Welsh Assembly blocks school emails

Fears over children's safety on the Internet halt plans to give Welsh school pupils their own email addresses

The Welsh Assembly has halted its pledge to provide every school pupil in Wales with a personal email address because of security fears.

Minutes from an Assembly cabinet meeting in June have revealed that the proposal was shelved following concerns that children could be individually identified through their personal email addresses. Members of the Cabinet feared that school pupils could be approached by paedophiles if their email addresses were given out in Internet chatrooms.

"For the time being, a general domain name will be given out instead, so that all correspondence is addressed to the school rather than an individual pupil," said a spokeswoman at the National Assembly for Wales. "But we're still well on target to have all schools online by 2002."

The pledge to ensure that all children have personal email addresses was made by Labour and the Liberal Democrats when they formed the assembly coalition back in October 2000. But the pact was made before the Cabinet had seen the Department for Education and Skills' (DfES) guidance to schools on the safe use of emails.

"After liaison with the DfES, we decided to review our pledge," confirmed the Welsh Assembly spokeswoman.

The DfES has recently amended its email address policy to recommend whole class rather than individual pupil addresses. "The world has moved on from 1997, and class-based email addresses will offer more protection as students will remain unidentifiable within any email address," said a DfES spokesman. The system will however allow individual students to send and receive emails in the same way as with personal email addresses, but the teacher will have the control to filter out any unsuitable correspondence.

The Welsh Assembly's education and life-long learning committee is conducting an audit of IT provision across the whole of Wales, and will delay the review of its school email policy until the findings of this investigation are released.

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