Protecting school staff
Online safety is a key issue for all schools as it can pervade all aspects of school life. Staff in schools, as well as pupils, may become targets of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a whole school community issue. It takes place when an individual or group of people use technology such as social media to bully, threaten or embarrass their victim. It is important that schools make it clear that bullying including cyberbullying of staff is unacceptable.
Though online safety is not just confined to cyberbullying of course, cyberbullying is best dealt with within a robust framework of policy and practice, which includes and supports the whole-school community. In their guidance on cyberbullying, the DfE state that ‘all employers, including employers of school staff in all settings, have statutory and common law duties to look after the physical and mental health of their employees. This includes seeking to protect staff from cyberbullying by pupils, parents and other members of staff and supporting them if it happens’.
The NEU believes, therefore, that every school should have a policy on online safety, which should cross-refer to other policies dealing with bullying/harassment, pupil behaviour and child protection. Supplementing this guidance, at Appendix 1, is a model policy which employers should be encouraged to adopt, where an equivalent policy is not already in place.
When responding to incidents, the NEU believes that the practice of searching the contents of pupils’ phones is unlikely to be used other than rarely due to its impracticability and the damage it could do to teacher/pupil relationships. The NEU believes that schools will be best served by including clear statements within their behaviour policy about the situations in which this may be done, after consulting fully within the school community. Any teachers or school staff who are to be asked to undertake such searches, which the NEU believes will only be in exceptional circumstances, should be given full guidance and any necessary training. It is of utmost importance that individual school staff operate fully within the school’s procedures. More information is available in the NEU health and safety briefing Searching Pupils for Prohibited Items.
School staff need to be aware of their online reputation and have to recognise that their online activity can be seen by others particularly when using social media. The UK Safer Internet Centre provides help for staff on how to stay safe online, as well as how to support young people in staying safe. It is funded by the European Union and provides a helpline for professionals who work with children and young people in the UK, specifically tackling online safety. The helpline is available at email@example.com and 0844 381 4772. In relation to young people, help is available on safe use of social networking sites, cyber-bullying, sexting and child protection issues. School staff can also obtain advice about protecting their own on-line reputation. The helpline operates between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.
There are also workload issues associated with technology in schools. Time to read and respond to e-mails should be incorporated into a teacher’s directed time budget, as part of their other professional duties. Teachers and school staff should not be expected to deal with their e-mail correspondence in the evenings or at weekends. Senior management in particular need to recognise that any electronic communications they may send to teachers and staff in the evening or at weekends will not necessarily be responded to until the next available working day. There should also be no expectation on the part of management, pupils or parents that instant replies will be sent.
'Sexting' incidents in schools
‘Sexting’ is a broad term which can refer to a variety of behaviours, but for the purposes of this guidance for schools, the term is used to refer to ‘images or videos generated by children under the age of 18, or of children under the age of 18 that are of a sexual nature, or are indecent’.
The high numbers of young people with smart phones and tablets creates opportunities for them to produce and share such images. Indeed, teenagers may think of sexting as ‘mundane’ and a common behaviour. Sometimes this behaviour can be part of a romantic relationship between young people; however, sexting can also be coercive and/or exploitative, and images can be used to bully and blackmail children.
In regards to the law, the production and sharing of such images is illegal, although the response to a sexting incident is likely to vary depending on a variety of factors, including the age of the children involved, whether the image has been distributed more widely, if any coercion was involved and if the child is considered vulnerable or at risk.
In a recent case, a young boy of 14 was added to a police database after sending an image of himself to a classmate. This raised concerns that young people may be criminalised for behaviour they were not aware was illegal. In response to these concerns, the Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that they do not want to criminalise young people, and will only undertake prosecutions in exceptional circumstances. However, as the repercussions for young people of sexting can be very damaging, schools should be clear that such behaviour is not acceptable.
Ofsted specifically refer to sexting in their safeguarding guidance for inspectors, the document states that ‘safeguarding action may be needed to protect children and learners from…the impact of new technologies on sexual behaviour, for example sexting’.
Unfortunately, there is currently no statutory guidance for schools to assist them with dealing with sexting. However, there are a number of other resources available for schools to help them deal with sexting incidents. The Safer Internet Centre has produced two infographics on responding to and managing sexting incidents.
The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced comprehensive guidance for schools on responding to sexting incidents and safeguarding children. While the guidance is nonstatutory, it is endorsed by the DfE, and the NEU was consulted in its production. The NEU advises schools to follow the UKCCIS guidance when dealing with sexting incidents in schools, and when producing school policies on this issue.
Both the UKCCIS and Safer Internet Centre guidance advise that sexting should be dealt with as a safeguarding issue, and any disclosures should be dealt with via the school’s child protection procedures, and in all cases be referred to the designated safeguarding lead.
