Child Protection, or why I feel I have to tell people I’m not a paedophile

Child protection is an increasingly frustrating bugbear of mine. The raft of legislation, the quantity of bureaucracy and the sheer stupidity of many policies does little but infuriate me.

In recent weeks I have been banned from videoing my children ballroom dancing, been made to feel like a paedophile for daring to bring even a stills camera with me (“Don’t allow your children to get changed in here”, boomed a voice over the PA system, “there are people with CAMERAS for goodness’ sake!”) and been told that a no touch rule is not sensible. For peripatetic music teachers.

Today I discovered that should I ever wish to visit the Eureka! science museum in Halifax without a child in tow then I would need to phone in advance to inform staff of this and sign a register when I get there. If I ever do visit the museum (unlikely given my current mood) then perhaps my CRB will appease them, although with the latest being almost 4 years old now I might have to also have to provide a blood sample and a photocopy of my passport.

Anyway, rather than continuing to rant, I’ve sent an email to the chief executive, Leigh-Anne Stradeski, and thought it would be interesting to get the thoughts of others. Maybe I’m justified in my anger, or maybe I’m missing the point. I do know that I’m sick of being labelled a potential paedophile by virtue of the fact that I am adult, male, spend almost all of my time with children and usually have a camera with a decent zoom lens to hand…

Dear Leigh-Anne,

As is doubtless the case with many parents at this time of year, I have been looking for exciting days out for my children over the summer holidays. I’ve never visited Eureka but have heard very good things so thought I would have a look at the website.

I was extremely concerned, however, to see on your ‘Times and prices’ page (http://www.eureka.org.uk/visit_us/times_and_prices) that adults wishing to visit the museum without children are treated with such explicit mistrust. According to this page, ‘…adults who are not accompanied by a child are asked to sign in on arrival at Eureka!’. And not only that but they are asked to ‘…call ahead to notify staff of your visit’.

This means that if I wished to visit the museum without children, for any reason, I would be required to contact the museum staff before I even set off. And that once I did arrive I would have to sign some sort of register.

As a parent, I am of course conscious of the many risks that exit in the wider world, but to treat every adult without a child with such blatant suspicion is, frankly, abhorrent. The implicit suggestion can only be that anyone wishing to attend the museum without a child must be there with an ulterior and inappropriate reason – otherwise why would you need to collect the names and, presumably addresses, of anyone without a child in tow? Do you require identification or proof of address before letting people in? Would you require me to have an explanation for my visit? Would I be questioned, perhaps even taken into a separate room away from any families until such time as you could verify my intentions? Would I need to bring evidence of a CRB check?

I dare say you can sense my frustration over this issue.

Having recently written an article on tackling the sexualisation of children (http://experts.eureka.org.uk/2011/06/04/sexualisation-of-children/) I am even more surprised at your policy. To quote your own article: “…to think that we can completely protect all children from exposure to sexualisation in today’s world through tighter regulation amounts to burying our heads in the sand. Wrapping them in cotton wool does not help children learn, develop and understand the complex world around them and the choices they will have to make.”

This appears to me, to be directly in line with my own opinions – and yet your own organisation is actively following a path that alienates any potential visitors who do not bring children and criminalises them in the eyes of families and staff. I would feel incredibly unwelcome having to go through this process and it is indicative of a whole range of ‘child protection’ issues that do little to actually protect children but marginalise those who, for whatever reason, do not have any with them.

An adult bringing a child with them to the museum is surely no less of a threat than any other adult. The fact that I have children of my own, or might choose to take a relative’s child out for the day, does not prevent me from being a paedophile. In fact were someone to plan anything nefarious then surely taking a friend or relative’s, or even their own, child along with them would surely provide much more ‘cover’ than attending alone.

I am deeply frustrated and concerned at your policy and urge you to reconsider your stand on this issue. In the meantime I do not feel that I can visit your museum in good conscience.

Regards,

 

 

TMNE10: Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

As well as the presentations at the Teachmeet, there was time for a discussion group and as tempted as I was to spend the evening getting irate about the white paper, Simon Finch was leading a discussion of eSafety and I thought this one might be interesting.

