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Byron Review

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 19th May 2009.

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Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker 10:30 am, 19th May 2009

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes in which to propose the motion and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Education to outline how she is implementing the recommendations from the Byron Review in relation to the safeguarding and protection of children.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this important motion. The Internet and protecting children are issues that cut across Departments and are pressing for us all. The development of the Internet and new technology has been rapid during the past 10 years. In 1999, 3·2 million UK households had an Internet connection, but today that figure stands at 16·5 million. Ofcom estimates that 67% of the adult population now has Internet access. Internet technology is increasingly available through public Wi-Fi networks, and that, along with the convergence of technologies through the use of Internet-connected games consoles and mobile phones, has changed the way in which our children and young people communicate and socialise.

The Internet is now a significant part of all our children’s lives. That technology has brought huge benefits in a vast range of ways. Who among us could imagine life without the ubiquitous mobile phone or without Internet access? Some of my colleagues, dare I say it, blog daily and use Facebook and Twitter. However, for all its benefits, the Internet and new technology bring with them challenges and some risks. They have given those who wish to offend against children new opportunities in a virtual world. Those challenges led the Prime Minister to appoint Dr Tanya Byron to produce a report on Internet safety to help protect children from open access to inappropriate online video and gaming sites.

Last year, the Byron Review made more than 30 wide-ranging recommendations that suggested national and regional action to compr­ehensively protect children. Although Dr Byron’s research findings were mostly drawn from England, the review recognised the global nature of Internet use and, consequently, made a series of UK-wide recommend­ations, the most significant being the need to create a new UK-wide body to develop strategy and oversee developments.

To protect children online and in a digital environment, Dr Byron’s recommendations fell into three broad areas: reducing the availability of harmful and inappropriate material in the most popular parts of the Internet; restricting children’s access to harmful and inappropriate material through work with the industry, parents and children; and working to build children’s resilience to the material to which they may be exposed so as to give them confidence and skills in navigating new media.

Delivering that developing agenda in an area of huge and fast-moving change needs co-ordinated actions between the UK Government, who currently have responsibility for reserved and exempted matters such as criminal justice, policing and regulation of the online and digital world, and the Northern Ireland Assembly Departments. Apart from the recommendations in the Byron Review, the Government have taken action to try to make the Internet safer after the high-profile cases and prosecutions that arose from Operation Orr.

New offences in online grooming were introduced in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, which is headed by Jim Gamble, an ex-PSNI officer, was established in 2006 to police the virtual world. The CEOP Centre is making significant advances in tracking down online predators. It its second year of operation, it helped the police to arrest 297 people. It also helped to reduce the risk of danger to 131 UK children.

New measures have been introduced to manage convicted sex offenders, and, where necessary, access to computers can be restricted through the use of sex offender prevention orders. New measures in the pipeline at Westminster will further restrict convicted offenders from travelling overseas.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has done much good work with the computer industry and has been very successful in reducing the amount of illegal material that is hosted on UK Internet sites. However, the challenge is immense, and the IWF estimates that overseas Internet service providers host a core of 2,755 child abuse websites.

Despite that progress, the speed of change means that major issues remain, and there is no room for complacency. Peer-to-peer technology and the development of social networking sites, such as Bebo and Facebook, have brought new challenges, with children at risk of placing too much information about themselves on public access sites. We have also witnessed the development of cyberbullying among children using the Internet and SMS. That is one of the most prevalent forms of harm that children experience online, as is the sharing of inappropriate content among children via peer-to-peer and social networking sites.

Making the Internet a safer place is the responsibility of those in positions of leadership. Although Northern Ireland membership of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety will allow us to influence wider UK developments in the regulation of policing, it is at a local level that we can do much to improve children’s resilience and improve their parents’ knowledge and capacity to protect them.

Key to and at the forefront of that is the role of education. As a former teacher and as children’s spokesperson for the DUP, I have a huge personal interest in that area. Many recommendations in the Byron Review relate specifically to education, and Dr Byron’s intention of giving children information and protecting them has huge applicability here. It is up to the Department to provide leadership and to translate that into policy development and firm action.

