Why Ofsted may not ‘like’ what they see in schools’ social media policy
Catherine Dawson, group marketing director at Maxxia, discusses why schools who aren't proactive around regulating social media could put both their pupils and staff at risk
In the world of social media, it can sometimes feel like school administrations are fighting a losing battle. Much like Hercules fighting the Hydra, it seems each time a head is chopped off, several more grow back. While the teachers of 10 years ago may have been worrying about Bebo and Facebook, they are now faced with a multitude of platforms, as well as dating sites, which both children and staff will likely be using. And this isn’t just a problem for the older students. Ofcom estimates that around 50% of 11–12-year-olds have access to their own social media accounts.
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Despite this, school guidelines often remain sparse or outdated. In fact, recent research Maxxia conducted on school social media policies found the average time between policy reviews is 3.1 years. Given that a new social media platform emerges on a seemingly daily basis, with the focus shifting to video content on platforms like TikTok and House Party, simply creating a policy and leaving it to run unchanged for three years clearly won’t cut the mustard.
The user demographic of platforms also needs to be taken into account. According to Maxxia’s research, more social policies mentioned LinkedIn than Snapchat, even though the latter platform is renowned as a go-to destination for younger users. Furthermore, Facebook was frequently named as the primary platform, despite an average user age of 23–37. It seems there is a disconnect between schools’ understanding of social media use and reality.
Recent research Maxxia conducted on school social media policies found the average time between policy reviews is 3.1 years.
For staff, the concerns don’t stop there. As social media has grown in popularity, we have seen an increasing number of cases of education professionals being ‘Facebook Fired’. It’s essential that schools have a clear social media policy in place not only to protect their children, but also their staff. If not, they could risk issues when the inspector comes to call; Ofsted requires inspectors to verify that “staff, leaders and managers oversee the safe use of electronic and social media by staff”. This means that schools who don’t oversee sensible social media use of their employees could face some difficult questions come inspection time.
This doesn’t mean to say the situation is hopeless. For teachers and school administrators worried about the implications of a sparse social media policy, there are some steps that can be taken.
Stay up to date
Firstly, stay on top of new developments by actively researching social media trends. Conduct regular internet searches, talk to staff and students and keep up to date with technology news. It’s important to keep in mind the age of your students when doing this. Schools with Sixth Form students will also need to include dating apps within their remit.
Alongside this research, make sure you review and update your policy at least every 12 months. Once a date for policy review has been set, stick to this and make the necessary amends. In doing so, you’ll help to mitigate risks associated with staff not understanding the current social media landscape and implications of their own social media use.
It’s essential that schools have a clear social media policy in place not only to protect their children, but also their staff.
Don’t bury your head in the sand
Don’t assume that someone else is handling it. Take responsibility for the social media policy in your school – no matter your position. If you feel that the policy isn’t enough to protect you, speak up. And if you need support, consider pulling together a board of volunteers, made up of teachers and school leaders to look after the social media policy for the school.
Use common sense
It’s also crucial to apply common sense to your social media use. Even if not stated in your school’s social media policy, turn off location settings and geo-targeting for any apps while in or around school property.
On top of this, you should make sure you’re using the highest possible privacy settings. If you don’t want industrious pupils poking around your online profile, then consider removing your surname from any social media platforms.
Finally, set parameters for what should and shouldn’t be posted online, outlining points for both teachers and parents to consider. Assigning equal importance to the behaviour of both parents and teachers online should help you to work together.
At the end of the day, keeping up with the ever-changing world of social media will always be a Herculean task for school administrations. However, if you put some robust and sensible processes in place it gives you the best possible chance of safeguarding your schools, your pupils and your staff.
More infotrmation about Ofsted’s social media inspections is available at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted/about/social-media-use