A good starting point when devising your school’s online safety policy would be to consult three key government documents: Keeping Children Safe in Education, Working Together to Safeguard Children and the Prevent duty guidance.
It’s not so much that schools will choose to ignore or neglect their safeguarding responsibilities – more that potential online risks and the solutions intended to guard against them are constantly evolving.
Technology can suddenly present entirely new risks that were never previously there, such as the potential for strangers to interact with children who might be livestreaming.
There’s often a time lapse between the appearance of new advancements and capabilities, and schools’ understanding of them, with the result that schools can find themselves under increasing pressure to play catch-up.
Most adults will have clear, established divisions between their work and home lives, and digital and non-digital activities. Those boundaries in a child’s life are far more blurred, with often little distinction between the worlds they inhabit online and offline.
Gone are the days when bullying would stop once children left the playground. There’s now a whole new, technology-assisted realm in which children may continue to be abused wherever they are and at any time of day.
Online bullying can affect a child’s mental health and their performance at school, meaning schools have a duty of care when it comes to their online safety and wellbeing.
With legislation now requiring schools to appropriately filter and monitor their IT systems, every school will benefit from having technologies in place that can detect online behavioural trends and concerns, and highlight instances where intervention may be called for.
Teachers can also educate parents on their responsibilities when it comes to cyberbullying, though it should be made clear that the responsibility doesn’t sit with them alone.
Tackling the issue will take more than one subset of people, and there’s the added challenge when addressing online safety that children will often know more about the technology and means involved than the adults around them.
That’s why it’s important for parents and teachers to regularly communicate with their children and comprehend what they’re doing online, why they’re doing it and who they’re talking to.
The way in which schools should communicate their safeguarding policy will vary, depending on their wider practice and procedures.
Some schools will opt to publish the policy on their website and encourage parents to read them; others may choose to email the policy to parents and update them in the event of any important changes.
In any case, communicating the policy clearly can be a tremendous reassurance for parents, letting them know that there are rigorous safeguarding policies in place.
Adele Abbiss is an online safety expert at the internet safety company Smoothwall.