What Goes into an Online Safety Policy?

If you’re looking to create an online safety policy, the chances are that you’ve already looked at plenty of templates ranging anywhere between 2 to 36 pages long, many of which have terms and vocabulary that you don’t understand.

The trouble with online safety is that it covers so many areas within school life…

  • The online safety of whom? Children? Teachers? Parents?
  • Staff safety on social media.
  • The safety of confidential data in the office.
  • Curriculum objectives to be taught.
  • Expectations of parents and carers from staff.
  • Expectations of staff from parents and carers.
  • The times allowed to check personal emails in school.
  • What to do if another member of staff has been accused of looking at inappropriate images.

It all ends up under the umbrella of online safety.

Before you know it, your policy is so long, with a scope so large that no one really has the stamina to read it. And if no one reads it, then it becomes useless.

Make your online safety policy role specific

It’s hard to trim it down as an Online Safety Lead because there is so much you want to tell everyone about or warn them against – it’s hard to prioritise.

Remember that a person reading a policy usually has one overriding question in their head – what is it that I, specifically, need to know and do?

Therefore, it’s important to take care with your subheadings.

If the governor, who has a job of their own, children of their own, and is taking their own time to sit down to read an ‘Online Safety Policy’, there needs to be a section titled ‘governors’ with the most important parts for them underneath it – what exactly is their role and their responsibility?

If they get around to reading to rest of the document, then great, but at least you know that they have read the bit you really need them to.

Define why an online safety policy is important

You need to set out your stall – why is this policy essential?

Tell the reader about why online safety is important at your school.

What is your schedule of monitoring and review?

It’s likely to be monitored and changed more frequently than other policies due to the ever-changing nature of the online world. Make sure you are clear about when this takes place but make sure you are realistic. You need to balance the necessity of looking through the log of online incidents with the day-to-day teaching reality.

Are you really going to have enough time in the week before Christmas to meet the Online Safety Team and discuss ways forward with your school?

A word of warning – the answer is no.

I attempted to do this in the gap between the end of the school day and the start of the Christmas fair once; reading through an endless list of online safety incidents and finding out exactly what the children have been up to at your school leaves you with a mild feeling of panic and anxiety.

Take care if you write that the online safety team will meet every half term. Make sure that you can sustain this because once it is written in policy, then it is expected to happen.

Reflect a whole school approach

Next, think about the roles and responsibilities of everyone in your school environment.

Of course, it is everyone’s responsibility. But different groups of people have different roles to play. Think about what exactly you need the following groups to take ownership of:

  • The Headteacher
  • Governors
  • DSL / Safeguarding Lead
  • Online Safety Lead
  • School Staff
  • Technical Support
  • Pupils
  • Parents/carers
  • Other visitors coming into school

You are only one person – it isn’t all up to you. By making sure that each of these groups of people understand and carry out their role, as a team, it will work.

Work collaboratively

The technical support aspect of the above always seems to be the trickiest. The filtering and the technical systems in place to safeguard our children are daunting for some – these are the things that happen in the ‘magical’ ICT department. If you don’t know what it is that they do, then it would be wise to get in touch.

Most school ICT support teams will have a list of what they already do that you can then add to your policy. This is likely to be quite detailed and would be best as an appendix rather than in the bulk of your policy.

Outline expectations

Although outlined within this section, the expectations of the children, parents/carers and staff are also listed on the Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) which need to be in your appendix clearly summarising their responsibilities which can then be signed.

Statements such as ‘I will make sure that I ask a trusted adult before going online’ or ‘I will make sure that my school password is secure’ are listed in these documents.

This will give you peace of mind that even if they haven’t read the whole policy – they have read, understood and signed for the part that is most relevant to them.

Signpost other school policies

After that, you need to add other useful information that staff might need.

Online safety is unique in that it is interwoven into many aspects of school life already and this means that references are your friend – there is no point reinventing the wheel. If you have a Social Media Policy, then refer to it rather than duplicating it and therefore making your policy longer than it needs to be.

A document that ought to be in your appendix is what to do if there is a safeguarding breach which will already be outlined in your Safeguarding Policy which you can then cross reference to. A safeguarding issue online is treated exactly the same as any other safeguarding policy and the same protocols must be adhered to.

The same goes for the Behaviour Policy and especially your Data Protection Policy. I don’t know about you but when GDPR made its way into the Online Safety Policy it filled me with dread, and I needed to remember that wasn’t directly my responsibility and therefore shouldn’t be explored in detail in the policy that I was responsible for.

The common theme: Keeping children safe online

The overriding feature that flows throughout your policy needs to be how to keep both children and everyone else in the school environment safe.

It should be succinct enough for a person to be able to read and digest it but not so vague and short that it doesn’t have any real worth and belittles its importance.

The reader should come away from it confident that they know their individual responsibility and role and what to do when something goes wrong.

It’s the document that goes on your website telling the world what your school believes about online safety.

Make sure it’s a clear and powerful message.

This article was written by Heather Cardwell, a practising Online Safety Lead with extensive experience of teaching, training and managing all aspects of online safety in schools.

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