I am grateful to the NSPCC for providing all Members with a briefing paper on the issue and for distilling some of those issues into possible policy development terms. I shall not repeat those in detail; it is sufficient to say that is there is an urgent need to mainstream e-safety at all levels of the curriculum and into all school structures. That will involve oversight by school governors. The key areas include the need to ensure that, as part of the personal development component of the curriculum, children and young people are provided with age-appropriate information and that, most importantly, they are signposted to other sources of help and advice, such as ChildLine.

Teachers also need help with the digital divide that has emerged between the generations. Safety issues relating to the Internet and virtual reality should feature in initial teacher training and in teachers’ continuing professional development. Through the extended schools programme, more could be done to work with parents on e-safety.

Child protection policy developments in schools, which the Department has responsibility to oversee, should also include measures on e-safety. The Education and Training Inspectorate should also consider how it might carry out a thematic inspection and review of schools provision. Other measures could be taken, and I shall be interested to hear the contribution of other Members and, of course, the Minister on the issue.

The Byron Review was a start, not an end. In that regard, we need to continuously examine what we are doing in this fast-moving environment. The CEOP Centre, for example, has done some excellent work in schools in Northern Ireland through its Think U Know programme and through the development of accredited trainers. What are the links between the CEOP Centre and education services? Do we know which children have participated in that training and where the gaps are? Is CEOP training factored into wider safeguarding plans for schools?

The need for local and national co-ordination in the area is obvious, and I am aware that Internet safety has featured on the agendas of the ministerial subcommittee for children, the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. That illustrates the local, regional and international elements of the issue. The ministerial subcommittee is chaired by the junior Ministers, who have Executive responsibility for children. Therefore, it is in an ideal position to co-ordinate the implementation of the recommendations in the Byron Review as they relate to Departments in Northern Ireland.

I would welcome a commitment from the Minister of Education that her Department will conduct a benchmarking exercise in respect of the Byron Review and that an education action plan relating to Internet safety is presented to the ministerial subcommittee. I am sure that the Committee for Education would welcome an early update from the Minister on progress in that area.

Given that many policy initiatives will also lie with other Departments, particularly the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, it would be useful for Ministers to produce and publish a paper on the implementation of the Byron Review and on the steps that are being taken in Northern Ireland to better protect children. That would help to establish where we are and to feed back into the work of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety by establishing work at a local level.

The debate is important, and much more can be done locally to better protect children. The Department of Education has a crucial role in that regard, along with other Departments, and I hope that the debate will stimulate further policy development and cross-cutting elements. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to an implementation of the recommendations.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

I am happy to take part in the debate, and I thank the mover of the motion for bringing the issue to the Floor of the Assembly. I welcome the Minister of Education’s attendance. Along with the mover of the motion, I am grateful to the NSPCC for the information and advice that it has provided to me and other Members on Internet safety.

We need to live in the real world. Along with most Members, I was educated without the aid of technology. If I needed to get information for homework — when I did it — I had to go and research it in the library or ask other people for their homework. The world is moving on, and the pace of change in technology in the past 10 to 15 years is unbelievable and shows no signs of letting up. I am sure that some Members cannot work a video recorder, but their children or their grandchildren would be able to show them how to do it.

No one is objecting to the fact that technology has moved on, but we also need to realise that some people, for their own benefit, use technology to harm children. Young people must be encouraged at every opportunity to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and information and communication technology. However, as a society, we need to be one, two, or even five steps ahead of people who, for their own advantage, use technology to harm children.

The mover of the motion mentioned some figures. It is important to note that 50% of households have Internet access and that 99% of children aged between eight and 17 use the Internet regularly. I do not view that negatively. Much Internet use is positive. The fact that 9% fewer households here have access to the Internet is also interesting. I am keen to find out whether that is due to economic factors. Children who do not have access to a computer or to the Internet at home are at an educational disadvantage.

