“Welcome to your new safeguarding role…the tech cupboard is over there!” Not what your average DSL – new or experienced – expected to hear on 1 September. But recent changes, especially in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2023, might leave some wondering if they are looking at somebody else’s job description.
Fear not, that’s not actually the case. But the overlap is certainly growing in the safeguarding and technology Venn diagram. So what’s going on; is it good or bad news; and what do we need to be aware of?
Computers are by now ubiquitous in teachers and school leaders’ jobs at all levels. It was also recognised a long time ago that online safety is a key part of safeguarding. Nevertheless, there has remained a divide between the IT department and everyone else when it comes to managing technologies in schools.
That’s why we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on ‘safeguarding-first’ technology strategies over the past few years, accelerated of course by a surge in online learning during Covid. KCSIE has been beefed up accordingly, particularly regarding web filtering and monitoring, and this year’s version really ups the ante.
For the first time, the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) is asked to take lead responsibility for filtering and monitoring – the subject of new DfE standards which are also highlighted in KCSIE. While DSLs may not feel equipped to oversee what is a complex technical product, the vital role of technical teams remains unchanged in configuring systems, managing them from day-to-day and implementing changes required by safeguarding teams.
But closer communication has become a must. Clear roles and responsibilities are a core part of the standards, which also ask for a named governor, clarity on what technical colleagues and third parties need to do, and reminders to all staff that they are the school’s eyes and ears for flagging up gaps or concerns.
Before DSLs get bogged down in the new standards, a few simple questions can help to direct their efforts:
- What is allowed in my school?
- What is blocked in my school? (and then for whom, when and where)
- Why is it like that?
That last question is the most important of all; this rationale must be strategic and driven by safeguarding requirements, closely followed by teaching and learning needs, of course. If senior leaders currently have no answer to these questions, they know where to start, and the detail of the standards, such as reviews and checks, will help them move closer to their desired outcome.
At every step of the process though, the question “are we over-blocking?” must always be at the forefront of every decision. It can be tempting to make everything much stricter just to be on the safe side, but that could easily lead to over-blocking, which can negatively impact teaching and learning.
There is lots more to consider in the standards, from the difference between filtering and monitoring, why regular checks are not the same as reviews, and how technologies like decryption can make decision-making more granular. Not to mention the ‘appropriate filtering and monitoring’ expectations.
No, we are fortunately not entering a new era of DSLs needing a technology degree on top of all the other extra training they do. Indeed, given the significant demands placed on DSLs by an ever-greater list of harms and against a challenging resourcing background, it’s vital that school technology teams continue to play a vital supporting role, which will probably mean further upskilling for them in safeguarding best-practice.
Thankfully, technology will also be key in reducing the burden, whether that’s artificial intelligence sifting masses of data, new functionalities to make it easier to spot abuse and harms, or IT support teams getting the best out of the technology in their schools.
Either way, collaboration between technical and safeguarding teams will probably go to a whole new level over the next couple of years. Leveraging the expertise and dedication on both sides will be a crucial leadership goal.