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Prioritising online safety: A best practice guide for the whole independent school community

5 minute read
By Smoothwall

Rapid tech infiltration

Independent schools are leaders in the provision of technology in education. They look for the best resources possible to highlight to parents they are equipping students for the future. The speed in which online materials have been introduced to the classroom and independent learning has been rapid, with lessons and prep now transformed from books and the library to interactive and online resources. With students immersed in the online world during their leisure time, it has been an important move to keep students engaged and inspired to meet their full academic potential.

Online safety

With the speed of this introduction and with aspects of digital offering being so new, issues of online safety can sometimes be overlooked. Any change to the use of resources and different digital devices should be included in a clear risk assessment to ensure all aspects of safety have been considered. Some examples of the types of safety considerations could include: 

  • Accidental download of harmful content that could infiltrate the school system
  • Harmful communication between pupils in the digital space
  • Doctored photos of students/teachers being shared
  • Exploitation of a student through online messaging
  • Extraction of parent data through a cyber-attack
  • Student being encouraged to self-harm through online content
  • Classes being held up due to lack of bandwidth

Online safety infrastructure

Schools showing best practice will have a comprehensive online safety infrastructure. This will include consideration for all the technical aspects required to protect the school community and systems. Within the infrastructure schools need to include an effective online safety policy (with clear outline of approaches to risk and education of online safety), technical coverage such as filtering, digital monitoring and classroom management, and effective record-keeping of any online concerns that have been raised.

Online safety policy

The school’s online safety policy should be fully comprehensive. Roles and responsibilities of online safety should be clearly outlined. For instance, the school DSL could be responsible for any safeguarding issues related to online safety. The head of technology could be responsible for all system set-up’s and managing the technical aspects of online filtering, with parents responsible for supporting the school’s online safety policiesThe substance within the policy should clearly outline the approach to potential risk factors in online safety and the effective education of staff, students, and parents, so that they understand the risks faced and the channels in which problems can be reported.

The policy should also outline the technical approach to online safety. This would include how the school implements effective proactive monitoring and filtering to keep students safe from harm and how any incidents are recorded and followed up. Most schools will include an ‘Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which clearly outlines the activity that is allowed within the school networks. Many schools will ask students, parents, and sometimes even staff to sign this policy so it is clear from the offset that it has been understood by all parties.

Web filtering and proactive monitoring 

Web filtering and proactive digital monitoring should be part of the school online safety infrastructure to help protect students and keep them safe from any harm. Filtering protects the school community and network from harmful or inappropriate access. Proactive digital monitoring actively scans for any activity that shows the potential risk of an individual. If a concern is detected, the proactive monitoring system will usually record that moment of online behaviour and trigger a risk alert which will be received by the school DSL or other safeguarding leader. 

With more independent learning involved in private school networks during prep and study sessions, it is crucial that the school network is protected both in and out of the classroom. A best practice approach would be to use a proactive monitoring solution that takes clear contextual evidence of why a risk concern has been captured. For instance, a capture may show a screenshot of a particular website being accessed. This helps to record online incidents carefully and can aid school leaders in being able to explain and evidence clearly on what has occurred. Sometimes incidents may need to involve parents or even outside agencies, so being able to give a full picture and context of the incident is essential in order to tackle it effectively.

Classroom management 

For lessons which include students being taught on multiple digital devices, it is best practice to have a classroom manager tool to aid teachers in the effective delivery of their lessons and ensure that students do not become distracted and off task. This option would provide staff with a view of every student’s screen they are teaching at the same time, allowing them to intervene and control an individual’s device should they try to access something which isn’t part of lesson or may be an online safety risk.

Some classroom manager tools also contain functions such as opening a URL for each device in the class all at once, locking all screens when the attention of the whole class is required and setting timescales per activityIn a busy classroom, a tool such as this can significantly help teachers identify those who may be enticed by online distractions or even perhaps at risk, while still teaching and supporting other students. 

Safeguard record keeping 

Record keeping is an important aspect for effective safeguarding in all schools. It is important that any safeguarding issues which appear online are recorded in the same way that offline safeguarding concerns are documented. Some digital record keeping solutions enable schools to keep records all in one place and will automatically include any risk alerts which have been detected online within their system, without having to import them separately. 

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