The subject of the debate is the Byron Report and the use of computers for schoolwork by children and young people. There has been an increase in the number of children and young people who access the Internet and social networking sites through mobile phones and games consoles during their leisure time. As I said earlier, there is no doubt that technology offers opportunities for all people in society, including young people. However, a balance must be struck.

Our focus today is on education. Therefore, I direct my remarks at the Minister of Education and her officials. There is a need to ensure that adults — particularly parents, because they must have responsibility — have the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to deal with computer issues. Some children have high computer skills. I am amazed at the knowledge that my six-, seven- and eight-year-old nieces and nephews have about computers. It is unbelievable. I bluff and let on that I know more than they do, but I only confuse them.

The tools must be instilled in parents and corporate parents, whether through teachers or other adults who work in settings such as libraries and after-school clubs, to ensure that they keep one step ahead. Sensible ways must be found to highlight potential risks to children and young people. According to NSPCC figures, one in five children has been bullied online on social networking sites. Online predators who seek to groom children are a concern that must also be taken on board. Children can have access to inappropriate content on certain sites, and others encourage and promote harmful behaviour, such as eating disorders and suicide.

Having read Professor Byron’s executive summary and recommendations, I believe that she has put forward a comprehensive list of sensible suggestions in her report. I am confident that the Minister of Education will take those forward in her departmental responsibilities. In her final comments, the mover of the motion accepted that the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people has a focus on this matter. It would be useful if, through you, Mr Speaker, a transcript of the debate were sent to the ministerial subcommittee, because several Ministers have responsibility on the issue. It is important that the Assembly, Executive and Departments take forward those recommendations collectively. I support the motion.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP 10:45 am, 19th May 2009

At the outset, I want to put on record my thanks to the Members who have brought the motion to the Floor of the House. The Ulster Unionist Party is happy to support the motion and, indeed, the recommen­dations that have emerged from the Byron Review.

Clearly, much of the focus is on one word: “freedom”. Although we all appreciate the threat from modern technology, we accept that it is a feature of the society in which we live, which is based on freedom for children and parents. The unregulated nature of the Internet is both a success and a pitfall. It is absolutely marvellous that one can go on the Internet and get information on almost any topic. However, its pitfalls are the absolute dangers that it presents for children and young people.

I am sure that Damian McBride wishes that there was tighter regulation of online commentary. However, the truth remains that the unimpeded opportunity for expression has provided new prospects in a range of fields.

I support the report’s approach, which recognises how the Internet can benefit children and their education. That is vital in today’s society. We should not stop children using the Internet to progress or educate themselves. However, parents and teachers must be aware of its dangers. Furthermore, they must be absolutely sure about what their children are doing on the Internet and should try to manage and regulate that usage better. Although people have a responsibility to self-regulate, that does not always work with children.

The protection of children is of paramount concern to everyone in society, and we all want to protect the more vulnerable groups, such as children. The Byron Report approaches the issue from the correct angle and brings many useful recommendations to the table. I am pleased that the Government have accepted all those recommendations. The one that catches my attention is that all computers that are sold to homes should come with parental-control software. It should be as easy as possible for parents to protect their children from undesirable content on the Internet, while allowing them to develop the skills that they will need in the modern workplace. That cannot reasonably be achieved through physical parental supervision, and, therefore, the routine inclusion of adequate software with every home computer is the best way in which to achieve that balance. Ms Ramsey mentioned balance, which is essential. It is proper to achieve the balance through which children can educate and protect themselves.

Moreover, we must consider the fact that Internet technology is continually changing, and any system that is installed should be adaptable and flexible. I have two young children, aged six and three, so I have personal knowledge of such matters. The amount that my children — especially the six-year-old — know about the Internet and about computers amazes and baffles me. I ask them to operate the DVD player when I want to watch a DVD. I do not even know how to open the machine.

