also, in a very personal way, if they are legally
responsible for that.
The role of ACMA is addressed in Chapter 1.
A number of schools are employing technological approaches to assist
them to address cyber-safety issues. Secondary schools in particular are using
a dedicated email system where concerns about an individual’s cyber-safety, or
that of others, can be reported anonymously.
A Queensland high school has online counselling, appointments to see the
counsellor can be made online, and there is also a chat facility.
The Australian Education Union called for the number of, and resources available
to school counsellors be increased so to better assist students:
There can never be guarantees against malicious behaviour,
but many risks which are simply borne of ignorance can be significantly reduced
if children are educated properly in the use of technologies.
The use of mobile phones is restricted at some schools, and banning them
has been suggested as a way of reducing cyber-bullying.
However, this would be a challenge for schools and there is little evidence
supporting this strategy. Professor Phillip Slee of the Australian University Cyberbullying
Research Alliance stated that ‘robust research’ had found that it was not at
all effective in dealing with abuses such as cyber-bullying.
In evidence submitted to the Committee, at least one Australian school enforces
a policy whereby the school survey’s a number of students’ mobile phones every week
to see what sites they have accessed. Sanctions are imposed if a student has
deliberately gone onto sites that are not acceptable under school policies.
Some schools use filters on their local networks. However, these can be
bypassed easily by using proxy sites. The Organisation of Economic Co-operation
and Development found that using a ‘lock down’ approach kept students safe at
school but they were more vulnerable overall. Research has shown that
‘lock-down’ systems are less effective in helping students to learn to use the
Internet safely and responsibly. While they kept them safe at school, students
from such schools are ‘more vulnerable overall’.
Some Australian education systems already have ‘Acceptable Use’ Agreements
with students, and breaches can include disciplinary action.
According to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, schools with effective
behaviour management systems and vigilant supervision of computer use provide
another layer of support. It believed that Australian schools are lagging
behind in producing robust ‘Acceptable Use’ policies that reach beyond the
school to include parents/carers and the wider community.
The Australian Parents Council discussed the broader effort required:
Parents need to be informed of the current online and digital
environment and the relative dangers of predators online, sexting, cyber
bullying and the technology available to guard against inappropriate content
material, such as hate sites. They need to be aware of issues of cyber crime,
computer security, identity theft: the consequences and sanctions which may be
imposed for bad or criminal behaviours and the ways in which inappropriate use
of technology can interfere with other important activities and responsibilities
in the lives of their young people.
Netbox Blue also recommend promoting and enforcing Acceptable Use
The creation of an acceptable policy framework and its
communication to all stakeholders - students, teachers, parents and carers;
Education for all stakeholders on minimising known risks, or
dealing with them if presented with a situation that places them at risk –
focusing on working with students, teachers, parents and carers;
Technology enforcement – in and outside the school network on all
school owned equipment; and
Regular reviews of attempts to breach such policy frameworks to
improve education and to manage individual behavioural issues.
As already noted, Roar Educate believed that ‘sensationalist’ reporting
has shaped the national response to cyber-safety incidents. It also believed
that, to protect students, the first instinct of schools has been to ‘lock
down’. Within their ‘sandbox environments’, they have been slow to encourage
the use of Web 2.0 tools. Roar Educated stated that this environment seems to
have reduced the need for engagement about cyber-safety across school
communities: students, teachers and parents/carers.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation would like to see the introduction
of a user-friendly toolkit in text and online versions be made available to all
schools to assist with the measurement and the effectiveness of cyber-safety
policies and the whole of community approach.
The Director of the South Australian Office of Youth commented that:
We found that young people probably were not that interested
in getting information from schools about how to engage with social networking.
They were more aware of how to use and engage with those sites than their
teachers and even their parents were. One of our views in the Office for Youth
is that education exists outside the school system. We would like to see a
greater emphasis on engaging with other community organisations, sporting clubs
and youth development programs as well as parents to better engage and educate
young people because they are more likely through research to listen to their
friends, parents and relatives rather than schoolteachers.
The role of schools, parents/carers and the wider community is
inextricably linked. Research by the British Office for Standards in Education,
Children’s Services and Skills revealed that the most effective schools have a
well-considered approach to keeping students safe online and helping them to
take responsibility for their own safety. Successful schools have a multi-layered
managed approach, involving students, parents and teachers, where there are
fewer inaccessible sites.
There are many cyber-safety programs, but not all have been taken up.
For example, it was suggested that while the 2009 National Safe Schools
Framework went out to every Australian school, ‘about 80 percent’ did not take
it up because there was no way for them to implement it. The Alannah and
Madeline Foundation also expressed concern that while schools might have
anti-bullying policies, they may not be implemented.