The response to the incident will depend on its nature, and the UKCCIS guidance states that ‘it won’t always be appropriate to inform the police’. If the child is considered to be at risk, a referral to social services may be necessary. The guidance contains a number of flow charts which can help schools decide on an appropriate response. For instance, if the child is particularly young (i.e. 13 or under), if the images have been distributed without the child’s consent or if there are exploitation concerns, a referral to the police and children’s social care will be required.
All incidents should be recorded by the designated safeguarding lead, even if a decision is made not to refer the case onto any external agencies.
NEU self-help guidance for members addressing sexting incidents in schools is available here.
The NEU believes that every school should seek to ensure the following
- school governors, head teachers, and senior management team members are familiar with the Government’s guidance ‘Cyberbullying: Advice for headteachers and school staff’. Further information on cyberbullying is available from ChildNet.
- the whole-school community understands what is meant by `cyberbullying’, its potential impact, how it differs from other forms of bullying and why it is unacceptable.
- parents and carers are aware of how to communicate with the school and that it is not acceptable for them to disparage and bully staff via social media sites.
- parents and learners are aware that it is a criminal offence to publish details of any allegation of abuse against a member of school staff on social media if the details published are likely to lead to the identification of the person accused. Further NEU guidance addressing allegations of abuse against staff is available here.
- learners are safe when accessing the internet in school. Schools should consider whether social networking sites with a reputation for cyberbullying should be blocked.
- all staff are provided with information and professional development opportunities to help them understand, prevent and respond to cyberbullying, sexting incidents and other online safety issues and that they are kept up-to-date with developments in technologies that are used by young people. It is particularly important that they understand the child protection and other legal issues that may relate to cyberbullying, sexting and online safety incidents.
- school policy, guidance and information relevant to cyberbullying and online safety is regularly reviewed, to ensure that it meets the needs of pupils and staff. In addition to a specific online safety policy, other relevant school policies should refer to online safety, cyberbullying and sexting. These are likely to include: behaviour policies, safeguarding policies and policies governing the use of mobile and/or smart phones and other portable devices including tablets in schools.
- the reporting routes and relevant responsibilities are made clear. A nominated member of the senior management team should lead on, and oversee, online safety within the school including anti-cyberbullying activity and incidents. Some staff may find it difficult to report instances of cyberbullying to the nominated member of staff, and where this is the case they should feel free to seek advice from their NEU school representative. Sexting incidents should be dealt with as a child protection issue, and all cases should be referred to the school’s designated child protection officer.
- the benefits of technology are understood and promoted, whilst at the same time recognising that there are dangers which must be addressed.
- learners support each other and are positive in their online communications. Citizenship and PSHE lessons should extol the virtues of using social media positively by highlighting instances where collective action on social media has influenced or changed society for the better.
- the impact of prevention and response policies and practice is monitored annually. Staff, pupils and parents should feel confident that their school effectively supports those who are cyberbullied.
School employees should expect the following
- all incidents that they report will be recorded.
- the school will respond to an incident in a timely and appropriate manner, or support the member of staff concerned to do so.
- appropriate personal support, or information enabling them to access appropriate personal support will be provided.
- information on the safe use of the school’s communications network will be provided to them – this should include guidance about how school devices issued to staff can and cannot be used both on and off the school premises.
- the school will approach third party agencies on their behalf in order to request that inappropriate material is removed, where possible.
- the school will support the staff member in cases where it is necessary for the person being bullied to contact the service provider directly.
- where appropriate, the school will contact the police or external agencies.
If a member of school staff is not satisfied with the way in which an incident has been dealt with, they should seek advice from the NEU Adviceline at 0345 811 811, NEU Cymru at 029 2046 5000 or NEU Northern Ireland on 028 9078 2020.
Appendix 1 to this document is an NEU model policy on online safety. Appendix 2 sets out a list of do’s and don’ts for school staff. Appendix 3 contains details of how iPhone users can check if their phone’s location settings are set to track their location as staff may prefer to have this feature disabled on their personal or work phones that they use. Appendix 4 contains key points for staff to remember regarding online safety.
- Bullying and harassment – health and safety briefing
- Cyberbullying – self-help guidance
- Sexting - self-help guidance
- Social media - self-help guidance
- Mobile phone photography - health and safety briefing
- DfE guidance - Cyberbullying: Advice for headteachers and school staff
- ChildNet guidance - Cyberbullying: Understand, prevent and respond
- UKCCIS guidance – Sexting in schools and colleges
NEU model policy on online safety
Staff in schools, as well as children and young people, may be affected by online safety issues including cyberbullying and sexting incidents. Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can seriously impact on the health, well-being, and self-confidence of those targeted. It may have a significant impact not only on the person being bullied, but on their home and work life too. Career progression may be affected, and there have been cases where the person bullied has chosen to leave the education sector altogether. Dealing with incidents quickly and effectively is key to minimising harm in potentially highly stressful situations. Online safety, however, is about more than cyberbullying. It is about protecting one’s online reputation, the managing of personal information and the responsible use of technologies, including social media. This employer/governing body_________ will ensure that comprehensive online safety education is provided that includes support for both pupils and staff on managing personal information in online environments, and in using personal and social technologies responsibly.
