Today (Thursday 26 January 2017), SWGfL publishes its annual assessment report of UK schools’ online safety policy and practice. This year’s report was compiled by Professor Andy Phippen from Plymouth University, and assesses data provided by more than 8,000 schools via the multi award-winning 360 degree safe – an online, interactive self-review tool that enables schools to review their online safety provision and develop an action plan to bring about improvements.
Over recent years, the report has disclosed a lack of knowledge amongst teachers and this definitely remains the case over the last 12 months, with almost half of schools (49%) having had no staff training to date around online safety.
Data Protection Failure
The key area of concern identified by this year’s analysis however is the revelation that a third of UK schools are failing to manage sensitive data about young people safely. More than 1 in 3 schools (34%) admitted to not having a data protection policy in place, despite having a legal responsibility to securely store and manage sensitive personal data about children and young people.
This is of particular concern with impending new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) set to be implemented in May 2018. The new laws place greater emphasis on organisations to inform people of how their data is used, with failure to comply with the rules set to incur substantial financial penalties.
The report also concludes that while there has been consistent improvement in leadership and management of online safety strategy in the last 12 months, there is a significant and growing gap in governor involvement; 30% of schools have no governor involvement in their online safety strategy and 55% of schools do not provide online safety training to governors. This raises concerns that without sufficient knowledge governors are unable to challenge senior leaders in schools about their online safety practices, which may place young people at risk.
Protecting Young People
More positively, the report shows that in general schools have good connectivity and are doing a good job at protecting young people from harmful content, with filtering and supporting acceptable-usage agreements, including policies around digital images and video.
Professor Andy Phippen from Plymouth University said: “In this 6th annual assessment report we can see that schools are making progress but it does highlight that there are some significant and worrying gaps, not least with compliance with statutory obligations.”
Ken Corish, Online Safety Manager at SWGfL went on to comment: “It is obviously worrying that schools are struggling with data protection compliance, but this is something we saw emerge in the data earlier in the year. In response we have just launched a brand new self-review tool called 360data which helps organisations test and improve their data protection policies and practices.”