The creation of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety provides an opportunity for a body to consider specifically how to protect children from potentially harmful content. That is a good recommendation, and I am pleased that the Government have moved quickly to introduce it.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. The Member may remember that his party colleague the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Michael McGimpsey, approached Internet providers about the issue of suicide and self-harm. Does he agree that the Executive should use their influence in a joined-up way?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member may have an extra minute in which to speak.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank the Member for that comment. Such an approach is essential. We should not consider it a blocking point but an opportunity for all members of the Executive to collaborate on the issue. I have no difficulty with that suggestion.

I look forward to seeing the UK Council for Child Internet Safety’s work, which will shape the future regulation of the industry and provide a safe environment in which children can learn new skills in the modern age.

Photo of Mary Bradley Mary Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Members who tabled this important motion, which my party is happy to support.

The protection of children is paramount to any society’s development, and I welcome any means that offers a sound and sensible approach to achieve that end. Dr Tanya Byron, a mother of two, used insight gained from her career as a clinical psychologist to launch her in-depth review, which is titled ‘Safer Children in a Digital World’. The junior Ministers welcomed the review and acknowledged its usefulness in establishing e-safety.

In March, in response to a question for written answer that Miss McIlveen asked, the Minister of Education said that her Department:

“is working closely with DHSSPS, and other Departments, to achieve improvement in the current arrangements around internet safety.”

I was delighted to hear of the Assembly’s inter­departmental approach to an important issue that affects all our children during school hours and when at home in their parents’ care.

It is vital that, while children are in school and using the internet for research or educational purposes, they are protected from sites that are easily stumbled on through search engines that do not adequately screen for material that is unfit for viewing by children and young people. It is also, however, socially and morally incumbent on parents and guardians to ensure that they have an increased understanding of the dangers and benefits of the cyberworld and Internet highway.

It is all too easy for a child to input the name of their favourite toy or video game, only to be met with a string of websites that are based wholly on innuendoes and inappropriate material. In today’s society, it has become obvious that parental control is diminishing and that it needs to be reborn and emphasised. What better way to start than by ensuring that what our children have access to is suitable for their ears and eyes?

Dr Byron has made eight recommendations in all; four for the video-gaming world and four for the safety of Internet use. I call on the Minister of Education to issue guidance through her Department to schools so that they can implement and, where appropriate, increase the necessary Internet protection measures that will safeguard against the accidental display of or, as in some cases, the deliberate downloading and viewing of inappropriate material.

I note that the Minister of Education informed the House in March that the Department expected to have membership of the Better Education working group, one of four groups established to deal with the full range of the Byron recommendations. I hope that there will be movement on some level towards membership of that group and, more importantly, that the necessary finances to support schools in implementing the appropriate guidelines will be in place. I also hope that we will not be here in another year’s time, debating the whys and wherefores of the matter, why the money is needed and where to find it.

Child protection, in whatever form, is essential and welcome. Sadly, it is also a necessary tool in today’s society. A number of groups has provided information about cyberbullying. So much of that goes on, and it gives our children and young people great cause for concern. They should have the type of protection that they need.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

In a rare mood of unanimity in the Assembly, I also welcome the debate, and I congratulate Michelle McIlveen and her colleagues on having secured it. It is clearly an issue that is vital to the future welfare of all our children.

There is no doubt that, throughout the ages, new media have always been greeted with some horror and suspicion; whether the penny dreadful novel or the picture comic. There is also no doubt that we are now moving into relatively uncharted waters when one considers the effect of the Internet and our ability to regulate and to ensure that matters are dealt with in a way that protects children and the most vulnerable in society. That is why there is a need to look at the detail of Professor Byron’s report and to focus on helping children to meet new challenges, develop their critical skills and abilities and make decisions. Frankly, we are long past the point where we can simply close the door on what is accessible on the Internet.

