Originally published September 3, 2020 and updated April 8, 2021.

There have been some shocking statistics surrounding the digital safeguarding landscape that have come out of the UK in the past year.

These issues are reflected in the categories that the UK authorities want schools to be protecting children from (sexual harassment, radicalization, substance abuse, bullying, violence, and gambling).

Changes to the KCSIE

The Keeping Children Safe in Education Guidance was reissued in September 2020 after its last revision in October 2018.

These are some of the key additions that came into the legislation from September 2020 that leadership teams at schools should be reading and responding to.

1.     Online Safety

“As schools and colleges increasingly work online, it is essential that children are safeguarded from potentially harmful and inappropriate online material. As such, governing bodies and proprietors should ensure appropriate filters and appropriate monitoring systems are in place” (Paragraph 92).

This was largely seen as a response to some earlier questions that had gone on around COVID with what happened if we have to send students home. It’s essential that children are safeguarded properly, and that appropriate filtering and monitoring solutions are in place, especially in at-home environments. If we’re sending media devices home and devices that can connect to the internet, we need to have appropriate filtering and monitoring.

2.     Mental Health

“All staff should also be aware that mental health problems can, in some cases, be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation…If staff have a mental health concern about a child that is also a safeguarding concern, immediate action should be taken, following their child protection policy and speaking to the designated safeguarding lead or a deputy” (Paragraph 34).

This was never laid out quite as clearly in previous legislation. It’s been added into paragraph 34 and it means that not only be finding mental health concerns in children, but they need to be acted upon.

3.     Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

“Both CSE and CCE are forms of abuse and both occur where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance in power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child into sexual or criminal activity… Victims can be exploited even when activity appears consensual and it should be noted exploitation as well as being physical can be facilitated and/or take place online” (Paragraph 28).

This was largely seen as a beefing up of previous guidance. And it was really intended to make more explicit a few pieces that a lot of people thought were obscure in the last iteration of the guidance.

So, except for potentially the first change which is almost new content, the next two are really talking about things that we should have known anyway. Those are the big changes to Keeping Children Safe in Education for 2020.

What specific challenges do UK educational establishments face as a result of COVID as opposed to the legislative burden (which exists anyway)?

We have a generation of young people who have been asked to do something that no one has ever been asked to do before — stay at home and learn in isolation and be cut off from friends and family members and normal stabilizing environments. Increased pressure makes safeguarding and monitoring more vital.

For many young people, school is the most stable environment that exists. They don’t have a stable environment at home.

This has created new challenges for schools and leadership teams to be thinking about. All solutions and procedures must be effective at home if at-home learning is enforced. And again, that comes back to be the new mandatory guidance on Keeping Children Safe in Education.

So, if we are doing at-home learning, unfortunately we have a technical challenge, but it doesn’t change the legislative burden. If we are delivering lessons over the internet with students, we need to make sure that bullying and child criminal exploitation is not occurring.

The current architecture is simply not designed for at-home learning. The overwhelming majority of schools were not even considering doing proper at-home learning systems in March. You could have argued that it may have been irresponsible to spend serious money trying to create an at-home learning environment when you bring the kids in school every day anyway, so people just didn’t do it. And that’s completely fair. That was the state of the argument at that time.

But unfortunately, when March hit, the world changed and suddenly you’ve got a system which made perfect sense in March, which doesn’t make very much sense at all now. And you’ve got to adapt.

Many staff members are simply not prepared for the new challenges. Again, no one thought we would be doing this in February. I doubt very many people would have organized school seminars for how we safeguard for mental health of children in the event of a global pandemic.

I would very much doubt that was on anyone’s professional development courses last year because no one thought it would happen. It would have been inconceivable. So, we have a staff upskilling problem, and we didn’t really prepare for this. And we’re still playing catch up.

Watch Here

To learn more about how to ensure student digital safety with Netsweeper, be sure to check out our webinar on Digital Safeguarding for a COVID Generation featuring Nick Levey, the UK account manager for Netsweeper.