The key FACTS you must understand about the latest ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ guidance from the Department for Education.
Although there’s little doubt that the increasing use of technology in schools is a huge plus for academic learning, there’s also no mistaking that it’s a platform open to abuse - in every sense of the word.
Grooming, paedophile activity, child abuse and sexualisation, HBT, FGM, racism, bullying and harassment, self-harm/suicide, radicalisation, threats of violence, terrorist activity, trafficking and gang culture - these are the safeguarding risks we need to be vigilant of in today’s digital world. In response to all this, the Department for Education (DfE) has issued, under section 175 of the Education Act, Keeping Children Safe in Education - a revised statutory safeguarding guide for schools and colleges, effective from 5th September 2016. While acknowledging both the opportunity and the threat that ever advancing technology brings, the guidance increases the responsibility for school leaders to put in place an effective approach to online safety.
In order to help you better understand this revised statutory duty, I’ve distilled the new guidance into the key facts that you really need to understand. I hope you find this interesting.
Fact 1. Filtering is still really important, but is nowhere near enough
When it comes to online safety, traditional filtering solutions play a significant role in achieving a safe environment. Yet, with over 1 billion sites on the web today (Internet Stats, August 2016), the DfE recognises that it’s pretty much impossible to filter out all the illegal, inappropriate and potentially harmful content. Add to this the responsibility to avoid ‘over blocking’ to ensure our children’s learning opportunities aren’t stifled, and it becomes imperative that, in addition to filtering solutions, effective monitoring systems are also in place.
Self-administered solutions - like filtering software that offers a degree of key word detection, and traditional monitoring software - have shortcomings with respect to this aspect of the guidance. This is down to the fact that both solutions rely heavily on having a dedicated and trained team of behaviour experts in place - to review materials and determine whether incidents are benign or a genuine indicator of safeguarding risk. This can be both costly in terms of time and money, and a real drain on valuable teaching resources.
e-Safe clients benefit from a unique and comprehensive service that includes a team of multi-lingual Behavioural Experts working behind the scenes – providing highly effective forensic monitoring: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Fact 2. The markers of harmful and inappropriate behaviours are often incredibly subtle
The new DfE guidance states that you must have early visibility of the markers of harmful and inappropriate behaviours, so that intervention strategies can be put in place to stop the risk from escalating. The problem is, the markers associated with the range of safeguarding risks can often be incredibly subtle. Rarely is it single stream behaviour that registers intent, but more likely an overall pattern of seemingly isolated incidents over time. The identification of a pattern, or a single incident that does require intervention, requires specialism and experience. Self-administered solutions place an increasing burden on a school’s resources if the required level of safeguarding is to be attained. Even with highly accurate detection technology, high volumes of false positives are produced and every incident must be checked - in context with historic activity. The word ‘suicide’ is a classic example. Applying weighting to ‘suicide’ creates vast volumes of false positive incidents due to school project work, music lyrics, etc. The resulting pages of incidents presented are numerous and, to make matters worse, the risk of suicide, and other extreme behaviours, is rarely indicated by a user typing the actual word ‘suicide’ or a known variant.
The specialist team at e-Safe has the time and necessary skill to assess the severity of incidents and - importantly - to distinguish between the genuine issues (requiring intervention) and the false positives. This not only removes the burden other systems place on non-specialists, it ensures the very serious incidents are not lost under a blanket of false positive and less serious data.
Fact 3. ‘Poor practice’ is failing to react to the early warning signs of safeguarding risks
The new DfE guidance states that not only must you have visibility of the behaviour markers for safeguarding risk, you must also react as early as possible, putting in place an effective intervention strategy that’s designed to prevent that risk from escalating. While self-administered, software based, solutions ensure that the necessary monitoring is in place, they rely on specialists to interpret the high volume stream of information - in a timely manner. Failure to do this, to spot the early warning signs, can damage reputations - of the leadership team and of the establishment - as Ofsted inspectors will always report on whether or not arrangements for safeguarding children are effective.
The team at e-Safe is highly experienced and dedicated to identifying the early warning indicators of inappropriate or potentially harmful behaviour. Not just during school hours, or in term time, but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Serious risks are escalated in real time, directly by phone, and give you continuous visibility of the safeguarding risk - ensuring interventions can be made in a timely manner, and the effectiveness of these interventions can be measured.
Fact 4. The effectiveness of interventions must be measured and reported on
The DfE (and Inspectorate) requires that when intervention plans are put in place, the effectiveness is measured and used to refine future intervention strategy. The reporting element of the monitoring solution that’s in place is important for providing a baseline of behaviours for this measurement: helping to illustrate the effectiveness of interventions as the baseline changes over time.
The trouble with the reports typically provided by software-based monitoring solutions is the significant volume of false positives that are included in the data, as they cloud the genuine underlying incident baseline.
The monthly, termly and annual reports and analysis provided by e-Safe reflect only incidents that have been reviewed by our specialist team and require intervention. Meaning the baseline of behaviour and safeguarding risk is accurate, enabling the leadership team to assess correctly the effectiveness of their interventions and plan future intervention strategies accordingly.
Fact 5. Behaviour trends evolve all the time: you need to keep your finger on the pulse and update your threat libraries continuously to maintain detection accuracy
Threat libraries need to evolve and adapt to detect emerging behaviour trends, at an international, national and local level, in order to maintain detection accuracy across the range of threats.
At e-Safe, new markers of threats are sourced from continuous research by our team of experts, as well as through ongoing collaboration with external specialist agencies and schools. For example, the intelligence gathered from our sex offender monitoring work, on behalf of UK Police Forces, is used to ensure the grooming and paedophile threat library is always up to date and new markers, that identify the latest trends in behaviour, are created. Part of the e-Safe service also includes creating and maintaining bespoke threat libraries for individual schools to cope with the local issues, such as gang culture and slang, that would otherwise be missed with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
For further information about e-Safe, and how it can form the basis of a comprehensive safeguarding strategy, please contact us directly. In the meantime, look out for Mark’s next blog when he’ll be talking more about the DfE guidance and what it actually means to schools and colleges.
For more information, advice and guidance around our online safety solutions, visit www.rm.com/onlinesafety