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Online security in schools – is it only an IT issue?

Safeguarding is a high priority in all schools, but what about online security? Naturally, all school staff should be trained on pupil safety, but our annual report suggests there could be a gap when it comes to IT and tech training to enhance safeguarding processes.

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Safeguarding in schools is an incredibly high priority, and for good reasons. Safeguarding procedures are in place to protect pupils from any form of harm, abuse and neglect, and all schools take these responsibilities incredibly seriously.

In an increasingly digital world, meanwhile, protecting pupils online and carrying out digital safeguarding procedures have never been more important. What’s more, since the introduction of GDPR, data protection is also high on a number of schools’ agendas.

But whose role is online security and digital safeguarding, exactly? Safeguarding is certainly a whole-school issue, so does online security sit with members of the SLT to inform and disseminate information? Or as it largely relates to online processes and tools, is digital security and online safeguarding primarily an IT issue?

In reality, everyone in schools should be well-trained and vigilant on online security, digital safeguarding procedures and data protection policies. Today, it’s as important as safeguarding as a whole.

Schools continue to prioritise safeguarding

Every year, we gather insights from senior leaders, teachers and IT managers about their strategic plans and priorities. Our subsequent State of Technology in Education Report has shown that head teachers have identified staff training as a priority for the coming academic year.

When we asked senior leaders about their specific priorities for teacher training, safeguarding was the most selected response, chosen by almost 73% of heads and deputies. Edtech training, however, is considered the lowest training priority, selected by under 30% of SLT members.

Whilst training on technologies is certainly not comparable to keeping pupils free from harm at school, instilling safe behaviour online is just as important. Thorough tech knowledge, therefore, can enhance and complement existing online safeguarding procedures.

What about GDPR?

GDPR, in place since May this year, is a new set of EU data protection policies designed to protect personal information. GDPR ensures that schools look after the data they hold responsibly, whilst giving individuals more control over their personal information.

According to our report, however, almost a third of school staff are unclear on the meaning and implications of GDPR. Yet, of those who know what GDPR is, the majority identified it as something that will impact everyone in schools to some degree.

Is there a tech training gap?

Clearly, SLTs are prioritising safeguarding training this academic year, and rightly so. Ensuring staff are confident in keeping pupils safe is one of the most important aspects of school training. At the same time, however, only 5% of teachers believe they receive full tech training. Are your skills, as IT manager, perhaps overlooked when it comes to online security and IT training?

While there is no substitute for thorough staff safeguarding training, there’s perhaps a missed opportunity to ensure teaching staff feel more confident with the technology skills to keep pupils safe online, too.

Maybe, as safeguarding is considered a defined role within schools, training is usually delivered by existing staff. Edtech training, however, could be considered an external resource with the additional cost that schools can barely afford.

Your school may be missing the opportunity to tap your own internal IT knowledge and resources to train other staff on digital security procedures. Whilst many safeguarding procedures are offline, a number of policies still require some IT knowledge and tech training.

Maybe, then, it’s time that online security was more routinely combined with general safeguarding processes. Rather than safeguarding existing as its own high-priority training goal, more school staff could be given access to digital training in order to feel more confident with online security issues, including data protection and online safety.

What’s more, your internal IT knowledge is more than sufficient to keep more teaching staff in the edtech loop. So, as part of your school leadership team’s safeguarding priorities in 2018/19, it may be worth considering whether you could offer additional security training to your colleagues. To read more about schools’ 2018/19 priorities, download the full State of Technology in Education Report .