Keeping children safe online – a new responsibility

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Keeping children safe online

In this guest blog post Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone, writes about the new guidance on digital safeguarding that has come into effect this term, and explores what schools should be doing to ensure children are kept safe online.

Digital Safeguarding is a term that is likely to become very familiar over the next 12 months. With new guidance having come into effect at the start of this school year, schools need to be gearing up to ensure they are meeting their statutory obligations.

It’s a challenging ask. The digital world has made an already difficult task even more complex. School walls have become permeable – issues that start at home come into schools in ways that previous generations of teachers couldn’t have imagined. Safeguarding concerns may not be caused by the internet, but they are routinely amplified by it. So what are your duties and how can you respond?

Ofsted says that schools should ensure they: ‘understand the risks posed by adults or learners who use technology, including the internet, to bully, groom, radicalise or abuse children or learners.’ That’s a very broad range of things to worry about. The risks posed by adults or learners are vast and often not very visible.

In Keeping Children Safe in Education, the new statutory guidance from the Department for Education, online safety has been given its own sub-heading, highlighting its importance. The guidance states that ‘an effective approach to online safety enables a school to protect and educate the whole school community and ensures there are mechanisms in place to identify, intervene and escalate any incident where appropriate.’

So what should your school be doing and where can you access support?

As with all safeguarding practice, understanding is key. Training staff to know their responsibilities and how to respond has to come first. Understanding online risk and harm is in many ways more difficult than recognising and responding to traditional safeguarding issues. Our Essential Digital Safeguarding online training session is a good place to start and is part of a Parent Zone Digital Schools membership, providing ongoing support to ensure that newly trained staff have the resources needed to fulfil their duties.

Having the right policies in place is equally important, but having policies that meet your Ofsted requirements is no guarantee that your school is doing the most it can to ensure that children are safe online. Embedding a whole school approach to digital safeguarding is essential. Young people, parents and the whole staff team need to be part of a shared endeavour. Working with parents is often the most challenging task of all. That’s why we encourage schools to think creatively about getting parents involved. Focusing exclusively on risk and harm is unlikely to engage parents. Creating opportunities for parents to see safe, responsible use of technology whilst embedding positive safety messages is far more productive. Giving parents the information they need to respond to all of the issues they face needn’t be the challenge it might at first seem.

Parent Info is a free service delivered by us in partnership with the CEOP command of the National Crime Agency. It can be embedded in school websites to deliver information for parents that is updated by our expert content team on a weekly basis. Schools that are using online learning platforms can use them to help parents have conversations with their children about technology. Showing Mum or Dad your homework when it is online is a great opportunity for parents to share a digital experience.

Finally, it’s important to remember that building resilience in young people is the most effective way to help them benefit from online opportunities whilst minimising risk. Our research with the Oxford Internet Institute* highlighted the crucial role that children’s own online skills has, together with the parenting they receive at home.

So as you plan your response to your new digital safeguarding responsibilities, remember to think prevention as well. Creating an environment that embraces technology whilst educating young people and their families about risks and harms is just as important as knowing how and when to respond when harm happens.


* A Shared Responsibility , Building Children’s Online Resilience 2014

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