Ofsted's blog: Daniel Lambert, Her Majesty’s Inspector, on e-safety in schools

6th February 2018 at 09:04

Safeguarding is an important element of every inspection. It’s been the cornerstone of Ofsted's work since our creation 25 years ago. Today, new safeguarding dangers have surfaced with emerging technologies. Portable devices are now a normal part of children's lives in school and at home. That’s why at Ofsted we’ve evolved our practice to keep pace with this new technology. Keeping children safe has never been more relevant.

With this in mind, I’ve recently been working with Lorin LaFave of The Breck Foundation, whose son was tragically killed by an online predator. We’ve created a webinar for schools and parents on how to help keep children safe online. The aim is to raise awareness about e-safety, because we know that technology is constantly evolving and with this comes added risks for young people.

What do we look at?

As an evidence-based organisation, we use a range of activities to gather first-hand information. We look at how well pupils are protected from harm and, increasingly, how well they’re taught to keep themselves safe. 

On inspection, we speak with leaders, including governors, to gauge their understanding of internet safety. This will include related dangers such as child sexual exploitation, grooming, radicalisation, extremism and bullying. We want to know that leaders are training staff to identify and report concerns. We also look at how effectively leaders check that the school is safe.

Inspectors talk to staff to find out if they’re well trained, supported and vigilant. Do they know what to look out for and are their concerns taken seriously? Do teachers incorporate internet safety in the curriculum and is this appropriate to the needs of the children they serve?

What do parents and pupils think?

We gather the views of parents through the Ofsted Parent View surveys and through focused interviews at the start and end of the school day. We want to find out how safe their children feel and how the school keeps them safe. Does the school inform parents of developing issues around internet safety?

Finally, and most importantly, we speak to the pupils. We ask if they use the internet responsibly. What do they know about staying safe? What would they do when things go wrong? These conversations need to take into account pupils’ ages to be able to judge how effective the school’s support is.

Teaching awareness

In the early years and key stage 1, pupils need to know how to be respectful towards others when communicating electronically and that if they’re worried they should seek adult help. Pupils in these stages should also be encouraged to balance their screen time with real interactions and experiences. Like Lorin says, "play virtual, live real".

As pupils move into key stage 2, they’ll develop an understanding of their responsibilities when using technology. This includes thinking about how they treat others and being aware of how their digital footprint stays online forever.

Pupils also need to understand how to maintain confidentiality by not sharing information or photographs of themselves without thinking about the consequences. At this age, they often experiment with technology and may find it fun to take and post silly or embarrassing photos without thinking about their future.

Pupils should be educated to recognise the warning signs of sexual exploitation, grooming, bullying and radicalisation and extremism. Bullying and sexting can result in severe consequences at school or through the police and court system. Pupils must be taught about the risks of sharing their lives online and the responsible use of social media.  

As pupils are supervised less and have their own devices, it’s important that they understand that they may be subject to unsolicited contact from other internet users, which brings with it the inherent dangers of online exploitation. This might be in chatrooms, via email or, often, through online gaming. 

All the information I’ve outlined will be gathered by inspectors and shared during team meetings or prioritised if an inspector is working alone. The school’s overall grading is affected by whether its safeguarding is effective or ineffective.

The webinar is full of helpful insights, information, contact details and some film clips featuring Lorin and schools leaders talking about e-safety. I encourage all school leaders, teachers, governors and support staff to have a look at the resources, discuss their thoughts with colleagues and think carefully about how they can support young people to stay safe online.