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The government, in the form of "learning and technology" minister Michael Wills, has joined forces with one-woman pressure group Carol Vorderman to provide schools with advice over how to approach the Internet.

The Superhighway Safety pack follows on the heels of recent controversy regarding the use of Internet chatrooms by paedophiles to "groom" young children. Several leading figures have applauded Ms Vorderman's publicising of an important issue but warned against hysterical over-reaction.

The government advises that schools pay special attention to school Web sites, pupil email addresses and chat rooms. It also offers advice on filtering software for their IT systems.

Pupils should be given an email address based on a class rather than an individual name when dealing with the outside world, the guidance suggests, since this allows a particular child to be targeted. Individual names are fine when dealing within a school system.

It also advises caution when posting pictures of children on school Web sites. The same point was made by Detective Chief Superintendent Keith Akerman - chairman of both the UK Internet Crime Forum and the Association of Chief Police Officer's computer crime working group - at a meeting in the Home Office yesterday.

Pupils, teachers and parents should also be warned and educated about the possible risks involved in external chatroom conversation. A report yesterday by the Internet Watch Foundation suggested the following points be made to children:

  • Do not give out personal details, photographs or other identifying information such as where you live or the school you go to
  • Do not take other people at face value
  • Never arrange to meet someone you've only known through the Internet without telling your parents, getting permission and taking an adult along with you. You should also meet in a public place.
  • Don't open or download an attachment unless you know and trust the person that sent it
  • Never respond to anything you find disturbing. Save it or print it, log off and tell an adult.

Michael Wills had this to say: "As the Internet continues to develop, we must remain constantly
vigilant in our efforts to protect children against those who would abuse it. The Internet and email are powerful tools to open up new opportunities for people of all ages. The Government wants everyone to have access to the wealth of cultural, scientific and intellectual material to be found on the Internet. But we are equally determined to ensure that pupils are protected from unsuitable material and that they can access appropriate material safely."

Aside from using the out-moded term Superhighway, the advice pack is a good step forward by government and can be seen online here. It has been compiled by the DfEE, NCH Action for Children, the Parents Information Network, the Internet Watch Foundation, ChildNet, Disney and the British Educational Suppliers Association.

Carol displayed her continuing paranoia regarding the Internet, telling reporters at the launch at a school in the East End of London: "I have got two children and I do not let the younger one use the Internet at all. But I will not let the older girl, who is eight, on the Internet without standing over her shoulder." ®

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