As Tom Elliott highlighted, the practical reality is that many young children are far better equipped than we are to deal with technology. I have not yet asked my grandson to work the DVD recorder for me — he is only two months old — but I suspect that I will be doing so in two or three years’ time. The problem is that, although the children may have the technological skills, they do not have the understanding. They cannot evaluate how they should be dealing with the Internet, and they need assistance in learning to deal with the challenges that affect them. That is the challenge outlined in the Byron report, and it is the challenge to which we must all respond and to which we must seek a response across a range of Departments. We need to develop a shared culture of responsibility that will ensure that all those involved in the issue — the industry, education, government, or voluntary organisations — can assist people in reducing the availability of potentially harmful material, and, in particular, assist children in developing the ability to avoid that material.

The problem with the Internet is that there is no single, obvious editorial point of control. There is no way in which national Governments can deal with ISPs based all over the world to achieve that level of control. The practical reality that has already been highlighted is that some ISPs attract particular attention from young people. There may be a need to police those sites, as well as to encourage parents to learn not only to get the appropriate software on their computers but to develop the necessary skills to access it and ensure that it can be used to protect children.

Dr Byron proposed a national strategy for child Internet safety that involves self-regulation and provision of information and education for children and families. Sue Ramsey highlighted the cross-departmental nature of that issue, and Mary Bradley said that the junior Ministers welcomed the Byron Review when it was published. However, the motion highlights the fact that the Department of Education has a significant role to play, and it is important that we consider that.

Although the Byron Review’s remit is UK-wide and refers to some extent to English institutions, there is no doubt that it has significant applicability across Northern Ireland as well. Decent guidance and exemplar practice must be evident in every aspect of the curriculum, and teachers must be given the necessary support so that they can assist young people in dealing with the Internet and in learning to use it in a responsible way. That must be a priority in the professional development of teachers. I know that there is a danger in our always saying that teachers have responsibilities on such matters, but there is little point in schools’ ensuring that their computers are safe for their pupils to use if they cannot also assist those pupils in being safe when they use computers elsewhere.

The Byron Review refers to Ofsted’s role in holding schools to account, which has direct applicability to our schools’ inspectorate. That accountability must be encouraged so that we can find ways to ensure that schools live up to those responsibilities that they might otherwise neglect. That is the key to educating young people in future. If we attempt to wrap children in cotton wool, they will never learn to grow up and make the decisions that will help them to survive on their own as they move from adolescence into adult life. We have to find a way of ensuring that that happens in schools and that it is encouraged. In that sense, it is right that the debate focuses on the role of the Minister of Education and her Department. I support the motion.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 11:00 am, 19th May 2009

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the motion. The debate has been useful; it has allowed us to discuss how to protect children against abuses of the Internet. As is the case with many debates in which there is cross-party agreement on an issue, most of what needs to be said has been said. Therefore, I will deviate slightly from the issue of the use of the Internet.

According to the available information, there is still a wide section of society that does not have access to the Internet. Many young people do not have Internet access at home for a variety of reasons, but particularly because of poverty. We must examine how to ensure that as many children as possible have access to the educational resource that is the Internet. It is true that children must be protected and that we must learn from the Byron Review and other international reports on child protection. We must educate and empower their guardians to ensure that the Internet is employed as a useful tool. However, we must also ensure that people have computers and Internet connections in their homes.

Many homes, particularly in rural areas, do not have Internet connections because of the patchy broadband network that exists west of the Bann. The Assembly and the Executive have a responsibility to ensure that broadband is available to all family homes so that children can have proper access to the Internet.

The debate has been useful, and my colleague Sue Ramsey’s suggestion that the issue be forwarded to the OFMDFM ministerial subcommittee on children and young people is a good idea. The whole Executive, as well as the Department of Education, have an important role to play. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ar na mallaibh d’fhoilsigh muid ráiteas beartais ar pháistí a chosaint. Is é is cuspóir dó an toradh ar an straitéis 10 mbliana — maireachtáil go slán cobhsaí — a chur chun cinn agus a fhorbairt.

