school is compliant. However, there is one area in particular that schools are still mostly overlooking that could have significant negative consequences to the safeguarding protection of students; student owned mobile phones and how they access the Internet over personal network connections.
On pages 62 and 63 of the updated KCSiE, schools now need to have to have a clear policy on the use of mobile devices including the “careful consideration” of students accessing the internet using their own 3G and 4G mobile phone network enabled devices.
Therefore it is no longer possible or acceptable to just say that there is, “a no mobile phones policy at the school”, or, “we can’t doing anything about student use of mobile phones because its impossible to police them”. The truth is that all young people are “always connected” in this digital world, that some are more adept at not getting caught using their phones than others. It is also important to recognise that the school has a duty of care to do its utmost to safeguard students in this area.
The stark reality is that if our young people are not correctly educated as to the harm that can occur through online interactions with unknown 3rd parties, then the number of young people in placed in danger will continue to rise and shocking headlines become more frequent.
So if we make an assumption that students are going to access the internet using their own 3G or 4G enabled mobile phone then what can be done to help safeguard them online? The first fundamental to educate young people about being “private” online and not “public”. All of the key safeguarding organisations support this view. If a young person only communicates with people whom they know in their real day to day life offline, in their online life, then there is a significant reduction in exposure to potential harm online.
I run technology businesses and as a former teacher, I fully understand the opportunities and dangers presented by modern technology. That's why I have developed School Social Media, a system that helps schools audit and monitor social media on unregulated 3G and 4G networks on their premises.
When we launched our technology we carried out public social media audits at one hundred randomly chosen Independent Schools in the UK. The results were very varied with students having clear cultural differences in their behaviour online at different schools. In some schools there was an abundance of student public social media and in others far less, but unfortunately some students were found to be posting public social media at all schools in the random sample.
What kind of social media content did we find in our random audit? The majority of postings had images attached to them, selfies and group selfies that most people would say are harmless. However, there were many provocative images with young girls striking suggestive poses which could be considered child or teenage pornography. In the majority of these cases the students posting social media could be identified by name, their surroundings and a considerable pattern of life derived; posing safeguarding issues that could be very negative for a school going through Inspection with such public content searchable on the Internet.
All schools will now have in place robust Internet filtering on their local school networks; either cabled or wifi delivered. But, this only serves to drive students to use their unfiltered 3G and 4G enabled devices even more. This is where School Social Media services can be of help. Our technology searches for public social media that has originated physically from a school site from 3G or 4G Internet enabled devices.
We help schools fulfil their statutory safeguarding requirements by providing two services:
identify individuals as they contain information which correlates to their real name, or images which also lend the user to be identified with the school’s local knowledge of its school and staff.
When viewing the digital pdf report on an internet connected device clicking on a username in the report launches a browser window and navigates to the user’s social media site so that their online status can be reviewed.
What does success look like? Not finding any public social media public apart from the intended school marketing materials that are aligned with agreed school social media policies set down.
As a result of the September 2016 KCSiE statutory guidance, schools will need to evidence their polices and practices for managing student 3G and 4G enabled devices to Ofsted or ISI. Our public social media reports provide schools with information upon which to evidence and inform the development of their policies and practices, and to demonstrate their proactive delivery of good practice in this area.
Our reports also give a school an understanding of the historical public social media published and available online currently, and which may be found by Inspectors when the undertake online searches related to the school ahead of their visit. With this knowledge, the school can take actions to tackle any potential problems and then get themselves into a monthly review cycle whereby they can embed the KCSiE guidance in the school’s culture, demonstrate monitoring and hopefully lead to the robust safeguarding of young people online.
What should happen with regards to student public social media postings found? Its all about educating the school community to look after itself online. In our experience tutors having one to one chats with the students that have been identified online works well with the explanation of how staying private is important accompanied with ongoing whole of school education strategies. The ‘word soon gets’ out when a few students have had consultations about their online presence.
In the first instance we carrying out public social media audits without staff knowledge so that a true picture of the local social media is captured. From our experience little social media is found from teaching and support staff, and in both instances the content is usually non offensive and threatening to safeguarding of young people. However, it is desirable that all such social media is private instead of public so that staff don’t inadvertently post images publicly whilst at school that could be detrimental to their and the school’s public profile, or even to have a “no camera” policy at school.
An area of confusion and which schools to have found hard to police until now is when they have known 3rd parties on site such; typically sports clubs. We have seen a number of incidences whereby the 3rd parties create public social media that is against school policy and practice, which if found by ISI would be viewed negatively in that it undermines the school in policing its whole community online. These onsite lettings should have the same policies and practice in place as for core school based activities.
The schools that we work we are both astonished and relieved at what we find online; but in any event they have as much social media intelligence as is available and can then make informed safeguarding decisions. In working with schools we try to help achieve three things:
If you would like to talk through all that we may be able to help achieve with your school in safeguarding its community, please contact me using the details below.