Every school needs to meet its online safety requirements, but the tools you choose determine your overall effectiveness. That’s why many schools are selecting online safety tools that provide the essential, rich data needed to address concerns effectively.
Take your school’s online safety to the next level and improve your digital citizenship, student eSafety, and social-emotional learning!
In many countries, there are requirements in place for schools to effectively monitor and control what students are doing online, both in supervised and unsupervised environments. These include KCSIE, CIPA, ISTE and so on. To fulfil this duty, schools need to go beyond just using internet metering.
Internet filtering and monitoring is just the start…
When it comes to internet filtering, sometimes it’s best not to blanket ban everything.
It doesn’t allow students the opportunity to learn about the safe and responsible use of the internet (i.e. digital citizenship) in a controlled environment.
It doesn’t provide the flexibility to allow specific websites to appear for particular age groups: e.g. Facebook access for Business Studies students studying marketing tools.
Overall, blocking access does nothing to safeguard the student because, in the majority of cases, nobody knew that access was being attempted in the first place.
In the same way, internet monitoring on its own doesn’t provide context, which could mean schools are faced with a backlog of false alerts or are missing the crucial details to understanding students’ behaviour.
The full picture
By monitoring the online safety keywords and phrases your students type, your school can gain an insight into any trending issues, as well as identify individual students who are engaged in concerning activity.
Look out for solutions that include:
a comprehensive database of topics from self-harm, gambling, bullying and racism – to risks of radicalisation, drugs, gambling, sexual exploitation and more
several language packs for EAL students
recognition of slang terms
evidence of activity when a keyword is triggered, by capturing the event as a log, screenshot or screen recording and provide context (i.e. whether it is accidental, academic or indicative of risk)
identification details, such as the student’s name, the device being used and the time it took place
the ability for staff to print, save, email or take a screengrab of the results to forward to a colleague to follow up on
the ability for schools to add and share their own keywords that are relevant to their local community.
Reviewing the context of any incident helps your school determine the severity of triggered events and ensures you can quickly and easily identify and support vulnerable students.
Contextual intelligence takes into consideration the context and history of a student’s current activities:
For example, a triggered phrase being used in a Word document during lesson time would be perceived as a lower risk than if the same phrase were being used in a messenger app during lunchtime.
Some of the more advanced safeguarding tools use this ‘contextual intelligence’ to analyse risks and grade them with a number that quickly indicates to staff whether urgent intervention is needed – and, if so, enables them to do so with the correct professional response.
Alerts can also play a huge role in keeping students safe. If the system alerts staff when a student is engaged in risky activity, this means they can then promptly address the issue with the student and/or monitor them to ensure they are being effectively shielded from online harms. On the other hand, if the school thinks there is a more serious cause for concern, they can also then alert the child’s parents to help ensure the student is protected outside of school hours.
Word clouds are a great way to spot trending topics and are used to inform classroom and school-wide planning. With some solutions, when a keyword or phrase is triggered from something a student has typed, copied, or searched for, it populates a word cloud.
More advanced solutions include:
a full explanation and definition of any word in the cloud that is clicked on, to help staff understand the potential risk more easily
a detailed list of instances where it has been triggered by students to better understand how prominent the issue is.
Student ‘Report a Concern’
Allowing students to report concerns they might have is also key to encouraging wellbeing and student voice. This type of tool is especially useful for those who feel uncomfortable speaking directly to a staff member, as it allows them to share their problems and get help without having to approach them in person.
More advanced solutions mean that:
students can send a message, screenshots or document/s in confidence to a trusted member of staff.
teachers can ‘add a concern’ – handy in situations where a teacher is verbally told of a student’s concern.
staff can re-assign concerns to another person, for example, if the member of staff is off sick.
colour codes and status updates can be used to help staff to keep track of which alerts need reviewing or let supporting staff know where to pick up if others are on holiday.
staff are alerted if any concern is not actioned within a pre-defined time.
schools can select which teachers are available for students to report concerns to for each site – handy for districts and MATs.
students can report a concern via the school website – handy for supporting students in any location and device and at any time of day.
In addition, providing students with independent access to a tailored list of online safety resources can further support their empowerment.
More advanced solutions include:
a range of topics from FGM, drug addiction to grooming, bullying and more.
a range of resources from helplines to websites.
the ability for staff to manage the pre-populated list and add any additional terms they feel are appropriate.
Using the data collected from your online safety tools, you are now aware of and can identify:
Students who are involved in genuinely high-risk activity
Concerning topics trending across year groups/grades and peer groups
New topics beginning to trend across the school and its sites
New students to monitor who are showing concerning activity
Planned staff training (CPD)
Have frequent online safety training so that all staff are equipped to identify students who may need help or support – and be familiar with the process to report any concerns. A reminder of any new or existing legislation and a recap of escalation processes is also useful to ensure everyone has the most up-to-date information.
Where possible, schools should try to engage parents in online safety training to empower them with the knowledge and skills to support their children at home.
Ad hoc meetings
It’s important that staff are able to convene meetings at short notice to ensure everyone is kept abreast of new keywords and fully informed of any escalating trends, so that they can intervene where necessary to ensure students are kept safe. This is where the keyword cloud becomes a crucial element to help schools remain up to date.
Educating children about the risks
Knowing what is trending across the school and who is at risk gives a school the power to tailor its activity to support and combat its issues. Schools can raise awareness of the concerns that students may already be discussing or searching for themselves – and empower them to keep themselves safe from harm.
This all begins with education, from both a technological and a social and cultural perspective. Often, this broader topic is referred to as digital citizenship. There is no shortcut to discussing openly (and, ideally, regularly) the best ways to stay safe online and to make children aware of the risks that can and do exist. Teaching children best practice on the use of social media (not sharing personal information, long-term risks and implications of sharing inappropriate photos, using appropriate language, the ever-present risk of grooming and so on) has never been more important in the current climate.
Spreading awareness of the dangers of social media can help prevent young people from being dragged into unsafe situations.
To help, parents can:
make sure children are aware that social media isn’t an accurate representation of reality (nobody posts about their low points).
minimise screen time and perhaps encourage offline hobbies and activities.
Student engagement is key and so creating an environment that encourages student voice or allows for student digital leaders (cyber clubs and digital newsletters that students can be encouraged to help author) can be a great starting point to gaining their involvement and opening up a dialogue between them and school leaders.
A Campaign for Change is one idea for students to create a coalition that is student-led and works on ideas they can implement to impact the student body at large.
Often, peer-led initiatives can be very successful, as students feel more comfortable talking to and confiding in people their own age.
Celebrating awareness days in the school and creating activities around them can help to raise awareness of a particular topic, e.g., Safer Internet Day, Mental Health Awareness Week and so on.
Implementing simple and short activities in lessons can help tackle and even mitigate issues. Why not try these out:
Journal writing: Provide daily/weekly writing prompts around the topics of concern to develop awareness and encourage student reflection and self-assessment.
Moments of positivity: Implement moments of positivity with your class to help build strong habits, such as ‘Kind word of the day’ or sharing a kind gesture from the week.
Whether it’s a peer group, a single student or a whole year group/grade, knowing what activity they are involved in and the level of risk can help inform a school as to how and when parents need to be alerted.
Armed with the knowledge of trending topics, the school can warn parents so they can help keep an eye out at home – and even discuss the topic with their child.
Communication with the school
In some instances – and where appropriate – schools should encourage parents to report back to the school a particular online safety issue that their child is going through or has experienced, as it may be a wider issue that others are facing and the school can help monitor the situation. Such cases should be handled confidentially and with sensitivity, depending on the nature of the topic, to avoid any further negative impact on the child.