DfE sets up 'online safety working group' to advise schools

Schools will get guidance and support on how to keep their pupils safe online from a new online safety working group established by the Department for Education.

The proposal is one of the outcomes of a consultation launched by the government at the end of last year to update its ‘Keeping children safe in education’ guidance (KCSIE)

In its response to the consultation, published today, the department announced that it would be recruiting organisations to join a new online safety working group. The body will not only help schools ensure pupils’ online safety, but will also help them educate parents and carers.

“We will consider in more detail how we can provide schools and colleges further advice, which continues to allow them the flexibility to take into account their local contexts, in this rapidly evolving area,” the response said.

“To progress the above we intend to establish an online safety working group. We will contact organisations who made a significant contribution on this question to discuss if they would like to be part of the group.”

The consultation response also pointed out that the government intends to review its new guidance on sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools in 12 to 18 months’ time “to test its effectiveness”.

The guidance was first published by the DfE on December 14 last year and provides advice for governing bodies, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads on matters like consent and the legal duties that apply to schools.

Schools Week reported at the time that this guidance also focused on the important of online safety, urging staff to be prepared to help pupils deal with incidents of “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” online, as well as in school.

Other changes to the KCSIE guidance announced today included the addition of a new section advising school staff how to manage reports of child-on-child sexual violence and harassment.

The DfE also added new information about children with family member in prison, homelessness, domestic abuse and child criminal exploitation.

The consultation on KCSIE ran from December 2017 until February this year and received 311 responses from school staff, local authorities, parents and trade unions.

Nadhim Zahawi (pictured), the children’s minister, said the government was “committed to keeping children safe”.

“All children, from whatever background and no matter what challenges they face, deserve a safe environment in which they can learn,” he said.

Anna Cole, parliamentary and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Nothing is more important to schools than the safety and wellbeing of their pupils, and we welcome the new guidance on preventing and dealing with sexual harassment and sexual violence between young people.

“The guidance provides practical and helpful advice to support schools in dealing with matters which are complex and sensitive by their nature.”

The revised guidance will come into force on September 3, and schools and colleges must continue to follow the existing KCSIE 2016 guidance until then.