The following is based on my interpretation of what Simon discussed. It should not be taken as gospel and it is always possible there are misinterpretations on my part. It was an interesting discussion, although too short to really allow it to form a proper debate, and I’m going to find it quite difficult to add my tuppence worth.

Simon’s stance in the discussion was that teachers need to protect themselves. He gave an example of a teacher who allowed a pupil to use their laptop for research while it was connected to the whiteboard – resulting in inappropriate (though innocently discovered) images being shown to the class. I had my own example that involved searching for how to create a mask in GIMP – you can probably picture the results without needing to reach for Google.

My opinion is that this resulted in a useful discussion with my Year 8s about what to do when you find something inappropriate on the Internet – and the fact is that this will happen from time to time. For another example, if you’ve ever heard of Goldilocks then try googling Daddy Bear.

Simon had one suggestion and one question to help protect staff – keep an eSafety event book (much as you keep an accident book) to log any potential incidents and the question ‘should Internet searches appear on whiteboards?’.

Now keeping an eSafety log is possibly a sensible idea. With very obvious potential issues, having the evidence to hand should there be a complaint can only strengthen the position of the school in defending the actions of the teacher. What worries me is that every time a pupil comes across a proxy site, every time you do a Google Image Search or a Flickr Search and come across a picture of Megan Fox, etc., etc., etc. you might feel concerned enough to log the event. For me, this is moving from professional safeguarding to paranoia.

Of course there is a line somewhere and we need to temper the risks to staff with the risks to freedom. I do worry about the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and I also worry that if teachers can’t be trusted to be professional, to use their discretion and to be left in charge of pupils without the constant pressure to document any potential ‘event’ then why is teaching described as a ‘profession’. Ultimately an atmosphere of fear is created, or at least perpetuated.

In regards to the question of whether web searches should appear on a whiteboard then my answer is, simply, yes. As a teacher, particularly of ICT, I think that burying our heads in the sand, building a walled garden and taking great lengths to avoid the discussion is at best, missing the point and at worst, downright reckless.

Students will use search engines at home. Search engines that are nowhere near as heavily filtered as they are in school. They will find inappropriate language, inappropriate images and probably a whole host of things you neither could nor would want to imagine. Such is the nature of the Internet. Students need to be prepared for this. If you bring someone up in an environment where they have no access to fire and then they move into a house with an open fire and gas powered hobs then you would probably not be entirely surprised if they burnt the house down, or at least singed a tea towel or three. You need to teach people how to use these tools appropriately.

I’ve just done a search for ‘Mask GIMP’ and also ‘GIMP mask’. On my school laptop no less. There were some images that showed up at the top of the list – showing non-obscene images of men wearing masks. I could see from the titles of the web pages and the short blocks of text that some of the links referred to image editing and others were clearly not appropriate. I somehow managed to avoid clicking on any of the inappropriate links, but most of them looked like they were shops anyway, certainly no explicit sites on the first page.

Of course I wouldn’t aim to do this deliberately in front of kids, but the idea that I unplug the whiteboard every time I want to use Google seems overly paranoid to me.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m spoilt. My line manager would go to the wall for me. My Head would back me to the hilt. I know this, and I’ve seen evidence of it. Maybe that is giving me a false sense of security, but I just can’t bring myself to agree with Simon.

And that, for me, is the hard bit. I’ve spoken to Simon online a number of times. I know that his aim here is to protect children and to protect staff. I’m also sure that he sees the worst examples, that he knows how things can go when they go wrong. I just find it very hard to agree that going to the lengths he suggests is the right thing for ME to do.

I should point out that there were other topics we covered, albeit briefly. The idea that misuse of web access (e.g. use of proxy sites) should be tackled through the pastoral system rather than as an ICT issue was very apt. The principal that teachers should never give out their passwords to students is obvious, but I can’t honestly say I’ve never seen it happen.

Image attribution: warning extreme danger Originally uploaded by paul.klintworth