As the Principal of HVGS I informed that inquiry through our national Association, AHISA. As a school we are already proactive in protecting our students from the potential harm of pornography. But we cannot manage this scourge alone. I firmly believe that our Governments, particularly the Federal Government can do so much more. This isn’t an article for government bashing, but the authority, control and power to do something that makes a significant difference is at the hands of Government.
We limit the possibility of accidental or deliberate exposure to inappropriate websites through multiple strategies, including the application of internet filters and banning mobile phone use during school hours. We have an ‘Acceptable Use’ agreement with students governing students’ access to the school’s online environment and we monitor student internet activities on all digital devices used in class. If an incident is reported or there is a cause for concern, we will check student’s personal devices.
Our school directly educates students about issues relating to pornography, including its potential to distort students’ understanding of intimacy and the nature of sexual relationships. We have held information evenings, with guest speakers for parents. And occasionally I will write in the newsletter about related matters of concern. We will also advise parents if their child is discovered accessing pornography at school or if the school becomes aware of an outside-of-school issue.
We have children in our care for about one-third of their day, we need help to combat this menace. The ease of access to online pornography and other inappropriate material by students and the potential for harmful effects are issues that we take very seriously and working hard to counter, but we need ‘the whole village’ to help.
The increasing expectation of parents that they will be able to contact their children throughout the school day via their mobile phones makes the difficulty of monitoring students’ mobile devices even that much harder; because kids have them on their person all of the time. We find it hard to establish and sustain adequate safeguards when digital technologies are evolving so rapidly.
Access to online pornography is just one part of the problem that I see playing out in our schools. The increase in ‘sexting’ and, more generally, the early sexualisation of children are issues that I see affecting the welfare of students. I have asked politicians to strengthen the classifications of films, television programs, magazines and video/computer games and have them tightened, especially for the G, PG and M ratings, and codes of practice for advertising, television programming and children’s magazines and merchandise to be strengthened. I have been less than impressed with responses from the appropriate Ministers to these requests.
Australian Communications and Media Authority data show that as at June 2015 86% of Australia’s teenagers had home broadband access and 80 per cent used a smartphone. When so many young Australians potentially have 24/7 access to the cyber world, schools cannot be the only line of defence in maintaining children’s cyber safety. Parents and governments must play their part, too.
I thank the Association of Heads of Independent Schools for sharing their submission to the Senate Inquiry and giving permission for Principals to share the content with our school communities.