A new year, a new online safety policy

September saw the implementation of the new Ofsted inspection schedules which include clear references to online safety as part of a school’s wider safeguarding strategy.

With a clear focus on education, innovation, staff development and reporting, the beginning of the new school year is the best time to re-evaluate your school’s online safety policies to ensure that both you and your pupils are protected effectively.

Schools, including head teachers, teachers and staff, have a legal duty of care to ensure the safety of their pupils. With the influence of technology still growing in and outside of the classroom, this also includes the risks and dangers associated with using the internet, computers and devices.
It’s important to remember that teachers and other staff members are also at risk, too, so any coherent and comprehensive online safety policy should incorporate everyone.

Pupils at risk
If measures and support are not in place, pupils can be exposed to hostile individuals on the internet. There are many possible problems that can come from this, ranging from online bullying, which can originate within the school or from unknown sources, to sexual predators who may be making contact under a false identity to groom young children.

Inappropriate or distressing material online is also a concern for schools. Within the classroom, schools can block certain sites and prevent content from being displayed, but with the increase in children using smartphone technology, there is still the possibility that they can access and share graphic or violent content. For example, children may be exposed to extremist views and content, which has been a serious concern for schools in recent months. They may also share violent or explicit material without really understanding the affect this may have on others, or on their own digital footprint. 

Sexting has also become a prominent issue in school online safety, with students as young as 14 finding themselves with criminal convictions after sending naked photos to their peers.

Teachers at risk
There have been reports of staff and teachers being harassed online, either by individuals within the school or by external parties. For example, research undertaken by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) found that around 60 per cent of teachers had seen abusive comments posted about them online on social media.

Teachers and schools in general are also vulnerable to detrimental effects upon their online professional reputation. Staff members using social media profiles or posting comments on other websites can seriously impact their own digital presence and that of their institution. Sometimes, seemingly innocent or allegedly private content can cause severe harm to public opinion and estimation, especially if it is discovered by pupils.

Planning and training effectively
When determining an online safety policy, the entire school should take ownership of the writing of the regulations within it, and the head teacher will take full responsibility for its day-to-day management. Staff and governors should be aware of all the risks and these should also be articulated to students in an open discussion.

An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) should be issued to all those using online technologies within the school and signed by all staff and parents. This should be bolstered by a code of good practice, written in a way to ensure pupil understanding which, when they are old enough to appreciate its significance, they should be asked to sign.

Establishing appropriate reporting routes and procedures will ensure that online safety concerns will be brought to your attention as and when they happen. The entire school community should be aware of how these reporting routes will function, and they must be simple and clear enough to be used by both adults and children.

Online safety should become an integral part of any staff development which should be kept current and up-to-date with any issues raised in the news or within the school. Staff should be aware of all the current social media channels being used by young people including newer platforms like KiK, ooVoo and Instagram, so that they can familiarise themselves with the software and understand the nature of any online safety concerns arising from their use.
Services like BOOST can provide bespoke training that is tailored to individual schools.

An online safety curriculum
Teaching children how to process and understand content they find online is critical to ensure their continued online well-being. For example, if a child has inadvertently accessed explicit or violent material that they have found upsetting or disturbing, it is important to make sure that they are taken care of appropriately, that the issue is explained and that any problems are incorporated into the curriculum to ensure that all students can benefit from the advice provided.

It is important for children to understand how to behave appropriately online as their digital footprints can have a serious impact upon their prospects in the future. There are many resources that can help to map out these ideas, such as our free digital literacy and citizenship curriculum that is available for everyone between the foundation stage to key stage four. Integrating the topic of online safety into all subjects is essential, as more and more subjects are using technology within their lessons to enrich learning and open opportunities for extended research and content.

Managing the threat of extremism
Since the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has come into effect, schools (and other authorities) are obliged to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism including online recruitment; something that is an extremely concerning issue at present. However, there are a number of ways that schools can address online safety to ensure that extremism and radicalisation does not pose a threat to their pupils. Some of our top pieces of advice are listed below.

Firstly, assess the risk of a child being drawn into terrorism and their support for extremist ideas. You can do this by using robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk, devise a relevant intervention plan and select the most appropriate referral option.

Be prepared for Ofsted inspectors wanting to see your school’s approach to keeping children safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism. Otherwise, you may be subject to regulatory action. Work in partnership with your local safeguarding children board to ensure you’re following the correct policies and procedures.

Train your staff to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas. Having staff who can both recognise the signs of extremism and counter the online extremism rhetoric and narrative are both equally critical - staff training is vital in this regard.

Educate your students on critical evaluation. They should be aware of internet content that may be trying to influence them to follow extremist views. There are many sources providing help and guidance on how to do this, including the Digital Literacy website.

Implement strict IT policies that allow for an appropriate level of filtering. These IT policies should be implemented as a precautionary measure, not as a response to an incident. Take responsibility for reporting concerns. It is now the law for any individual to follow the appropriate safeguarding reporting procedure.

The power of the Internet and social media has highlighted a need for an open and ongoing dialogue in our communities – among children, young people, parents, carers, schools and wider – to ensure that young people are safeguarded against the potential threats posed by modern technology.

SWGfL BOOST is an award-winning online safety service for schools, providing an all‑in‑one service for monitoring, reporting and professional development. SWGfL supports school inspectorates, such as Ofsted, providing advice and guidance on online safety.

Further information