From an education perspective, near-unlimited access to the internet can be hugely beneficial to young people. It opens up a world of information to them, giving them access to all kinds of news, views and perspectives at the click of a button.
But it’s also home to a lot of unsuitable content and potential abuse, which is why online safety is a major safeguarding concern for schools.
So, let’s take a look at what you need to be aware of and how to keep your pupils out of harm’s way.
What is online abuse and where does it happen?
Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web or on mobile phone networks. It takes many forms, such as bullying on social media, and can drive extreme activities or behaviours like suicide and sexual abuse.
But however online abuse happens, the internet’s powerful attributes - its ability to bring together large numbers of people, its constant presence and its ability to distribute information quickly and easily - can make its victims feel that there’s no escape.
It’s a very real problem, and the statistics are alarming
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), more than 10,000 offences of online child sexual abuse were recorded by the police between April 2019 and March 2020, a 16% increase on the previous year. Ofcom’s 2019 Online Nation report found that 79% of 12- to 15-year-olds admitted having had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year.
Unsurprisingly, with children using the internet so much more during lockdown, online abuse is now an even bigger issue. Schools and teachers are concerned - a recent survey commissioned by Internet Matters reveals that 60% of teachers nowadays are worried about their pupils’ online safety.
Schools have clear statutory responsibilities in this area and no doubt you’ll have access to many sources of advice, training and good practice, as well as properly defined safeguarding procedures. Here are our six top tips for making sure that you’re providing the best protection possible for the children in your care.
Tip 1: Be proactive
The Department for Education’s new Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance focuses on online safety, which means that schools need to be more proactive in this area.
Prevention is better than cure, but not all children get the advice and guidance they need from their parents or carers to stay safe. So, it’s up to schools to step in to fill the gap. While many have already done a great job of this, it’s important to note that it’s now part of the new mandatory Reproductive and Sexual Health Education (RSHE) curriculum.
The good news is that there are lots of resources available for you to use, to ensure that you give your pupils the best advice.
And don’t forget to continually monitor and filter all the online content that students access on your school premises. This includes the devices that you give to vulnerable children for at-home learning during the pandemic.
Tip 2: Use the right software to make your safeguarding processes more efficient
Using the right tools for the job will help you to streamline your safeguarding procedures.
Entrust’s solution, MyConcern®, is easy-to-use, safe and secure. It allows you to record and track any concerns or incidents, automatically notifying your safeguarding lead and supporting them in assessing each concern and managing any action that needs to be taken.
Tip 3: Monitor your online activity
The Government recommends that all schools have the appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place, and we couldn’t agree more. It helps you to manage your online activity so that you can spot potential problems before they occur.
The key agencies – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command, Internet Watch Foundation, NSPCC and British Standards Institute – have all contributed to the development of these solutions, so they are all state-of-the-art and encompass current legislation and best practice.
Tip 4: Call in the monitoring experts
While monitoring software can be a critical tool for detecting safeguarding issues, they tend to pull through a vast amount of content due to ‘false positives’, wrongly flagging issues as a concern when they’re not actually anything to worry about. Sorting through these possible red flags can be an administrative burden for your staff members, who might only then spot a real issue when it’s too late.
A monitoring service can help your school to identify real concerns and respond quickly and appropriately to them. At Entrust, our digital monitoring experts are trained to spot a potential issue and will escalate to your school staff on the day that it happens. In fact, from April to the beginning of September 2020, we escalated 120 potential safeguarding issues in secondary schools alone, of which 11% were linked to suicide risk, 12% to emotional health, 24% to sexual behaviour and 33% to pornography.
Tip 5: Invest in a consultancy service
It’s vital to ensure that your IT infrastructure has no weak points that could allow abuse to take place, that your online safety curriculum includes the right topics, and that your staff members and governors are all properly informed and trained.
Much of this work is highly technical, so invest in a consultancy service that can provide this kind of support.
Tip 6: Give your pupils a voice
Young people can find it hard to talk to an adult about how they’re really feeling.
Entrust’s Tootoot platform provides a safe place for them to voice their worries, rather than suffer in silence. It allows them to send an anonymous message anywhere, anytime, and flags any issues to the relevant adults. It can also be used in conjunction with monitoring and MyConcern® to build up a more complete picture of pupils’ welfare.
We’re here to help you to keep your pupils safe. For more information about how our expertise can support you, contact us today.