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Online Safeguarding: What You Can Do to Keep Pupils Safe

With schools all over the UK closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, safeguarding remains as crucial as ever, especially while the usual child protection systems are under increased pressure.

Both the internet and online technology provide new opportunities for young people’s learning and growth, but it can also expose them to new types of risks. Online safeguarding (e-safety) is crucial during these unprecedented times to keep pupils safe. Here’s what you can do.

Revisit Existing Policies and Practices

The starting point for schools and other institutions should be to revisit ongoing policies, structures and practices. You should also reference the latest Department for Education (DfE) guidance on safeguarding during the COVID-19 emergency, which you can find here. There are some other vital steps you should also take to ensure pupils are safe, including:

  • Make sure teachers have the knowledge and resources to teach students about e-safety.
  • Provide accessible advice to pupils on using social media and live streaming, utilising newsletters and school websites.
  • Support and include parents and carers by sharing helpful advice and resources with them.
  • Continually review and update your e-safety measures on an ongoing basis.

E-safety should form a fundamental part of schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding, with a dual responsibility to ensure your online procedures keep children and young people safe, in and outside of school.

Communicate Online Safety Benefits and Risks

Children and young people are spending more time online due to social distancing and preventive measures. When it comes to safety, the risks which are present in a physical setting are equally existent in a virtual setting.

That said, there are added, unique risks associated with a virtual environment. These include (but aren't limited to) online grooming, online radicalisation, harmful content, cyberbullying and peer-on-peer abuse.

Talking regularly about the advantages and risks of the online world is essential. Equally as important is giving students the space to ask questions and talk about anything that worries them. Your institution should cultivate an open environment in which children and young people are supported to ask any questions and participate in an ongoing conversation about the online world.

Educating students through your own knowledge and presenting them with an engaging format is an excellent way to encourage sensible behaviour towards the internet. The NSPCC has a plethora of teaching resources readily available to help you educate, inform and start important conversations about online safeguarding.

Involve Parents and Guardians

A staggering 80% of parents believe teachers are responsible for educating children about the risks of online safety. However, although online safeguarding is part of Ofsted’s inspection requirements, it’s not exclusively the educator’s job to ensure pupils know the ins and outs of e-safety.

Getting parents and guardians actively involved is essential when approaching the issue of safeguarding. Organising sessions between parents and teachers to share the risks and signs of when a pupil may be in danger is a great starting foundation. This makes it easier to have conversations privately with parents or carers about any worrying content a pupil may have accessed during school time, as well as any other safeguarding concerns.

Institutions should also reiterate the importance of a safe online environment, encouraging parents and carers to set age-appropriate parental controls on devices and take advantage of internet filters to block inappropriate websites. These are usually free, but often need to be switched on.

Use these resources provided by GOV UK and share them to support parents, guardians and carers to keep their children safe online:

  • Thinkuknow offers online safety advice, with part of the episode featuring an National Crime Agency (NCA) representative.
  • Parent info is a collaboration between Parentzone and the NCA, providing support and guidance for parents from leading experts and organisations.
  • Childnet offers a toolkit to support parents and carers of children of any age to start discussions about their online life. It assists to boundaries around online behaviour and technology use, providing ongoing support.
  • Internet matters features age-specific online safety checklists and guides on how to set parental controls on a range of devices. They host several practical tips to help children get the most out of their digital world.
  • Let’s Talk About It offers advice for parents and carers to keep children safe from online radicalisation.
  • UK Safer Internet Centre includes resources to help keep children safe online, including parental controls offered by home internet providers and safety tools on social networks and other online services.

Remote Teaching Best Practices

The DfE doesn't expect teachers to live stream or pre-record lessons. Although many are successfully taking their learning online, schools should consider the approaches that best suit the needs of their pupils and staff at all times.

Keeping teachers safe when providing remote education is also an important consideration. Remote education is a new experience for the majority, so it’s key for schools to understand how they approach safeguarding procedures online.

Taken directly from Ofsted’s briefing inspection, which lists the key features of good and outstanding practices, it states several points education providers should consider in regards to teaching e-safety:

  • Content should be flexible, relevant and engages pupil interest.
  • Students are taught how to stay safe online.
  • Guide pupils on how to protect themselves from harm.
  • Encourage students to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety.
  • All teaching and non-teaching staff should receive regular, up to date training.

If you do plan to record or live stream lessons on an online platform, you need to thoroughly assess any risks and take appropriate actions to mitigate them and minimise harm.

To create a safe environment for children and young people when watching or engaging in a live stream, there are several things you should consider. Before starting any live stream, remind children to:

  • Not share any private information.
  • Decline or don’t respond to contact requests from people they don’t know.
  • Who they should contact if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate.

Always make sure the platform you use is suitable for the children’s age group and set up school accounts for any online platforms you use. When hosting a live stream, you should:

  • Consider inviting your audience to register to watch the stream and issue a login and password.
  • Familiarise yourself with the privacy settings and know how to report any offensive or abusive content. This will also need to be communicated to pupils.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of individual students to make sure it’s accessible for all. This includes children who may be sensitive to certain topics or issues that may arise during the live stream.
  • Staff should supervise and be on hand to handle any sudden changes or developments that may occur during the live stream.

Education providers should continue to follow the guidance outlined in the data protection: toolkit for schools when managing personal data. Additionally, schools may wish to use these resources provided by GOV UK to better understand and ensure remote education is safe:

Data protection safeguarding is an essential topic for teachers and students to cover when it comes to online safety. The implications surrounding data protection need to be explored and teachers must take the time to teach their pupils the best practices for data protection so they can protect themselves now and in the foreseeable.

Effective safeguarding requires an institution-wide approach and with the uncertain impact of COVID-19, educators must come together. With circumstances evolving daily, keeping informed by government updates is critical. In our most recent guide, you’ll find a concentrated look at the state of education in the UK, before, during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

Will teaching and education ever be the same? Our latest guide ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Education’ covers the timeline of changes to the UK education system. It also features the impact of the pandemic and what’s currently being implemented to mitigate the damage. Additionally, we've covered what the future of education may look like.

To get your own copy, click the button below.