Online Safety in Schools

 As more and more aspects of our lives move online, it has become increasingly important for schools to consider online measures to keep pupils safe. With the prevalence of cyberbullying, online predators, and harmful content, schools should take active steps to help protect their students. This article outlines some safety precautions that schools can implement to help ensure their pupils’ safety online.

Develop an Online Safety Policy:

The first step to ensuring online safety is to create a comprehensive online safety policy that outlines the expectations and guidelines for both staff and pupils. The policy should address issues such as cyberbullying, appropriate internet use and guidelines for sharing personal information online. The school policy should make clear to staff the 7 golden rules for the sharing of information, that it is: necessary, proportionate, relevant, adequate, accurate, timely and secure.

Schools should involve students in the creation of the policy to ensure they understand the expectations.

Secure Networks:

Schools should ensure that their networks are secure and that all devices are equipped with up-to-date anti-virus software. This will help to prevent hacking attempts, cyber-attacks, and malware from infiltrating the system. Access to sensitive data and personal information should also be restricted and only given to authorised personnel. Schools should also consider a BYOD (bring you own device) policy. The school should consider very carefully whether to allow staff to access the school network or data on their personal device such as a smartphone. If staff are required to work form home it is recommended that it be done using a locked-down school device, not the teacher’s personal laptop.

Monitor Internet Use:

Schools should have an Appropriate Internet Use policy which provides clear and specific instructions for both pupils and staff on how to behave appropriately online. It may include a ban on accessing any form of social media via the school network or on any device, such as school laptop which may be used at home. Schools are obliged to ensure appropriate filters and appropriate monitoring systems are in place and they should be doing what they reasonably can to limit pupil’s exposure to the above risks on the school’s IT system. There are several commercial solutions specifically for this purpose available to schools. Regular checks should be carried out to ensure that the school’s filtering system is working effectively.

Such monitoring can help to prevent access to inappropriate content and help ensure that students are not engaging in cyberbullying or being exposed to harmful, extremist or inappropriate content online. However, schools should be careful not to have ‘blanket blocking’ which may place unreasonable restrictions on online teaching resources. Ofsted (2010) suggests that pupils in the schools that had ‘managed’ systems had better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe than those in schools with ‘locked down’ systems. Pupils were more vulnerable overall when schools used locked down systems because they were not given enough opportunities to learn how to assess and manage risk for themselves.

Promote Digital Citizenship:

Schools might consider teaching digital citizenship skills to their students. This involves educating students on responsible internet use, including how to protect their personal information, how to identify fake news, and how to engage in respectful online communication. By teaching digital citizenship, schools can help to create a culture of online responsibility and safety.

Raise Awareness of Online Risks:

The school Online Safety Policy should help students and parents become aware of the risks associated with online activity. The policy should include guidance on how to recognise and report cyberbullying, online grooming, and other online safety concerns such as what to do if pupils are asked to share nude images of themselves and who to report it to.

Provide Support for Victims of Cyberbullying:

Cyberbullying is any form of bullying that is carried out through the use of electronic media devices, such as computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, or gaming consoles. A whole-school approach is the first step toward preventing  all forms of bullying, including cyberbullying. All members of  the school community should be aware of what cyberbullying is, the impact that it can have, and what the school is doing to tackle it. Cyberbullying, like any form of bullying, can have serious consequences for victims, including anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Schools should include cyberbullying as part of their whole-school anti-bullying policy and have support mechanisms in place to help students who have been affected by bullying.

In conclusion, online safety is an important consideration for schools. By implementing suitable precautions, schools can create a safe and responsible online environment for their students. By emphasising online safety, schools can help to protect their students from harm and ensure that they are equipped with the digital citizenship skills necessary to navigate the online world safely.