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How to Use Digital Monitoring to Support Vulnerable Students Returning to School

6 minute read
By Smoothwall

5 Essentials For Proactive Digital Monitoring Every DSL Needs to Know

If your school, college or MAT is yet to take its first exploratory steps into digital monitoring now may be the time.

Students coming back to school may have been impacted by isolation in any number of ways. These may include anxiety, paranoia, lack of confidence, inability to focus in class, the list goes on. And while many of these mental states and emotions will be evident to the eyes and ears of teachers, there will be a quotient of students who may be suffering in silence.

Not every at-risk student will be happy to confide in an adult, or even in their peers. But yet the earlier that concern is recognised, the earlier the support invention, and the better the outcome for all involved. It’s a challenge many DSLs face and it boils down to spotting risks that are largely invisible.

And this is where proactive digital monitoring can help.

Here are a few starting points on getting to grips with proactive digital monitoring.

1. What is proactive digital monitoring?

2. How does proactive digital monitoring help your students?

3. How does it help your school?

4. Is it worth the investment? Shouldn’t web filtering be enough?

5. Do you have enough students at-risk to warrant it?

1. What is proactive digital monitoring?

Proactive Digital Monitoring sits on a school computer, laptop or tablet and takes a silent screen capture whenever the user types in words or phrases that may indicate a risk. A risk word or phrase usually falls into 1 of 18 categories, (drugs, gang membership, extremism, self-harm, suicide, cyberbullying, sexual grooming and others.) The captured words and context are assessed by the software to determine whether they are genuine or a false positive (such as research for a school project).

If genuine and considered serious, the capture is passed to a team of human moderators who assess it to determine whether there is a risk to the student’s health or even life. The school is then notified so that further investigation can take place and any support the student needs is provided.

If there is a suspected risk to life, the school will be contacted by phone 24/7. Lower level risks remain in the Monitor Dashboard so that the school’s DSL can spot any emerging trends and/or compare with other known risk factors contained on the student record. (Smoothwall Monitor can integrate with your CPOMS, MyConcern or our own Smoothwall Record Manager to give a more holistic view of a child’s wellbeing.)

2. How does proactive digital monitoring help your students?

Students will often confide in a friend before they confide in an adult. And that might be online in a forum or chat room or social platform. Sometimes they will express their thoughts and feelings to themselves in a document that may be quickly deleted. As an example, Smoothwall’s own research showed that only 5% of students would confide in a teacher if they were being cyberbullied. Yet 95% of teachers said they relied on students to tell them if they were affected. That’s an alarming disconnect and shows students’ reticence to ask for help.

Digital Monitoring works alongside the eyes and ears of a teacher to help make the invisible visible. Here’s just a tiny snapshot of findings from Smoothwall Monitor during 2019.

Graphic with information about Smoothwall

As schools re-emerge post lockdown, the ability to spot vulnerable students who may feel unable to ask for help is vital. Added to this is the known rise (reported by the National Crime Agency) in online predatory behaviour actively targeting young people made vulnerable by the pandemic. Both factors suggest monitoring should now be high on any school’s agenda.

3. How does proactive digital monitoring help your school?

Monitoring technology not only helps individual students, it can also help educate your entire school community. A Multi-Academy Trust in the north east uses their monitoring technology to spot trends that can be addressed en masse in school assemblies as well in the classroom. For example, if several captures are made of profanity or a harmful online game, or if several students have expressed a fear about a particular situation, (fear around Brexit was a common theme during 2019, particularly amongst younger children), the schools across the Trust will discuss and address them openly in assemblies. They may arrange a special assembly if appropriate, as well as create lessons around the topic to help understanding or 1:1 sessions if needed.

Addressing early stage concerns like this provides a more supportive and positive school experience and therefore promotes better learning.

In 2019 two academies actually improved their Ofsted score with the Inspector making a special mention about the supportive environment of the school, made possible by their use of monitoring. On top of this their Trust won the Impact Award at BETT in 2020 for their use of monitoring. Smoothwall Monitor was the solution used in all three of these cases.

4. Is it worth the investment in real time monitoring? Isn’t web filtering enough?

Some school’s believe that web filtering is enough and that proactive digital monitoring is either just an extra or a premium product more suited to larger schools with larger budgets. This simply isn’t true.

Web filtering blocks inappropriate content and reports on inappropriate websites that have been blocked. But it can’t review keystrokes, nor can it spot risk words or phrases typed into a website, Word document, social forum, encrypted app or any other digital document. Filtering blocks whereas Monitoring scans and alerts. They are a crucial partnership working hand in hand to protect students and keep your school fully compliant with filtering and monitoring statutory guidelines.

5. Do you have enough students at-risk to warrant it? Can you try before you buy?

The vast majority of schools who use monitoring are shocked by what it uncovers and wonder how they managed without it. But the important thing is to review it for yourself.

Smoothwall makes this process very easy for schools. We can provide a detailed demonstration and information session to make sure everyone involved in the decision have their questions answered and are fully informed. We can provide contracts from as little as one month allowing you to evaluate with no risk. Or if you sign up for longer we can provide the first three months free of charge so you benefit from extra savings too.

In the first instance, the majority of schools enjoy the benefits of an online walk-through. It allows them, along with any other interested colleagues, to hear a Smoothwall Expert explain how it all works and answer their questions.

Walk-throughs are a great informal way to get to know the solution. They are without any obligation and help you to better understand monitoring technology used in schools, either for now or simply for future reference.

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