Changes to statutory guidance on ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ will come into effect in September 2016. Mark Orchison explains what this means for schools.

The new government safeguarding guidance requires schools to put in place an effective and appropriate whole-school approach to online safety. Previous guidance focussed mainly on Prevent, but this updated guidance is all-encompassing, requiring schools to link together technology, people, policy, processes and procedures.

The previous guidance, published in 2015, talked of assessing the risk, “suitable filtering” and ensuring that children are safe. The new language is far more direct, stating “it is essential children are safeguarded from potentially harmful and inappropriate online material” and schools should do “all that they can reasonably can to limit children’s exposure”. It also requires an “effective approach to online safety” and “a clear policy on the use of mobile technology”.

Online safety is categorised into three broad areas, with a requirement to reasonably limit children’s exposure to the following risks:

Content: being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material

Contact: being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users

Conduct: personal online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes harm

The new guidance requires each school to determine its own interpretation

Schools will be required to demonstrate both a general understanding of the risks affecting children and young people, and “a specific understanding of how to identify individual children who may be at risk of radicalisation and what to do to support them.” Schools must also have clear procedures in place for protecting children “at risk of radicalisation”, which may be set out in existing safeguarding policies and do not have to be distinct from their Prevent strategy.

However, while schools are told to ensure that “appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place”, they are also cautioned against “over blocking”, which might lead to “unreasonable restrictions” on what children can be taught.

The new guidance highlights each school as different and requires each school to determine its own interpretation of the content. Throughout the guidance there is specific reference to the need for schools to assess risks and put appropriate measures in place.

In assessing the impact of the guidance, schools need to be asking themselves questions such as:

– What can children access online from school, how do they do this and when do they do it?

– What risks are created through the type and frequency of online access children have at school?

– What is taught with regards to online teaching and safeguarding and how do our systems enable the school to be effective in doing this?

– Who is responsible for managing online access and are they sufficiently qualified in safeguarding to manage the risks to the school?

– What policies, processes and procedures exist to proactively identify children who are at risk of harm through online use?

– What policies are in place to differentiate between groups of users groups?

– What training is required, who requires this training and how do we sustain continued professional development around safeguarding?

the expectation is that the school has a system that identifies and profiles children at risk

 

In conducting the impact of the guidance, schools need to assess whether changes are needed to their technical systems, policies, processes and procedures. Given the requirements of the guidance this may mean schools need to undertake an in-depth assessment in each of these areas.

In short, the expectation is that the school has a system that identifies and profiles children at risk, creating alerts that are then actively assessed and managed. The word ‘system’ is a reference to a mix of technology, policies, processes and procedures. Schools need to undertake an assessment of each of these to understand whether they are fit for purpose and appropriate given the updated guidance.

In advance of September, schools should be reviewing their IT systems in order to assess risk in light of the new regulations and create a safer online environment and network.

Mark Orchison is Managing Director of 9ine Consulting, Independent Technology Specialists in Education. You can read more about the impact of regulations on schools in their blog.