Violence against women and children — whether at home, in society or through the Internet — and the grooming of children are some of the greatest challenges that face our society. Safeguarding and protecting our children is a top priority for me and for my Executive colleagues.

Recently, we published a policy statement on safeguarding children. That statement is intended to develop the aim of ensuring that our children live in safety and with stability, which is an element of the 10-year strategy ‘Our Children and Young People — Our Pledge’. That statement sets out a safeguarding policy framework across Government, which in addition to setting out the Government’s safeguarding agenda, identifies gaps and suggests new actions to close them. A clear part of that agenda is to take forward the recommendations that Tanya Byron made in her report.

The review was undertaken to help parents and their children get the best from the new technologies while protecting children from inappropriate or harmful material. I support John O’Dowd’s comments about access to technology, and Members will know that my Department has provided laptop computers to primary schools in the North of Ireland.

The review team assessed the evidence on the risks that exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the Internet and in video games poses to children’s safety and well-being. The team assessed the effectiveness and inadequacy of existing measures in helping to prevent children being exposed to such material and in helping parents to understand and manage the risks of access to inappropriate content. It then made a series of recommendations on improvements and additional action that should be taken to ensure that children derive maximum advantage from the new technologies in the safest possible way.

Is forleathan agus fairsing iad an moltaí, agus tá comhoibriú de dhíth dóibh idir an rialtas, tionscail, carthannais páistí, seirbhísí reachtúla, chomh maith le tuismitheoirí, páistí agus daoine óga.

The review’s recommendations are wide-ranging, and they require co-operation across Government, industry, children’s charities and statutory services, as well as from parents, children and young people. The recommendations include the creation of a new council for child Internet safety to lead on the development of a strategy and to oversee its implementation; challenging the industry to take greater responsibility in supporting families through codes of practice on areas such as user-generated content; improving access to parental-control software, which many Members mentioned; safe search features and better regulation of online advertising; a comprehensive public information and awareness campaign on child Internet safety across Government and industry, including an authoritative one-stop shop on child Internet safety; and putting in place sustainable education and initiatives to improve the e-safety skills of children and their parents.

Is léir go leagann na moltaí seo clár oibre síos do gach Roinn, ní amháin don Roinn Oideachais.

It is clear that the recommendations set an agenda for all Departments, not just the Department of Education. However, my Department is clear about its need to play its role. The ministerial subcommittee on children and young people identified the need for safeguarding and for taking forward the Byron Review’s recommendations as a priority. A subgroup, which is chaired by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, has been established for that purpose. Through that Department, our interests are represented on the Council for Child Internet Safety and its executive board.

My Department represents our interest on the council’s better education subgroup, which is tasked with ensuring that children, families and the children’s workforce have access to consistent and comprehensive support and to information that improves their knowledge, skills and understanding of Internet safety. As a member of that group, we will be engaged actively in any developments, and we will be in a position to access their appropriateness for application here.

That assessment will also include consideration of the North/South dimension to Internet safety and will ensure compatibility with any developments that emerge from the North/South Ministerial Council’s Internet safety subgroup. Following the NSMC meeting that took place in February 2008, it has been agreed that the Department of Health and the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will co-chair a cross-border group of officials to intensify co-operation on child protection.

Five work streams have been established to oversee various developments. Those include information sharing for children and families, public awareness, and child protection and Internet safety, on all of which the South of Ireland is leading. The North of Ireland is leading on vetting and barring and research.

Our involvement in the Council for Child Internet Safety will ensure that initiatives that are aimed at strengthening Internet safety, such as Safer Internet Day, are shared with colleagues in the South of Ireland. We have already implemented a range of developments and actions, which could, to some extent, be seen to have anticipated outcomes.

Schools are already responding to the challenge of promoting e-safety to pupils. The revised curriculum that I am introducing aims to meet the needs of our young people better and places the development of skills alongside the development of knowledge and understanding. Using ICT is one of three cross-curricular skills to be developed from foundation stage to Key Stage 4.

