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RM IFL Filtering Policy

The Growth of Schools Online

According to the DfEE document, ‘Survey of information and communications technology in schools 1999’ (November 1999), schools are making ‘substantial progress’ towards achieving government targets for ICT in the area of the Internet and electronic communication.

Number of Schools online increasing

The survey revealed that 93% of Secondary Schools had access to the Internet in comparison to 83% the previous year and Primary Schools achieved an even greater growth rate from 17% to 62%. The number of special schools with Internet access nearly doubled from 31% in 1998 to 60% in 1999. It is needless to say that Internet access in all of these sectors has continued to grow since the survey was published.

Demand for increased bandwidth

With the majority of schools now connected to the Internet, there has been a trend for greater Internet bandwidth. Secondary schools are beginning to realise the benefits of high-speed broadband access, which is opening doors to new applications and technologies, which may not have been previously accessible. Primary schools are moving away from dial-up accounts to ISDN access, whilst others are installing a second ISDN line.

Such connectivity trends support the argument that the Internet has a wealth of educational benefits to offer. However, the Internet is generally an unregulated environment and contains a significant amount of material, which may be considered inappropriate for school users. Such items may be offensive i.e. pornography and violence or may be distracting, for example certain chat groups.

BECTa’s viewpoint

According to Michael Wills MP, Minister for Learning and Technology, in the BECTa publication entitled, ‘Superhighway Safety’, http://safety.ngfl.gov.uk/ , there is a shared responsibility to make sure that students’ use of the Internet is appropriate and safe.

Maintaining educational value

It is therefore important for educational establishments to be able to steer users towards relevant online material, which adds educational value. This means establishments need a mechanism to try and effectively screen out improper websites or searches. BECTa’s ‘Superhighway Safety’ pack advises schools to obtain parental permission for their children to access the Internet and to maintain an Acceptable Internet Use Policy.

BECTa Guidelines/Examples

Internet usage permission Letter for parents:
http://safety.ngfl.gov.uk/schools/document.php3?D=d5

Guidelines and examples of an Acceptable Internet Use Policy:
http://safety.ngfl.gov.uk/schools/document.php3?D=d4

Although educating users through safe-surfing guidelines and the establishment of an acceptable Internet use culture is important, inappropriate material can often be stumbled upon inadvertently. It is therefore important to support the somewhat ‘softer’ guidelines with a filtering system. RM recommends the following, in conjunction with our filtering:

  • Good supervision
  • Use of student contracts to ensure that users understand what is acceptable use and what isn't. There are a number of examples of student contracts available on the Web. The one used by most UK schools can be found here.
  • In some circumstances a client based tool used in conjunction with RM's filtering service is also appropriate
  • For sites which have network access it is possible to set up different filtering policies using specific servers on sites i.e. can have different rules for web and news filtering - such bespoke solutions are relatively expensive to install and maintain.

RM Internet For Learning and Filtering

Internet For Learning (IFL) is RM’s Internet Service Provision division and connects more schools to the Internet than any other provider in the UK. A key reason for the popularity of the service is the attention paid to filtering. Every Internet connection supplied is subject to RM SafetyNet filtering.

RM SafetyNet Filtering

RM SafetyNet is the standard filtering service provided with every IFL Internet connection. It is designed to screen out material found to be inappropriate for use within a school environment. Items, which are filtered by RM SafetyNet are in contravention with IFL’s filtering policy. 

IFL have identified a number of key areas of the Internet that contain a significant degree of controversial material:

  • The World Wide Web
  • The UseNet Internet News system
  • Chat services, eg. IRC and ICQ

The World Wide Web:

IFL block user-access to a huge number of unsuitable WWW sites.  We do this by the exclusive method, which means that when an inappropriate site is found, IFL prevent user access to it. This is as opposed to the inclusive method, which restricts access to all sites, except those identified as appropriate. 

Although it would be impossible to identify all unsuitable sites, we still believe that the exclusive method is the most suitable Internet Filtering policy. Essentially, we believe that the majority of our customers would find the inclusive method too restrictive, as the scope of acceptable sites would be too limiting.

