This is an edited version of an article originally published on: Al Kingsley at Linkedin
I’ve written and spoken previously about the importance of adopting a whole school, standardised and cohesive approach to safeguarding in the context of online safety. As technology evolves, new statutory guidance is released and when staff join or leave the school, I think it’s important to reflect on the issue of online safety which, as we all know, is so incredibly important in order to safeguard our students.
School technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated – and so must the technology that we use to mitigate risk: it must be fit for purpose, provide mechanisms for the school to be pro-active in its safeguarding endeavours and intervene where there is a concern.
Although every person that works with children has a duty to safeguard them, for the purpose of this article I would like to concentrate on three particular roles:
· Those with specific safeguarding responsibility (i.e. safeguarding/child protection leads)
· Teachers (including classroom assistants)
· The technical team (whether in-house or outsourced).
The reason is that from a day-to-day basis these are the persons that need to be working very closely together using all the possible tools available to them – including the technical tools.
For a long time I have been speaking about the importance of monitoring the internet activities of both staff and students. Years ago, this was carried out predominantly via generated reports from internet filters. When I was the service manager for 360 schools, I would audit the logs every now and again, and every so often I would pick up on concerning activities, sometimes where child protection intervention was needed and (in the case of staff), where HR intervention was needed.
Monitoring internet activity is one thing, but monitoring what else happens on the school network and individual devices is another thing entirely. Again, going back a few years when I was at the local authority and we started to adopt monitoring solutions, this is where we started to find out some of the more concerning ‘hidden’ activity.
Moving forward, the latest Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance was released in September 2016 where the Department for Education reiterated the importance of filtering, but also mentioned the fact that schools should give due consideration to and carry out a risk assessment for monitoring.
Although primarily in response to Prevent, I think this has been long overdue given that technical tools from companies such as NetSupport can provide so much useful information – anything from physically monitoring screens remotely to ensure students are on task, to picking up concerning activities through words/phrases used in order to add to the overall safeguarding picture.
In the past, I have visited schools where tools such as this are left solely in the hands of the technical team and there has been little or no collaboration with teachers and safeguarding leads. Equally, I’ve been to schools where this has worked very well because there has been a significant, joined-up approach to safeguarding. The latter is so important: network managers and IT technicians are already busy with technical aspects in the school and will not always have a good understanding of safeguarding issues, but their technical skills and deep knowledge of the school network allow them to provide advice and guidance on tools that are fit for purpose, given the devices used in the school and the means to use those tools to their full potential.
Teachers and classroom assistants are such a valuable source of insight and understanding when it comes to safeguarding; they’re on the frontline when it comes to students. They spend so much time with the students they can pick up on when things change, for example:
· If a student becomes more introvert/extrovert.
· Has a sudden disinterest in school or friends.
· A change in appearance.
There are many more, but behaviour changes can be quite subtle, and on their own aren’t necessarily a safeguarding concern, but they are an indicator that something could be wrong.
Any member of staff can overhear a conversation, which is one of the reasons why safeguarding and online safety training should be given to every member of staff – teacher or not. But teachers, in particular, will overhear conversations, pick up on things that are being discussed between students, and some students will confide in their teacher for support and guidance, including concerns about other students. On the flip side, we also know that some students may wish to confide with a teacher but are not comfortable doing it face to face. Again, this is where technical tools can come to their aid, such as the “report a concern” tool within NetSupport DNA, where a student can discreetly “report a concern” to a named member of staff about something which is concerning them.
Sitting alongside education, safeguarding is the key focus; the importance of the safeguarding/child protection lead cannot be underestimated, as this person or team pins everything together.
From an all-staff perspective, we commonly discuss issues such as child sexual exploitation or abuse, online bullying, sexualisation of children and young people (e.g. sexting, or to use better terminology, youth-produced sexual images) and preventing radicalisation, but any DSL will be the first to tell you that those four areas are merely a drop in the ocean. They will be dealing with the real, sometimes very complex, issues that are happening and will have a wealth of information about what is happening in school, regionally and nationally.
Much of what a DSL has to deal with is a jigsaw puzzle, to begin with; different bits of information and sometimes hearsay to paint a factual picture. Information from teaching staff can be a vital source of information, for example, those behaviour changes mentioned above.
We know that much of a young person’s real life is reflected online and there’s a possibility that tools such as NetSupport DNA may have picked this up. It may not have been obvious at the time (something very low level) but, as part of the overall picture, it could be significant, e.g. searching on certain information or attempting to view particular websites that may or may not have been blocked by the filter.
All of this goes to show why a joined-up, collaborative approach is so important. When it comes to safeguarding, we know that the safeguarding lead must be at the centre with information feeding in from many other sources. Teachers and techs are pivotal in this to provide the tools, the means and the information to carry out that duty.
By Alan Mackenzie @esafetyadviser www.esafety-advisor.com