As part of the revised curriculum, teachers are receiving training and guidance materials to support them in the classroom. That includes guidance at Key Stage 2 on integrating teaching on Internet safety and general online communication into other areas of the curriculum, such as personal development and mutual understanding, which looks at developing a proactive and responsible approach by pupils to safety, including Internet safety.

We must equip our young people with the skills that they need to recognise dangerous or inappropriate situations and to deal with them appropriately. If we do that, we are helping our young people to develop into the confident citizens and individuals that they deserve to be. It is crucial that we build on that approach to empower children and young people if we are to ensure that their generation are new-technology savvy in all respects, can keep themselves safe and can use technology safely.

Reachtálann an Chomhairle Curaclaim, Scrúdúchán agus Measúnithe scéim chreidiúnaithe dheonach ag Eochairchéimeanna 2 agus 3, agus tá sin á síneadh chuig Eochairchéim 1.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) runs a voluntary ICT accreditation scheme at Key Stages 2 and 3, and that scheme has now been extended to Key Stage 1. The scheme also includes e-safety to support teachers and educate pupils. I am also revising the assessment arrangements in line with the revised curriculum and will be introducing levels of progression to help teachers to assess pupil achievement by the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 in cross-curricular skills, including the use of ICT. E-safety is a component in the levels of progression for the use of ICT.

We have been encouraging school staff to improve their capacity to promote e-safety through participation in the local training that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre provides. The centre regularly offers sessions of its ambassador course, which provides an in-depth look into new mobile technology and how it can be used to put children at risk. The centre also provides Thinkuknow training, which equips staff to deliver the centre’s programme for 11-year-olds to 16-year-olds on keeping safe in the online and mobile environments.

Maidir le feabhsú ríomh-shábháilteachta na scoile ina hiomlán, baineann cuid mhór scoileanna úsáid as an chreatlach fhéin-athbhreithnithe Becta le monatóireacht agus measúnú a dhéanamh ar theicneolaíocht faisnéise agus cumarsáide ar fud an churaclaim, mar a mhol Byron.

Schools here are required to have a policy on safe and effective use of the Internet and other digital-technology tools. The Department of Education circular 2007/1 from 18 June 2007 drew attention to the wide range of issues that schools’ policies should address and directed schools to advice on what is regarded as best practice. Access to the guidance is available on the Department of Education’s website and is regularly updated.

The Classroom 2000 (C2k) network provides schools with Internet access. That access is fully monitored and is subject to a detailed filtering policy, which categorises websites into groups that are allowed and those that are not. The filtering process is updated several times each day on the basis of requests from schools and the appearance of new sites.

I thank my officials for their work on the issue. My Department takes Internet safety very seriously; we welcome any suggestions in this debate, and we welcome the ongoing consultation with schools. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we protect our children, because schools cannot do it on their own. They need to act in conjunction with all other Departments and consult on an all-island basis, as well as with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank my colleague Michelle McIlveen for bringing the motion to the House.

I do not think that any Member who listened to the debate and read all the material that was provided for it would underestimate the importance of the issue.

One of my constituents, who has several grandchildren, telephones me weekly, if not daily, to discuss child protection. He is appalled and concerned by what he sees every day in the local and national media. The one issue about which he always asks when he telephones is what we are doing about child protection.

We are all very good at saying that it is someone else’s responsibility. It would be easy to come to the House and try to make a political point from this issue. At a time when many people out there are questioning all that is going on with MPs’ expenses and the value of the democratic process, is rhetoric all that we — every party in this House, collectively — have to offer the people of Northern Ireland about what should be done to safeguard children? We need to prove to the people what is being done. I will come to the Minister’s comments in a moment, but we need to set this vital issue in that context.

As the parent of a young family who has had to deal with the issue with my own son, I know that safeguarding children is a vital issue, and we have to get to grips with it. Michelle McIlveen, the proposer of the motion, reminded us of the Byron Review’s 30 recommendations and the three areas of work that the report considered. She also emphasised the importance of CEOP and said that it would have a vital role in what would be delivered.