Other cyber-safety programs and initiatives are available, and have been
referred to in this Report, but it is not clear how many of them have been
appropriately evaluated and accredited. Strategies that could
be employed by the whole of school community are addressed in Chapter 10.
Time-poor teachers may benefit from having material accessible from a
central on line resource. Netbox Blue consider that schools could be encouraged
to adopt available solutions if a central body was established to:
provide advice and online collateral, papers, policies and best
practice examples to schools;
provide certification for providers within each ‘pillar’, such as
the Family Friendly Filter scheme;
establish a clear set of standards for a school to have achieved
to fulfil their duty of care;
establish a national certification standard for schools in
providing a cyber-safe environment for students;
promote the program to all schools and encourage them via
incentives to benefit for adherence to the standards, and
establish an ongoing review of the standards and an annual
The NSW Secondary Principals’ Council suggest that assistance to schools
include a clear legal definition of ‘cyber-bullying’;
include consistent State and Federal legislation, and
provide guidelines regarding the actual legislation governing
cyber-bullying and how it affects young people.
Given the nature and pervasiveness of the online world, in a context
where warnings and filters have limited efficacy, the most effective approach
to cyber safety is to build good teaching and learning experiences into
To ensure quality and consistency across jurisdictions, educational
standards for cyber-safety education need to be developed.
Standards need to be developed by the Australian Government for cyber-safety, and the safe, responsible use of
digital technologies. Such standards should prevail across all Departments and agencies,
to provide ‘a beacon for the non-government sector’.
While many different policies and programs have been put in place to
deal with cyber-safety issues, allocation of resources is an issue for all
schools. The continuing pressure on curriculums must also be recognised,
because it is clearly not simply a matter of adding topics without displacing
or reducing times for other, existing items.
Cyber-safety is, however, of such importance to the education and future
of young people that the effectiveness of the current approach(es) needs to be
There is no doubt that awareness of threats to the safety of young
people in the online environment has grown, within schools and in the community
generally. Perhaps because of media interest, this is especially true of
cyber-bullying. Many responses to cyber-safety problems developed and
implemented across Australia were revealed during this Inquiry.
The dedication with which solutions have been sought to reduce the risks
to those, particularly young people, using the online environment cannot be
faulted. While authorities in all jurisdictions are justifiably proud of their
cyber-safety programs, there are two measures that can be taken to reduce
online threats to users, especially young people.
The first and most important of these was addressed by many participants
in this Inquiry: a national cyber-safety education program, devised and
implemented with the cooperation of all Australian jurisdictions. The
introduction of such a program must be accompanied by a second measure: an
extension of the role and powers of ACMA. These proposals will be addressed in
Many parents/carers are not involved in cyber-safety issues as
individuals or via the schools to which their young people go because they lack
two things: time and knowledge and/or confidence about the online environment.
Their involvement is vital to reducing the incidence of abuses in the online
environment. Ways to give them confidence, and extend their knowledge of
cyber-safety issues will be addressed in Chapter 10.
At least one important measure can and needs to be taken by schools.
‘Acceptable Use’ Agreements and supporting policies covering the use of the
technology supplied to their students is an area that schools need to address.
These Agreements are not always backed by procedures that are followed
consistently, or even widely known and understood.
For such Agreements to be effective, they must be:
clear about the rights and responsibilities of users, especially
penalties for breaches of conditions of use;
signed by students and parents/carers;
preceded by information sessions on cyber-safety, perhaps
presented wholly or partially by the young people themselves, and
supported by policies that are known and understood by all staff
and students, so that they can be implemented promptly, effectively and
As noted above, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting
Authority is developing the Australian Curriculum. Together with the revised
National Safe Schools Framework, there is progress in the development of
national core standards in education in this country.
The Ministerial Council of Education, Early Childhood Development and
Youth Affairs is the appropriate forum to guide national action towards such
core standards for courses in cyber-safety. Using the revised National Safe Schools
Framework, it is in a position to encourage the introduction of core standards,
including the development of national Acceptable Use’ agreements, that will
assist schools to deal with threats to their students and staff from the online
That the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and
Youth propose to the Ministerial
Council of Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs:
develop national core standards for cyber-safety education in schools,
- to adopt a national scheme to encourage all Australian schools to introduce
‘Acceptable Use’ Agreements governing access to the online environment by
their students, together with the necessary supporting policies, and
encourage all Australian schools to familiarise students, teachers, and
parents with the ThinkUknow program, and the Cyber-Safety Help Button and
other resources of the Australian Communications and Media Authority to
promote the cyber-safety message.
That the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and
Youth and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy consider
extending the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Connect-ED program
and other training programs to non-administration staff in Australian
schools including school librarians, chaplains and counsellors.