Keeping children safe online is a team effort at The Abbey School, Reading

Robert Bradley, James Brown & Jim Stevens

Head of Computer Science & Digital Learning, Head of IT & Head of Digital Learning - Junior School, The Abbey School, Reading

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Schools often find it difficult to “place” keeping safe online. We all know it is “everyone’s responsibility”, but we also know that, often, that means no one takes overall, holistic responsibility. So who has responsibility for what? How much is it a pastoral responsibility? How much is it a curriculum item? How much should we rely on technical solutions from IT?

The Abbey School, Reading is an academically selective all-through girls’ school of 1,000 students based in a city centre location in Reading, roughly 40 miles to the West of London. It has four sites across the Junior School and Senior School, all within close walking distance of each other. Our goal is to provide an outstanding real-world education for girls that equips them to live with confidence, purpose and joy.

We work across this complex campus to ensure that our pupils are kept safe online through a combination of teaching pupils, teachers and parents how to stay safe online and technical solutions to safeguard them during school hours. James Brown is Head of IT for the Whole School, whilst Jim Stevens is Head of Digital Learning at the Junior School and Robert Bradley is his equivalent at the Senior School.

Our team has been working closer on keeping children safe online over the last twelve months as we developed our current systems of work and indeed our strategic plan.

How have we achieved this?

It is important to note that none of the authors sit on the Senior Leadership Team, but the importance of working with and having the support of SLT cannot be overstated. Regular meetings with our respective line managers, all of whom sit on SLT, mean that not only is there constant communication between us but everyone understands that our team has the delegated responsibility for our areas of responsibility.

Termly meetings of what is known as the Digital Strategy & Development Committee (DSDC) bring us all together to discuss the school’s strategic focus and how it can be implemented across the Whole School and within different age groups.

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2023 put increasing demands on the leadership of the school and its governors to safeguard the children in our care and meetings such as the DSDC allow leaders and governors to both understand and “provide strategic challenge” of the safeguarding policies and processes.

In particular KSCIE puts a duty on the Designated Safeguard Lead for child protection (including online safety and understanding the filtering and monitoring systems and processes in place).

George Morton, our Deputy Head, notes;

"To us, it's really important that the pastoral team has a close and open relationship with the IT team. Ensuring that embedding annual KCSIE updates into our policies and practices is a joint effort, with this year's guidance on filtering and monitoring being an obvious example. I neither have the knowledge or wherewithal to be able to ensure that we are compliant and keeping students safe without the help of the IT team. Similarly, without their support during investigations into cyber-bullying or inappropriate digital usage we would inevitably come-up-short, and not be in a position to work with individuals to help them make better decisions in the future, both for their benefit and that of others."
George Morton, Deputy Head, The Abbey School, Reading

But technical solutions cannot be the totality of keeping children safe online and so teachers need to teach children age appropriate skills to keep them safe online. Jim and Robert take a lead in both teaching these skills in Computing lessons as curriculum items but also in supporting the development of pastoral resources for tutors and class teachers to use.

Indeed, in the Junior School, Jim supports the student Digital Ambassadors who “are powerful advocates for influencing how we uphold online safety, keeping the message relevant and real through promoting best practice in assemblies” according to Nisha Kaura, Head of the Junior School.

Jim was also instrumental in the creation of The Circuit; a weekly article in The Gateway, our school’s newsletter to parents. The Circuit allows the three of us (we each take a turn in writing an article) to inform and educate parents on matters of online safety, from general advice about how to talk to their child about keeping safe online, to specific articles on such apps as Roblox and more recently on our new AI policy and how we, and they, can keep their children safe whilst using this new technology.

By taking this multi-layered, multi-pronged approach we feel that we are doing the best we can to ensure our students are safe at school and have the skills, knowledge and support of knowledgeable parents outside of school, to keep them safe online outside of school and indeed are left equipped to be safe throughout the rest of their life and career(s).

Ensuring that we work closely with each other, with Senior Leaders, and with parents means that keeping children safe online has become a team, or even a community, effort at the school and we are proud of the progress we have made in this vitally important area.

This sense of a shared endeavour is vital, notes Head, Will le Fleming;

"With IT and digital you sometimes feel a chasm between educationalists and IT experts: with both sides willing, but poorly informed about technical and teaching demands respectively. We’re very lucky to have a team of experts who are brilliant and instinctive educationalists, with plenty of passionate and engaged teachers, too. It’s such an exciting area, but one where the challenges of keeping students safe are shifting all the time. Being properly collaborative means we aren’t looking for IT to find solutions to pastoral problems: we’re working together from the ground up. That’s what makes all the difference."
Will le Fleming, Head, The Abbey School, Reading


6 February 2024