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The Unique Digital Safety Challenges Independent Schools Face and How to Address Them

3 minute read
By Smoothwall

For independent school leaders, the challenge to keep their students safe goes far beyond minimal compliance. They are constantly faced with unique factors that make high standards of online safety vitally important.

These factors include: 

Data risks 

Where high profile students are in attendance, some schools can find themselves at higher risk of hacking due to the value of personal information being held. In this situation data privacy is key and schools should implement effective anti-ransomware and anti-malware functions. 

High expectations 

With fees rising 65% in the last 10 years and with multiple schools in any region to choose from, parents naturally have high expectations. Facilitiesgrades and pastoral care are all important, but increasingly so too is online safety. 

Reputational damage 

There has been a recent increase in the number of incidents in the media relating to online safeguarding in independent schools. Stories have included County Lines, drug dealing within the school, peer on peer abuse, cyber bullying, self-harm and staff/pupil inappropriate relationships. When made public, issues such as these can be particularly damaging to a schools reputation. Afterall, parents expect the very best in return for the fees they pay. 

Bring your own device

Although some day schools issue devices for home use, many students prefer to bring in their own high spec devices. Devices going offsite can pose a risk to the school network if they are not suitably protected. It’s therefore important for schools to communicate with parents about the importance of online safety. 

Peer pressure 

Where students study, and in particular live together, peer pressure can be rife. This can have a large detrimental effect on a child’s wellbeing and in return, on their overall academic achievement. In an environment where high grades are the expectation, independent schools must be able to detect vulnerable students and any early stage situations before the problem escalates. 

Raising the bar in digital safety  

Simply meeting the minimum statutory requirements for safeguarding does not protect an independent school from digital risk in today’s climate. So how can independent schools tackle these issues and raise the bar in digital safety? 

Schools with a child-centred approach to safeguarding will understand that online dangers are not going away and so they must take great care to ensure students and staff are protected at every touchpoint 

To support students, staff and network safety, schools must adopt a multi-layered approach to digital safeguarding and implement an effective online safety infrastructure made up of six harmonising components: 

  • Web Filtering – A statutory requirement to prevent all students and staff from accessing any harmful and inappropriate content.
  • Firewall – To protect the school network from malware and any potential cyber-attacks.
  • Digital Monitoring  Also a statutory requirement to help identify and detect any students at risk of online harm at an early stage, enabling schools to tackle the problem before it escalates. 
  • Digital Record Keeping  An important aspect of record keeping enabling schools to securely access safeguarding reports and provide evidence to Ofsted and the Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) that concerns are recorded in a secure and timely manner.
  • Classroom Management  To support and enable teachers to maintain a dynamic, focussed and productive learning environment. 
  • Education and Training  A crucial component in keeping children safe online tensure staff, students parents and teachers are kept aware of safeguarding best practice and latest updates to legislation. 

These six components make up the ‘Digital Safety Excellence Model’. While it’s likely that some schools are ready for this infrastructure, others may choose to journey towards it over time, or will only ever require certain elements of it.  

However they choose to implement, it’s fundamental for independent schools to understand each of these components if they are to improve their overall online safety provision. 

What next?

If you have any questions about any aspect of online safety in your school, speak to one of our friendly experts today. We'd be delighted to help. 

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