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Safeguarding: heads lack confidence tackling online abuse

Only 37 per cent of school leaders and safeguarding leads feel very confident dealing with online abuse, poll shows

Many headteachers lack confidence in responding to incidents of online abuse, research shows

Only around a third of school leaders and safeguarding leads feel very confident dealing with online abuse incidents involving children, a poll shows.

And, in the survey, many expressed confusion when asked how they would respond to serious online incidents, such as coercive sexting.

The poll also reveals that a quarter of schools are not providing staff with regular training in online safety.


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More than 1,158 senior leaders, designated safeguarding leads and network managers from primary and secondary schools were questioned about keeping pupils safe online.

Only 37 per cent of them said that they felt “very confident” in identifying and handling incidents involving online abuse.

Safeguarding training

And many were uncertain how to respond to serious incidents online. Asked how they would respond if a coercive sexting incident occurred between pupils, in which an image was being circulated around school, only 61 per cent of staff correctly identified that they should confiscate devices and inform parents and police.

Secondary teachers were more likely to involve the police without first informing parents. And one in 10 teachers said that, in such cases, they would suspend the pupils who had taken the photographs of themselves.

This was perhaps unsurprising, given that a third of schools did not provide staff with regular training in online safety. Twelve per cent only provided training when it was requested by staff.

But it was notable that the frequency of training was unlikely to improve how confident respondents felt about their schools’ approach to online safety.

The poll also reveals that there is a lack of confidence, among staff in both primary and secondary schools, about their schools’ approach to online safety. Forty-three per cent of primary staff said that they were not confident in their school’s approach to online safety, and 32 per cent of secondary staff said the same thing.

The poll was conducted, on behalf of children’s charity NSPCC and technology company RM Education, by market-research company C3 Education.

Almudena Lara, NSPCC head of policy, said that teachers needed to be trained in delivering lessons in online safety as part of relationships and sex education.

She 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.”

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