The speed of change, the proposer reminded us, requires a rapid response. This issue is changing almost daily. Mainstream Internet safety in schools needs to be addressed. Last year, the Department of Education spent about £50 million on IT. Surely a priority for some of that funding should be child safety.

Sue Ramsey praised the work of the NSPCC. The charity is to be commended for how it has presented the public with the stark reality and the statistics behind the issue. We are glad that NSPCC representatives are in the Public Gallery today. I trust that they will take some solace and comfort from the tone of the debate, and from the House’s unanimity on the matter, as the honourable Member for South Antrim Mr Ford remarked.

Sue Ramsey reminded us of the responsibility of parents. That is a key issue. It is sometimes difficult to quantify, but many parents are disengaged from a lot of these things. We have all been guilty, at some stage in our parental duties, of not paying attention to what is going on in the room that has Internet access and of not making enquiries. That is because, as some Members have said, we are sometimes not very competent with the technology ourselves. There is a fear on our part. Being educated about the technology is, therefore, relevant not only to children but to parents.

Sue Ramsey referred to the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people. The Minister said that that group has set up another subgroup to examine this issue. Those groups must play an important role in this debate.

Tom Elliott reminded us of the focus on the word “freedom”. We now have a society in which there is freedom, but that has brought with it many challenges. He underscored the unregulated nature of the Internet and its pitfalls. He also reassured the House that the protection of children is paramount in the minds of all Members.

Mary Bradley reminded us of the Education Minister’s response to a question for oral answer from my colleague who proposed the motion. We need to revisit some of the statements that Ministers make during Question Time, because a lot of mist circulates around the Chamber, and it is easy to ask a question, but more difficult to get an answer and to see where that answer is leading us. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the Minister’s response to that question for oral answer, Mrs Bradley called for schools to receive guidance, as well as the appropriate finance to ensure that it can be implemented.

My colleague David Ford talked about uncharted waters, and he could not have summarised the challenge that faces us in a better way. These are uncharted waters for all of us. It was important that he placed an emphasis on the national strategy, which is a key issue. The Minister is always keen to remind us of our all-Ireland responsibilities. However, in the United Kingdom, across England, Scotland and Wales, in the Republic of Ireland, and further afield in the European Union, there is a responsibility to ensure that, at every level of government and at every level of political administration, there are more than mere platitudes on this issue, but a requirement to have in place proper procedures, security and guidelines that can be implemented for the safety of our children.

Mr Ford also made an interesting comment about the role of Ofsted. We should encourage that body to be more proactive and to take on the responsibility of policing the protections that are in place, and of policing the methods and guidelines that are set before people who have access to the Internet.

By the time of John O’Dowd’s contribution, nearly all the points had been covered, but that sometimes happens in debates when a Member is fifth, sixth or seventh in line to speak. Contributions can become difficult and repetitious. That has never stopped us in the past, but it is a challenge for us all. Nevertheless, John O’Dowd made a valuable contribution on Internet access, which represents the other side of the coin. There are pitfalls, problems and challenges, but we need to protect our children. Many children have benefited as a result of having Internet access, but some children do not have the same access that others enjoy. That must be addressed.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that safeguarding and protecting children is a top priority for her Department. She referred to the reviews that had taken place, and I confess that I got lost amid the Minister’s statement, because a list of reviews was mentioned, which became a long catalogue of very detailed recommendations. We all want to see actions and outcomes as a result of that work.

The Minister referred to the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people. We need to scrutinise exactly what is happening to see whether we are on track for the right outcome. The Minister referred to encouraging teachers to take up training, but we must look at making that a more formal process, rather than just providing encouragement, and putting in place a process so that teachers can have access to and engage in that training.

I welcome the debate. I congratulate all the Members who have spoken and I thank them for supporting the motion, which I commend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Education to outline how she is implementing the recommendations from the Byron Review in relation to the safeguarding and protection of children.