Schools play a vital role in safeguarding children, but it’s impossible to provide effective safeguarding if staff lack awareness of what the risks are, or how to respond appropriately.
In most cases, the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) is responsible for ensuring that staff have the skills needed to meet safeguarding requirements. This means ensuring staff understand online risks, can identify and assess incidents, and also deal with online safeguarding reports.
It’s a growing issue, with the NSPCC reporting that online abuse crimes have surged by 78% over the last four years. Meanwhile, schools are reporting more online safety incidents, and at an earlier age. According to one recent study, 95% of schools in Scotland and 85% of schools in England had reported an incident of peer-on-peer abuse online, with 23% of incidents resulting in legal proceedings or police involvement.
When an online safeguarding incident happens, schools need effective procedures that staff know how to follow. Too often, staff aren’t aware of the role technology can play in harming victims, and policies don’t provide enough detail to support the DSL in responding to those incidents. School staff may not know where to access specialist support when it’s needed.
Dealing with an online safeguarding incident
Policies should explain how incidents should be dealt with, and how information should be recorded to support everyone involved. They should provide clear support to DSLs on how to conduct searching, screening and confiscation of devices, along with guidance on how to conduct risk assessments.
Staff need to complete detailed incident report forms, identifying the risk involved, be it online gaming, hacking, or forwarding racist, sexist, homophobic or other hate material. Capturing this information over time can highlight issues and behaviours that can be addressed through teaching and learning plans.
It’s difficult to know when and how to escalate incidents, and DSLs are often put in the position of deciding the intent of an action and its legality. They need expert support and training to help them decide whether actions such as bullying, harassment or inciting religious or racial hatred are criminal acts.
Staff must receive training in what constitutes ‘harm’ to individuals and whether acts are illegal or non-illegal. For example, if someone reports that teenagers in a consensual relationship have shared nudes or semi-nudes, what would the response be? What should the school consider? Was there any coercion involved? Were images shared more widely? Should the school involve the police?
Challenges of post incident response – not a sledgehammer
Part of safeguarding is knowing how to support victims and avoid victim humiliation during a post-incident response, and in reactive follow-up lessons. Schools must be aware of any trauma triggers and effects on the individuals involved in an online safety incident. This must be considered during any follow-up within the curriculum or direct, targeted support to those involved.
A whole school assembly, for example, may cause continued harm to individuals. Gossip could be targeted towards them, making the situation worse rather than better. Instead, schools should have clear procedures to support those directly involved directly and immediately, leaving some time between an initial incident and educating the wider school community.
Where to go for further support
Entrust runs an online safety training course designed for designated safeguard leads to understand the unique risks associated with online safety. We help DSLs be confident that they have the relevant knowledge and up to date capability needed to keep children safe while they are online at school or college.
The course explores issues, guidance, and responsibilities for online safety in schools to ensure they meet the requirements of the latest “Keeping Children Safe in Education” guidance.
You can view available dates and times here. To book, simply call 0333 300 1900 (option 3).