Roles and Responsibilities
This employer/governing body _________ (insert as appropriate) will ensure that this policy will be reviewed and monitored periodically.
The head teacher ________ will ensure that the school has a nominated person as online safety lead (a member of the senior management team tasked with overseeing and managing the recording, investigation and resolution of online safety incidents).
All staff will familiarise themselves with this online safety policy and procedures.
Staff e-mails that are marked ‘personal’ and/or ‘union business’ will not be read by school management without prior consent.
Responding to cyberbullying incidents and reporting
- Staff should never personally engage with cyberbullying incidents. Where appropriate, they should report incidents to the nominated person and/or seek support.
- Staff should keep any records of the abuse – text, e-mails, voice mail, web site or social media. If appropriate, screen prints of messages or web pages could be taken and time, date and address of site should be recorded.
- Staff should inform the nominated person of incidents at the earliest opportunity.
- Where the perpetrator is known to be a current pupil, colleague or parent/carer, the majority of cases will be dealt with most effectively under the relevant school disciplinary procedure.
- Monitoring and confiscation must be appropriate and proportionate. Except in exceptional circumstances (for example, where disclosure would prejudice the conduct of a criminal investigation) parents, employees and learners will be made aware, and their consent sought, in advance of any monitoring (for example, of e-mail or internet use) or the circumstances under which confiscation might take place. Searches without consent can only be carried out on the school premises or, if elsewhere, where the member of staff has lawful control or charge of the pupil, for example on school trips in England or in training settings. The powers only apply in England.
- Where a potential criminal offence has been identified, and reported to the police, the school will ensure that any internal investigation does not interfere with police inquiries.
- Where pupils are found to have made unfounded, malicious claims against staff members, relevant and appropriate disciplinary processes will be applied with rigour, as is the case in relation to physical assaults.
- Staff should report all incidents to the nominated person.
Responding to sexting incidents and reporting procedures
- Incidents of sexting, i.e. the production and/or sharing of indecent images and videos of children under the age of 18, will not be tolerated.
- If staff members receive a report of, or suspects, a sexting incident, they should refer the issue to the school’s designated safeguarding lead via the school’s normal child protection procedures.
- If a device is involved – it should be secured and switched off. Staff should not search the device if this will cause further embarrassment/distress to the pupil involved, unless there is clear evidence to suggest there is an immediate problem.
- The safeguarding lead must treat all sexting incidents as a child protection issue, and apply judgement, in a consistent manner, to decide on a response to each case. Further advice on issues to consider when making a judgement is available here.
- A risk assessment should be carried out, and necessary safeguards put in place for the pupil (e.g. they might require counselling or further support).
- Sanctions will be enforced if any member/s of the school community breaches school policies relating to sexting. If the images are considered illegal, this may involve making referrals to the police. It there are concerns that the child is at risk, a referral to children’s social care is likely to be necessary.
- All sexting incidents must be recorded by the school’s designated safeguarding lead, regardless of whether the incident leads to a referral to external agencies.
Action by school: Inappropriate use of social media
Following a report of inappropriate use of social media, the nominated person will take the following action:
- Where online content is upsetting and inappropriate, and the person or people responsible for posting are known, the nominated person will explain why the material is unacceptable and request that it be removed.
- If the person responsible has not been, or cannot be, identified, or will not take material down, the nominated person will contact the host (for example, the social networking site) with a view to removal of the content. The material posted may breach the service provider’s terms and conditions of use and can then be removed.
- In cases where the victim’s personal identity has been compromised – for example, where a site or an online identity alleging to belong to the victim is being used, the nominated person will support the victim in establishing their identity and lodging a complaint directly with the service provider. Some service providers will not accept complaints lodged by a third party. In cases of mobile phone abuse, for example, where the person being bullied is receiving malicious calls or messages, the account holder will need to contact their provider directly.
- Before the nominated person contacts a service provider, he or she will check the location of the material – for example by taking a screen capture of the material that includes the URL or web address. If the nominated person is requesting that the service provider takes down material that is not illegal, he or she will be clear how it contravenes the site’s terms and conditions.
Where the alleged ‘offender’ is a member of the school community (including parents/carers) the school will:
- deal with harassment and bullying under the relevant school procedure;
- take care to make an informed evaluation of the severity of the incident;
- deliver appropriate and consistent sanctions; and
- provide full support to the staff member(s) affected.
The employer/governing body _____________ (insert as appropriate) recognises its legal duty to protect staff from unlawful harassment as well as mental and physical injury at work.
In cases of potentially criminal content, the nominated person will consider whether the police should be involved, following appropriate liaison with staff, and parents where necessary.
Please download the following document for appendices on:
- Useful information for nominated online safety leads
- How to stay ‘Cybersafe’ – do’s and don’ts for school staff
- Is my location being tracked?
- Stay safe on social media