Interested to read a paper by Miles Berry, incoming vice-chair of NAACE the schools ICT association and evangelist for Open Source Schools. Miles was invited to share a topic of interest to them. Rather surprisingly, instead of a polemic on Open Source, Miles offers the Convention on the Rights of the Child as an illustration of a number of issues.
In particular the tortuous issue of appropriate filtering in schools is set against the Human Rights Act 1998 which guarantees the freedom "to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority". Miles recognises that this is superceded by 'protection of public health and morals', but quite rightly challenges the mass blocking of educationally useful sites. this was brought home to me yesterday at the excellent EIS iT10 event in Ashford, where Andy Hutt took us on a journey through some fabulous online teacher resources. Some of these wouldn't get through broadband filtering in schools.
Kent provides filtering to schools through their broadband service. Secondary schools have complete control to block or allow groups of content. For technical reasons this is uneconomic at present for the large number of small primary schools, so a default filtering policy is managed on behalf of primary schools. In line with OFSTED guidance we have been looking at how we might allow primary schools to determine their own policies and manage their own filtering. This allows schools to implement policies that reflect their risk appetites, and nicely gets the LA off the hook, but doesn't address the fundamental issue raised by Miles.
In practice, filtering in schools is implemented by the technical staff, who invariably respond to requests from teachers. Most teachers are primarily impacted by distracted learners, those using online games, social networking etc. My experience is that inappropriate content is encountered less in the classroom than on the unfiltered home computer.
One approach is a risk assessment for commonly used sites such as Flickr, Voicethread etc. This might allow the school to set its risk appetite in policy at governor / headteacher level. It is a difficult topic that needs an appopriate, proportionate and consistent approach ... and the wisdom of Solomon! It does however require a debate rather than decisions made according to the lowest risk appetite.
I also share the same beliefs as Miles regarding an individuals right to be their own person, and cannot understand why some schools feel the need to operate intrusive electronic surveillance and data monitoring / mining. I do see value in periodic sumaary reporting of achievements, but not dynamic reporting available the instant its loaded. We must allow a child or young person opportunities for reciprocal mediation with educators.
I am also a great supporter of Creative Common's and suggest school's need to address who owns copyright materials. If teachers create content in their own time for use in school, who owns it? The law is simple, its the teacher unless they assign rights. I would like to see this clarified, as many teachers take their resources with them when they leave or are uncomfortable with uploading them to learning platforms, at which point they seem to assimilated as school property.
All in all, I applaud Miles for taking on these big themes, but fear that schools may be '... too frightened to be enlightened'.