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Web Filtering – The Road to Standardisation Across Multi-Academy Trusts

4 minute read
By Smoothwall

Multi-Academy Trusts who take existing schools and bring them under their collective organisation face several technological challenges: 

  • Implementing the Trust’s standard technology practice in schools who already have their own established infrastructure, policies, knowledge and expectations
  • Dealing with existing school technology that may conflict with the Trust’s own standards
  • Designing and implementing policies and systems across schools that may be spread over different geographies and demographics
  • Making a significant organisational and technological change as simple and pain-free as possible.

When Multi-Academy Trusts design, implement and refine their web filtering policies, there are clear benefits to having a standard Trust-wide policy: easy to troubleshoot, lower maintenance cost and consistent results in each academy. Whether academies have a cloud web filter, a central web filter in the trust premises, or individual filters in each academy, the need for standardisation remains the same. 

Shared policy

A web filter should have the ability to manage a shared policy across all Academies, distributed from a central location.  This ensures that all sites have the same base policy set – which may contain rules such as the key categories of content that are unacceptable for all users, then different rules for staff and students based on year group, subject and safeguarding risk. 

As well as distributing category rules, this should also apply to custom defined categories, such as URL/domain allow/block lists maintained by the trust –, this ensures that, for example, any rules required to bypass filtering for certain applications are applied trust-wide.

Directory and group management

Trusts will often have the aspiration of managing a central directory service for all users – with Microsoft Active Directory, Google GSuite or similar. However, merging an existing school directory into the central trust directory can be a significant undertaking.

To allow for this, the web filter should integrate with both the central trust directory and any individual academy directories. Once integrated, a mapping could be created in the filter that associates the group “Students” with both the student groups from the central directory and the individual academy directories. It would then be possible to create policies based on group membership trust-wide – for example, to block access to online games for all students during the school day. This consistency and standardisation across the trust is essential to having a scalable operating model. 

Object-based management

Even with centralised policies, there may be subtle differences between academies that some filters may find difficult to manage. A web filter that uses object-based management with a flexible policy methodology can help simplify this.

In the above example of blocking certain categories during the school day, this can be complicated by different sites having different school hours. If the filter has object management this can use the same ‘blocking’ object (list of categories/domains) but different time objects for each academy, so that only the blocking object needs to be updated to change the categories for all schools. 

Local control

Individual academies will have previously had the ability to manage their own filtering prior to joining the trust and will expect to still have some level of control. The two key areas are filtering rule management and reporting. 

The filter should allow them to make changes to certain parts of the filtering – like being able to allow or block individual sites – without being able to override core Trust rules such as denying access to adult and illegal content. 

To ease the burden on the central MAT team, the filter reporting system should also allow authorised Academy staff to run their own reports – limited to just the data only from their own academy. 

Want to learn more?

Speak to one of our experts, if you have a question or would like to learn how Smoothwall can help you standardise your web filtering policies. We’d be delighted to help.

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