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Schools IT & Safeguarding: What's new?

Tips to help keep school children safe while online from Hannah Sang, Datcom's Business Growth Adviser 

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 24, 2017 | Technology

Blackboards, projectors and letters home to the parents are fast becoming a distant memory in schools as sophisticated high-end technology has become part of the school furniture.  

Ten years ago, a typical school bag would contain exercise books and pens, but now, pupils are also likely to pack iPads, MacBook Airs and smartphones.   Pupils and staff are now using IT equipment and software as part of their everyday routine for training, teaching and finances.  Students routinely view and deliver information online.

But what impact does increasingly online activity have on schools and their IT safeguarding policies?   Headlines in the news around radicalisation, sexual predation and exploitation have demonstrated the need for better guidance and regulations to help ensure the pupils are safe online.

A recent white paper by cyber security firm SonicWall said that 1 in 4 children has experienced something upsetting on a social networking site, and one in three children has been the victim of cyberbullying.  If pupils are constantly connected, these issues can easily spill into schools and this puts more emphasis on the need for schools to be vigilant.  Schools need to have measures in place to prevent such behaviour occurring and policies to deal with any online problems.

As custodians of care, schools have a responsibility to act on incidents which could prove to be damaging for pupils, no matter how nuanced.   There are many steps a school, or the school’s IT providers, can take to build better protection.  Schools should improve filtering and monitoring to better promote online safety:

  • Ensure filters are age appropriate for the pupils in your school.
  • Use filters to identify users and see who is been looking at what material.
  • Make sure filters can manage relevant languages.
  • Schools can widen filtering beyond web traffic: consider blocking content via mobile and app technologies.
  • Report on filters, giving clear historical information on the websites visited.
  • Physical presence is also key, from supervision in class while pupils use the internet or using a central console during the lesson.
  • Schools can analyse the logfile information from your Internet Service Provider or filtering providers to identify concerning issues.
  • Consider using proactive monitoring technology which use keywords as indicators of risk.

However, too often educators use overzealous means to keep students ‘safe’. This can cause students to use things like proxy websites and other nefarious means to reach the sites they want. This is not necessarily safety.  Overly strict policies could be seen as hostile blocking methods to be circumnavigated. A balance must be struck between granting freedom for education and everyday use and limitations when it comes to inappropriate activity.  Schools should think about sensible, age appropriate policies:

  • Avoid blocking websites in a ‘blanket’ fashion.
  • Try not to introduce unrealistic levels of monitoring.
  • Don’t over-restrict internet usage levels.
  • Consider allowing social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Other considerations are the age of the pupils and how often pupils access the IT system.  Of course, many children now bring their own device, so clear policies on mobile technology in the school are essential,  as is regular staff training on online safety. 

Thankfully, help is at hand, if you have concerns over vulnerabilities in your school’s IT network, then you may want to consider a Cyber Survey or look to achieve Cyber Essentials. Cyber Essentials is a scheme developed by the UK Government to reduce the likelihood of a security breach in businesses and schools. Ensuring your school complies with the criteria, outlined in Cyber Essentials, provides assurance to other schools, parents and other organisations, that you are taking precautions against security threats and keeping the schools sensitive data safe.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of cyber security and child safety to pupil’s wellbeing.  Safeguarding issues can also affect Ofsted reports and the school’s reputation so it’s something that needs to be right and needs to be continually developing.

Make sure your school achieves full marks when it comes to safeguarding your pupils.

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