There's a powerful and pervasive TV stereotype of burnt-out 'special crimes' investigators. But nothing could be further from the persona of ex-cop Andrea Bradley. Smart, positive and highly motivated, she's more than happy to put the investigatory and digital forensic expertise developed over 13 years with Greater Manchester Police to the service of protecting children and developing e-safety.

Now a director with E-Safe Education, she's the kind of person you take seriously when she warns that "approximately 10 per cent of harmful multimedia content on school computers remains undetected by systems relying on keyword or phrase-based monitoring to protect children".

That statement was the result of research E-Safe Education carried out in schools in the the North West, and was based on data from more than 30,000 students and school staff. The company used its own pornography and extreme image management technology to detect inappropriate material on networks. Of course it had originated from the daunting variety of sources that network managers struggle to monitor: including digital cameras, phones, CDs, CDs and DVDs, memory sticks and other unmonitored devices.

Audits uncovered pornography and illegal downloads of MP3s

In the early days of her work with primary and secondary schools Andrea Bradley, who was a police officer for 13 years, was shocked by what she found on school networks when Zentek conducted forensic audits. "The results were astounding," she says. "For myself, I knew that children were able to access certain things. But the things we found on the networks included pornography, indecent photographs of children, suicide letters and school teachers and heads with illegal downloads of MP3s - thousands of them.

"Nearly everything that I had investigated previously with the police, there was evidence of it in the school networks. And that information then helped us to develop the software that we wanted to put in for filtering. That's how E-Safe Education developed."

Despite the concerns, Andrea Bradley has a positive attitude to the internet and bears out the other side of the "internet fears" coin. That in the hands of skilled investigators more is becoming known about paedophiles and their movements - and "grooming" - than was ever known before. "Without the internet we wouldn't have been able to find them," she adds. "They jump from different sites and different forums and we used to follow them to the different forums they used. It was fascinating." Much of that work is now done by CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) which trains the company's staff.

A relative newcomer to education (it started out two years ago), E-Safe Education uses a holistic approach that starts out with the school's own policies, at the heart of which should be an effective acceptable use policy (AUP). It aims to protect students against the issues that are current causes of concern, including predator grooming, cyberbullying, racism, radicalisation, drugs, gambling and even suicide. It can provide its own software for school networks. This can work locally and be controlled by a school. Or it can be contracted as a managed service, one that can also be operated county-wide if so desired. leadership and staff training is also a priority. (Check out their Two-minute E-safety Drill presentation in this website's downloads section - tab at top of home page.)

E-Safe Education has developed its own technologies, and much of its expertise in child protection comes from its close relationship with Zentek Forensics where Andrea Bradley is managing director. Zentek is where Andrea Bradley continues, in the private sector, with the kinds of investigatory work she developed with Greater Manchester Police. Their clients include eight police forces, from Hampshire up to North Yorkshire, who need third-party ICT forensics from people who share their understanding of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Forensic investigations provide data to support school protection

And this ongoing work by forensic experts continuously generates advanced threat-detection libraries of images and keywords which then become available to the sister company. E-Safe Education's Colin McKeown reckons there is a one-month turn-around for new Zentek data to become available. New images, words, phrases and techniques are identified quickly and incorporated into the protection systems. And he emphasises the importance of keeping up with regional and socially specific colloquialisms. For example, common expressions used in online bullying can vary between different groups.

The service used by schools is always up-to-date and sensitive to the communication patterns of its client groups. In addition it can be tweaked by teachers to make personalised interventions so for example, suspected breaches in policy can generate pop-up messages created by school staff.

This is why, he says, schools using the system can be confident in using Web 2.0 so that students can use in school some of the technologies they use outside, like Facebook. The challenge on which any system rest, he says, is to establish a common set of expectations for anyone using the school system, that behaviours which might be tolerated elsewhere simply don't work in school. And that they will be picked up: "We have to identify what is and is not acceptable, and help them discriminate".

"There is a perception that if you have your e-safety solution today which you bought a year ago, it's going to stop all imagery getting through and you will know all about it," he warns. "But what we are seeing as a growing trend is where images are coming through from a variety of media, where there are no words and phrases associated with those images. So therefore there's a false sense of security in thinking that you can prevent images purely by using words. That's just not true. People bring things through on a pen drive, and images might not have any name with a sexual connotation, and the image can be freely viewed because there are no words at all associated with it - just times and dates.

"It's not all deliberate; it can be inadvertent and that's the judgement call of the schools." The reference to inadvertent gives the clue to the complexity of the issues around e-safety. Much of the problematic material is generated by young people themselves. "What children are creating themselves with their own phones and digital cameras and sharing on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook," says Andrea Bradley. Young teenage relationships can be intense and brief, and the negative results can be splattered, with unforeseen consequences, on social networking sites causing great hurt and anguish - and some of this can find its way into schools.

'E-safe schools can use sites like Facebook and MySpace'

The clear answer, says Andrea Bradley, is a well-developed school culture that educates young people and staff about the ground rules and etiquettes that make up e-safety, backed up by professional technology tools to stabilise and regulate schools' ICT facilities. E-Safe Education bills itelf as "the UK’s first company to offer real-time forensic monitoring as a managed service". According to company information, "By implementing E-Safe Education's managed services, schools can provide access to a plethora of online and localised content, safe in the knowledge that usage by students is professionally monitored. Many schools that have implemented these services are allowing students to use popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to collaborate with peers and develop their online behaviour. The software also helps schools to analyse and increase student productivity by providing a snapshot of when and where students are accessing non-work-related applications or materials."

“As we continue to identify cases of predator grooming and cyber-bullying of children, it is imperative that they are properly safeguarded whenever and wherever they use a computer," concludes Andrea Bradley. "Whilst first generation forensic monitoring technology may detect chat and text-based communication, cameras are now increasingly used by students alongside multimedia tools such as Skype and Google video chat to collaborate. The ability to detect and block websites is simply not sufficient in today's Web 2.0 world where empowerment, engagement and advice need to be the norm if children are going to learn.”

More information

E-Safe Education
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E-Safe Education's managed service costs from around £6 per pupil per annum, depending on the size of the establishment.
Download E-Safe Education's Two-minute E-safety Drill presentation (PowerPoint)

CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre)