Sadly, stories about pupils sending each other inappropriate images are becoming all too common. And a development last year means there is another element to consider when educating students about the risks of “sexting”: financial penalties for intentional infliction of harm.
The new element actually came from an instance of sexting not between students, but between a student and the vice-principal of the special school she was attending. In September last year, the High Court awarded compensation to the victim amounting to £25,000 in damages for intentional infliction of harm.
The case came to light after a member of staff discovered 18 sexually explicit text messages and 20 indecent photographs sent by the claimant to the senior staff member on her mobile phone.
The pupil then sued both the school and the vice-principal for personal injury caused by rape, sexual assault, grooming and being encouraged to exchange messages of a sexual nature.
In relation to the texts, the court found that the vice-principal had emotionally manipulated the claimant by encouraging her to send indecent images of herself and engage in “sexual banter”. These actions had consequences, or potential consequences, which were so obvious that it could not realistically be argued they were unintended.
The case has set a precedent for damages being awarded in such cases, leading the NSPCC to warn that “there is a danger young people could just use this as a way to get cash by suing each other”. These comments need to be considered by school leaders; it is important for victims to get justice but it is equally important to educate children about not sharing this kind of explicit material.
The development comes as the government has said that all schools will have to strengthen measures to protect children from harm online – including cyberbullying, pornography and the risk of radicalisation – through revisions to Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE), which are out for consultation. We expect to see a revised version from September.
All schools will need appropriate filters and monitoring systems, so that no child can access harmful content via the school’s IT systems.
What should schools do?
1 Ensure that pupils are taught about safeguarding, including online safety, through teaching and learning opportunities, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum.
2 IT staff should check that robust filters are in place and there is regular monitoring of pupils’ online activity, with reports being available as soon as concerns become apparent.
3 Ensure that you have a robust acceptable-use policy for devices.
4 Anti-bullying policies should be checked to ensure they cover cyber-bullying and sexting.
5 All staff should have up-to-date IT awareness and safeguarding training.
6 Child protection and safeguarding policies should be updated to ensure they comply with the latest guidance.
Alice Reeve is a partner at leading education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards