Filtering and Monitoring in Schools: What to Expect This September

In News by Olivia Johnson

The final version of the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023 (KCSIE 2023) is due to be published in the next few weeks. So far, we’ve seen draft versions released, and it’s no surprise that a key focus has been placed on the issue of filtering and monitoring in schools and colleagues of students under the age of 18. This point has been highlighted and reinforced, in part, by Judy and Andy Thomas, who campaigned to raise awareness of the importance of these technical inadequacies after the tragic death of their daughter, Frankie, who accessed unsupervised online content at her school due to faulty systems.

It goes without saying this is an incredibly critical issue that the importance of which has somehow, until now, been somewhat underestimated. For many of us, it’s hard to even imagine the plethora of content that is available readily online, let alone what is accessible within a school that could so easily become lost amongst the masses.

While it is anticipated that only minimal changes will be made to the final version of the KCSIE 2023 compared to the drafts already released, we know the guidance draws reference from the DfE’s March publication on filtering and monitoring standards. These standards are intended to help schools meet their duty to have appropriate and effective filtering and monitoring systems in place. Schools should refer to the requirement to meet these standards when updating their online safety policies.

To meet these standards schools must:

  1. Assign Roles and Responsibilities for Filtering and Monitoring Systems:

Schools should designate individuals to oversee their filtering and monitoring systems. A senior leadership team member and a governor should be identified to ensure compliance with standards. Senior leaders should collaborate closely with governors or proprietors, the designated safeguarding lead (DSL), and IT service providers across filtering and monitoring areas. Schools may also need to arrange targeted training and support with their filtering or monitoring providers.

  1. Regularly Assess Filtering and Monitoring Provisions:

It’s crucial for schools to evaluate their filtering and monitoring systems at least once a year. Governing bodies and proprietors bear strategic responsibility for effective filtering and monitoring. The evaluation should involve the responsible governor, a senior leadership team representative, the DSL, and the IT service provider, if applicable.

  1. Balancing Filtering Effectiveness and Educational Impact:

Establishing an active, well-managed filtering system is vital for creating a secure learning environment. The filtering system should effectively block harmful and inappropriate online content. However, it should avoid disrupting teaching, learning, or the school’s administration. It should also enable students to learn how to assess and manage risks themselves. Schools must grasp the scope and limitations of their filtering systems to mitigate potential harm and fulfil statutory requirements outlined in KCSIE 2023 and the Prevent duty.

  1. Effective Monitoring Strategies for Safeguarding:

Monitoring school devices enables the review of user activities. For effective monitoring, timely incident detection is essential, typically through alerts or observations. This allows immediate action and documentation of outcomes. Monitoring strategies can involve physical screen observation by staff, real-time supervision using device management software, network monitoring through internet traffic and web access logs, and individual device monitoring through software or third-party services.

Schools must ensure that monitoring data is comprehensible for staff and that users can be identified. This ensures that concerns can be linked to specific individuals, including guest accounts. Identifying those attempting to access inappropriate or illegal content is important for providing them with the necessary support. The DSL should lead in responding to safeguarding and child protection matters detected through monitoring.

Filtering and monitoring training

KCSIE 2023 highlights the obligation of governing bodies and proprietors to provide suitable online safety training for all staff as part of their induction process. This training must encompass a comprehensive understanding of the anticipated standards, relevant roles, and responsibilities concerning filtering and monitoring. The importance of regular updates and refreshers for this training cannot be overstated, as they ensure its continuous relevance and effectiveness.

Despite there being no specific “staff” definition within KCSIE 2023 and the lack of direct mention of governor training on filtering and monitoring within paragraph 81, which addresses the training requirements for governing bodies and proprietors, the underlying directive remains evident. Training for these individuals must arm them with the knowledge needed to competently assess and validate the efficacy of the safeguarding policies and procedures in place in schools. This overarching perspective ensures the establishment of a robust and comprehensive approach to safeguarding throughout the entire school framework.

In light of this viewpoint, it is our stance that governors and trustees should also partake in online safety training during their own induction processes. This training should encompass a thorough understanding of the expected standards, relevant roles, and responsibilities associated with filtering and monitoring. By extending this training to governors and trustees, a harmonised and all-encompassing approach to safeguarding can be uniformly maintained across the entirety of the school community.

Should schools be offering 24/7 filtering and monitoring of pupil devices?

It’s been known that some schools are opting to deploy filtering and monitoring applications onto devices brought into the school premises for educational purposes. These devices may include school-owned ones that are allowed to be taken home or those owned by the students’ parents. This recent surge in schools offering continuous 24/7 filtering and monitoring of student devices raises questions about the appropriateness and compliance of such extensive monitoring.

While it remains crucial for governing bodies and proprietors to establish appropriate filtering and monitoring systems, they should be careful that this does not lead to unreasonable restrictions on pupils’ ability to assess and manage risks themselves.

In situations where schools provide round-the-clock monitoring, careful consideration must be given to potential liability if monitoring alerts are received outside of regular school hours. For instance, if an alert is triggered at night indicating that a student accessed harmful online content, although the school is immediately informed, a review might not occur for several hours.

Whilst there are no reported instances of schools being held accountable for breaching their duty of care under these circumstances, it is imperative that schools maintain clarity with parents regarding the timing of device monitoring and the protocols for addressing alerts received during ‘out of hours’ periods.

Although we do not consider it necessary for schools to have 24/7 monitoring software in place, if schools opt to offer this level of monitoring it must be clearly communicated to parents that the school would not be held liable for a pupil’s actions if any monitoring alerts are not reviewed straightaway.

With this in mind, it is worth noting that boarding schools should contemplate supplementary measures to safeguard pupils who might be vulnerable to accessing harmful or illegal online content. These measures could potentially involve implementing continuous 24/7 monitoring and filtering. Any filtering and monitoring systems in use should ensure the protection of boarding pupils, preventing their access to inappropriate or potentially harmful online destinations via school Wi-Fi and potentially through student devices and internet connections where this specific software is employed.

What does this mean for schools?

With all this in mind, it is recommended that schools undertake a thorough review of their Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy to ensure its alignment with the following provisions:

  1. Comprehensive Online Safety Training:

The policy should stipulate that all members of staff and governors will undergo online safety training during their induction, encompassing a solid grasp of the anticipated standards, relevant roles, and responsibilities concerning filtering and monitoring.

  1. Designation of DSL’s Role:

The Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) should be assigned the primary responsibility for overseeing online safety matters and comprehending the intricacies of the filtering and monitoring systems and processes in place within the school.

  1. Adherence to DfE Standards:

Schools are expected to uphold compliance with the ‘filtering and monitoring standards for schools‘ set forth by the Department for Education (DfE).

In addition, schools should carefully integrate this guidance with the broader array of key changes outlined in the draft publication of KCSIE 2023.