Mark Bentley digs into the new recommendations for schools in England.

English schools have been digesting the implications of the new Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE). The centrepiece of this year’s changes surrounds web filtering and monitoring, but it is always worth looking at some of the minor language changes too—or are they really so minor?

For example, if you track the changes to KCSIE over the past five years you will notice lots ‘including online’ additions, which highlight how the offline and online worlds cannot be separated and all harms can span both areas. It is important that schools do not fall into the trap of preparing for a false dichotomy.

Another ‘minor’ change is the insertion of the term ‘vulnerable’ or ‘those who are potentially at greater risk of harm’. Obviously all under 18s are vulnerable as they are children, but it can often be useful to consider extra vulnerabilities. It is well documented that the sometimes binary nature of some online discourse, in general and when it comes to extremism, conspiracy theories and even grooming conversations, can present an even greater risk to neurodivergent students who are more likely to see the world in black and white.

So when in KCSIE 2023, amidst the other new filtering and monitoring challenges, schools are asked to consider ‘those who are potentially at greater risk of harm and how often they access the IT system along with the proportionality of costs versus safeguarding risks’, what does this actually mean and what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to remind ourselves of the background. For the first time, KCSIE asks the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) to take lead responsibility for filtering and monitoring, and schools need to follow the new DfE standards. One thing to note is that closer communication with tech teams has become a must. Clear roles and responsibilities are a core part of the standards, which also ask for a named governor, clarity on what technical colleagues and third parties need to do, and reminders to ALL staff that they are the school’s eyes and ears for flagging up gaps or concerns.

We tell schools to make sure they know what is allowed and blocked in their school and WHY? That last question is the most important of all—the rationale must be strategic and driven by safeguarding requirements, closely followed by teaching and learning needs, of course. If senior leaders currently have no answer to these questions, they know where to start, but the detail of the standards, such as review and checks, will actually help them move closer to this state.

At every step of the process though, the question “Are we overblocking?” must always be at the forefront of every decision—it can be tempting to make everything much stricter just to be on the safe side, but that could easily lead to overblocking, which needs to be avoided.

There is a lot more to consider in the standards, from the difference between filtering and monitoring, why regular checks are not the same as reviews, and how technologies like decryption can make decision-making more granular. Not to mention the ‘appropriate filtering and monitoring’ expectations. When it comes to pupils with SEND, we would suggest that ensuring you can see what each student is doing is a good first step. As well as looking at your monitoring strategies, this might mean filtering (blocking or allowing) or reporting by pupil
group or even on an individual level.

Find out more at safefiltering.lgfl.net.

Mark Bentley

Mark Bentley Safeguarding and Cyber Security Lead for the LGfL–The National Grid for Learning.

Website: safefiltering.lgfl.net

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