Government admits education site 'unsuitable'

Site includes links to 'unsuitable' content, despite government approval

The government admitted Monday its educational Web site Eduweb contains material that is inappropriate for children, after a report condemned the site for allowing millions of children to gain instant access to sexually explicit material and drugs information.

The Eduweb site, which provides an index list of educationally appropriate pages, is part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's £700m initiative to provide all schools with Internet connectivity and content by 2002. But the government now admits some of the content linked to is not appropriate for children. One such site, for example, is a "virtual surgery" where issues such as sexually transmitted diseases and drug addiction are discussed.

"We admit that some of the material on the site may be unsuitable for children," said a spokesman at the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE). He said the government may modify the site and the standards used for allowing content.

The site, approved for the National Grid for Learning, was designed to tie in with the Personal Health and Social Studies curriculum -- the DfEE is currently checking through the content on the site to ensure that it corresponds with what is taught in schools.

Many schools view Eduweb through the government's Internet for Learning Internet connection package, which has a filter attached that is intended to stop children from viewing inappropriate sites.

Research Machines (RM), which developed Eduweb, is also responsible for the filtering and management of the Internet for Learning service. It is however possible for schools to access Eduweb from any ISP when no filter will necessarily be in place, giving children uncensored access to the rest of the Internet.

"The filtered sites are based on offensive material that national newspapers would not publish," said Tim Clark, Internet business development manager at RM.

However, this standard is not acceptable for an educationwal Web site targeted at children, according to Chris Thatcher, past president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) "If you think about the difference between a national newspaper and Web site, you can get to a Web site easily, whereas you wouldn't put an offensive newspaper article under a child's nose."

The DfEE has suggested that it intends to take these standards further and is currently in talks with RM about the safety of the site. "We do not believe that children under the age of 11 should have unsupervised access to this site," a DfEE spokesperson concluded.

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