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Schools, safeguarding and the digital age

By Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone and executive board member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety


Imagine a school without ICT suites, classrooms without whiteboards. Children who have never used a mobile phone – and the only tablets in the school are in the nurse’s office.

Crazy, eh? Or perhaps the education equivalent of Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars.

Now, think about safeguarding training.

Made a statutory requirement in schools in 2009, safeguarding training has been slow to respond to the additional, complex challenges of the digital age.

Decisions about safeguarding concerns that seem clear when issues occur offline can be more difficult in a digital world.

‘With safeguarding, context is all’

Would a child playing an age-inappropriate violent video game be a safeguarding flag? Is an 8-year-old girl posting ‘duck face’ pictures on Instagram something that needs reporting? Does the new Prevent duty mean you cannot encourage open debate? What is ‘adequate monitoring’? What happens if you find child sexual abuse images on a child’s device? Should you even be looking?

None of these questions have binary answers. As with so much safeguarding, context is all.

The ‘duck face’ might be a simple case of a child copying a celebrity and a parent not realising that the minimum age rating for Instagram is 13. But it might be the clue that, added together with other risk-taking behaviours, suggests a child is at risk of harm.

To recognise and respond to digital safeguarding issues it is essential to understand both the offline context and the online. How can professionals possibly educate children about the risks of using the dark web if they don’t know what it is or what’s there?

‘Are you criminalising a young person if you report an incident of sexting, or protecting them?’

Is your ‘adequate monitoring’ actually encouraging teenagers to develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of proxy servers? Are you failing in your safeguarding duties if your pupils are accessing age-inappropriate social networks on your premises? Are you criminalising a young person if you report an incident of sexting, or protecting them?

According to Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, of the National Police Chiefs Council, ‘These (sexting) incidences do not need to be reported in every situation. Parents and professionals can use their own judgement on when to involve the police.’ But many teachers are understandably confused.

Building the knowledge required to make those judgements cannot be left to luck or osmosis. As publishers of Parent Info we know only too well the breadth of information teachers need to stay ahead of the risks that young people have to navigate.

That’s why, over the course of the last year, Parent Zone has developed the first Digital Safeguarding training.

We feel it’s the final piece in the jigsaw, alongside our acclaimed online safety training and Digital Schools membership scheme, to help teachers protect their pupils, while helping them make the most of the digital age.

Join our experts in safeguarding and the digital world. It’s a course we believe every school should have at least one member of staff trained in. Otherwise, you risk being the school delivering analogue safeguarding in a digital age.

Essential Safeguarding

Available to Parent Zone Digital Schools members only, this course is designed for all teachers, delivering up to date information on a range of safeguarding topics including understanding the new sexting law and guidance, and the Prevent duty.

To access this course, become a Parent Zone Digital Schools member.


Image: ArtsyBee CC0 Public domain