The database of filtered websites continues to grow on a daily basis, as IFL conduct powerful proactive screening searches. This effectively blocks access to millions of offensive pages, which are comprised of pornography, violence, terrorism, illegal substances, intolerance and extreme racist material. Some websites containing information on hacking are also filtered. A general benchmark used by IFL to determine whether a site or part of a site should be filtered, is whether or not the questionable material is something, which the national press may publish. If it is, then it is unlikely IFL would choose to filter it.

UseNet:

The UseNet system comprises more than 40,000 discussions groups, which cover a huge range of topics from the Beatles to Star Trek and from needlework to UNIX. Some of the UseNet groups contain material, which is likely to cause offence. Such messages are normally contained within easily identifiable groups such as alt.sex.stories, but there is no guarantee that any group won't contain an occasional offensive posting. Note that UseNet messages can contain pictures or sounds as well as text. Currently the RM News server only carries newsgroups that are believed to be safe. In addition, IFL restrict customer access to other News servers so that users cannot easily circumvent the blocking.

Chat Services, IRC and ICQ:

After a considerable amount of feedback, IFL has taken the decision to prevent access to the majority of web-based chat services, such as IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and ICQ. Like the WWW and UseNet, there are chat sites covering almost every subject, but they generally differ in a number of ways. Most chat services are run in real time, which means that the text typed in is visible by anyone else using the site at that point in time. There is also very little opportunity to regulate the content of the communications, which leaves it open to considerable abuse. What appears to be a perfectly innocent discussion could rapidly change direction. There is also the potential for personal information to be disclosed, which isn’t necessarily appropriate for users who are, on the whole, under eighteen. It is important to remember that users are unlikely to ever see the person that they are ‘chatting’ to and therefore there is no guarantee that a correspondent is the person they say they are.

For these reasons, we have blocked access to the majority of chat sites. 

Not a 100% Guarantee

IFL proactively conduct thorough searches in an effort to block user access to any inappropriate material. However, it is important to understand that we offer no guarantee in providing an environment that is perceived to be ‘safe’ by everyone. One reason for this is the enormity of the Internet and the fact that it is a continually changing environment, with new material added by the minute.

Although IFL restricts access to many areas of common concern through RM SafetyNet, it is not designed to be a tailored filtering system for the unique requirements of individual schools. If a tailored filtering system is required, please see the section on RM SafetyNet Plus, IFL’s customisable Internet Filtering service.


Your Input

We welcome your input in respect of suggesting material which should be filtered or unfiltered, although RM maintain the right to ultimately determine what is and is not filtered.

You can contact IFL Filtering by accessing the appropriate link:

Web: http://www.ifl.net/support/submitfilters.html
Email: filtering@rmplc.co.uk


RM SafetyNet Plus

In February 2001, a new Internet filtering service was launched by IFL, designed to run alongside the standard RM SafetyNet service. RM SafetyNet Plus allows establishments to override the standard RM SafetyNet service and specify the particular sites and searches to permit and deny their user’s access to. This means that decision-making is moved from IFL to the school, allowing schools to tailor their Internet Filtering according to their environment and Acceptable Internet Use Policy.

RM SafetyNet Plus enables schools to:

  • Deny access to a URL or part of a URL, which is otherwise permitted by IFL.
  • Deny access to specific file extensions e.g. .mp3 or .exe.
  • Deny access to everything, except permitted URLs (walled garden approach).
  • Permit access to URLs, which are currently denied by IFL (this could be a specific chat site for example).

How does RM SafetyNet Plus work?

An establishment, which has upgraded to RM SafetyNet Plus, is set up with a school-specific administrative website, through which filter lists are built. The system requires no additional hardware or software to be located at the school, as all changes are made via this administrative website.

For more information on RM SafetyNet Plus, please see the
SafetyNet Plus website

If you would like to upgrade your school’s Internet Filtering, please contact the RM Sales Desk.