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New research highlights schools’ lack of confidence in handling online abuse
RM Education has today released key findings from its latest research - conducted in association with the NSPCC - into online safety policy and practice in UK schools.
The survey asked 1,158 senior leaders, designated safeguarding leads and network managers from primary and secondary schools for their views and experiences in creating safe web environments for pupils.
Results revealed that only 37 per cent felt very confident in identifying and handling online abuse incidents involving children, while 57 per cent of secondary school respondents and 77 per cent of primary school respondents felt only somewhat confident, or unconfident, in their understanding of the threats students face online.
When asked how they would approach a coercive sexting incident between pupils, in which an image was circulated around school, just 61 per cent said they would confiscate the device and inform parents and police.
The remainder of responses to this question were varied, suggesting inconsistencies in awareness around recommended practices. 7 per cent of education professionals said they would forward the image on, which directly contradicts the government’s advice on Keeping Children Safe in Education.
Schools also indicated they were unclear around where the ultimate responsibility for online safeguarding lay. Only a quarter of respondents cited their Designated Safeguarding Lead as the main point of contact for online safety, while nearly half (49 per cent) of heads in primary schools were defined as the lead.
Underpinning these statistics was an overall lack of confidence from respondents in their school’s approach to online safety. The majority of secondary school professionals were only ‘somewhat confident’ in their school’s approach, while the majority of primary school professionals were ‘unconfident’. Only 15 per cent of primary and 18 per cent of secondary respondents said they were ‘very confident’ in their school’s approach.
Tools for tackling online threats also varied between primary and secondary schools. While 97 per cent of all respondents had filtering software in place at their school, 30 per cent of secondary schools and a staggering 73 per cent of primary schools had no software in place to monitor students’ online activity and identify potential threats or risks of harm.
A recurring theme in the research appears to be training, with a third of schools not providing staff with regular online safety training and a further 12 per cent providing training only when requested by staff.
However, most respondents felt the frequency of training would have little impact on their confidence in dealing with online safety incidents, and a quarter of respondents made no changes to any aspect of how they approach and manage online safety after training.
Overall, the research confirms that schools need a greater degree of support to implement and apply effective safety training and policies.
Jeremy Cooper, Managing Director of RM Education, said: “The results of the survey have further highlighted the challenges we frequently hear from schools. Online safety is a huge concern, and while many schools have invested time and effort into online safety, there is still significant work to be done to help staff feel more confident in ensuring their young learners are protected online.”
Almudena Lara, NSPCC Head of Policy, added: “Social media, sexting and online pornography did not exist a generation ago and this survey underlines how crucial it is that today’s teachers feel equipped to help their pupils navigate healthy relationships in the modern world.
“As part of the Government’s rollout of compulsory relationships and sex education lessons in schools, there needs to be comprehensive training and support in place to help teachers incorporate online safety awareness into this programme.”
The survey also explored how online safeguarding practices were determined and implemented. Just 9 per cent of respondents involved students in shaping their school’s approach, while 32 per cent didn’t involve students in developing policies. This could represent a significant area of opportunity for safeguarding leads seeking to build and embed a more effective whole-school approach.
RM works with thousands of schools and colleges across the UK, using technology solutions to help teachers to teach and learners to learn. Their team of experts provide guidance and support for schools, helping them to develop the systems and policies to ensure children can be safe on the internet.
For more information, visit www.rm.com