New school safeguarding guidance emphasises online safety duties

Move follows suicide of pupil Frankie Thomas who accessed harmful material on school iPad

Move follows suicide of pupil Frankie Thomas who accessed harmful material on school iPad

7 Jun 2023, 15:56

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New schools' safeguarding guidance includes additional advice on filtering and monitoring harmful online content

The DfE has emphasised all school staff must undergo training on the filtering and monitoring of online devices after a coroner questioned the department’s current safeguarding guidelines.

The beefed-up advice forms part of updated keeping children safe in education guidance, published yesterday but which comes into force on September 1.

In December, online safety campaigner Judy Thomas wrote in a Schools Week article that the current safeguarding guidance was “insufficient”.

Thomas’s daughter, Frankie, took her own life in September 2018. On the same day, she had accessed material about violent rape, self-harm and stories that ended in suicide while unsupervised on a school iPad.

An assistant coroner in the case questioned why DfE’s guidance did not advise the use of screen readers such as NetSupport DNA.

Thomas also argued that schools’ systems should regularly produce alerts flagging attempts to access blocked sites, with these then “acted on and records kept”.

In the updated guidance, governing bodies and proprietors should ensure all staff undergo safeguarding and child protection training has been updated.

It now also specifies “which, amongst other things, includes an understanding of the expectations, applicable roles and responsibilities in relation to filtering and monitoring”.

Block harmful content without impacting teaching

Appropriate filtering and monitoring on school devices and networks should be reflected in the school’s child protection policy, guidance states.

The document also sets out advice from the DfE’s filtering and monitoring standards, including that schools should:

  • Identify and assign roles and responsibilities to manage filtering and monitoring systems
  • Review filtering and monitoring provision at least annually
  • Block harmful and inappropriate content without unreasonably impacting teaching and learning
  • Have effective monitoring strategies in place that meet their safeguarding needs

Meanwhile, governing bodies and proprietors should review the standards and discuss with IT staff and service providers what more needs to be done to support schools in meeting them.

The Department for Education (DfE) published new guidelines for schools on meeting the standard for filtering and monitoring systems in March.

It states governing bodies and proprietors should assign a member of the senior leadership team and a governor to be responsible for ensuring the standards are met.

Senior leadership teams are responsible for procuring filtering and monitoring systems, documenting decisions on what is blocked or allowed and why, reviewing the effectiveness of their provision and overseeing reports.

Designated safeguarding leads should take lead responsibility for filtering and monitoring reports, safeguarding concerns and checks to systems.

IT service providers should have technical responsibility for maintaining systems, providing reports and completing actions following concerns or checks to systems.

But while the guidance is new, the DfE points out that schools should already be meeting the standard.

Tell jobseekers about online searches

Other updates to the safeguarding guidance include that schools should tell shortlisted candidates for jobs that “online searches may be done as part of due diligence checks”.

Schools are also told they do not have to keep copies of DBS certificates in order to fulfil the duty of maintaining the single central record.

Meanwhile, schools handling allegations made against an outside organisation or individual using school premises should “follow safeguarding policies and procedures” including informing the local authority designated officer. 

Earlier this year, Schools Week reported the DfE was being urged to clarify how schools should check the online behaviour of prospective staff after some asked teaching applicants for all their social media usernames.

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