How you can create a digital safety culture for your whole school community

Growing a strong digital safety culture in your organisation has many benefits.


These include advanced pupil outcomes, improved safeguarding, innovative learning and reduced financial and workload strains.

Similar to keeping the school physical environment safe, there is no one component that will magic away all potential risk that could arise in the digital space. However, by building a strong digital safety culture, not only can digital risk be minimised, but risk in the physical environment can be lessened too.

This article explores the key questions digital safety leaders have when implementing a comprehensive digital safety culture in their school, college or MAT.

Table of contents

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Weak vs strong digital safety culture: A day in the life of two schools

With a weak digital safety culture, safeguarding, teaching and learning could be frustrated by gaps in protection or technology that doesn’t work together. This is where an understanding of good versus bad digital safety culture is key to ensure success.

By implementing a good digital safety culture in your school, you can help to streamline processes and practices, improve educational outcomes, increase efficiency in workload, and build a more personalised learning environment, with better assessment and tracking for your students.


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Why a good culture across the whole school community is key

“The online world develops and changes at great speed. New opportunities, challenges and risks are appearing all the time. This can make it difficult for schools to stay up to date with the latest devices, platforms, apps, trends and related threats.” DfE Guidance.

Digital technology has exploded in recent years and it impacts on all areas of school and home life. This has created a real opportunity for schools to engage pupils in learning, however the benefits mustn’t overshadow the importance of a robust digital safety culture across your whole school community.

In today’s culture, students can seem up against it. There has been an alarming rise in self-harm, bullying taking on electronic forms that can be hard to escape from, and troubling reports of children affected by county lines, gang violence, online grooming, anxiety and depression.

When a school has a strong digital safety culture in place, safeguarding of children will be improved and digital resilience will increase through the building of online skills.

By introducing a robust online safety culture, schools can improve and address a whole range of practices and challenges – from improved teaching outputs to reducing instances of cyberbullying through more robust safeguarding.


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Improved safeguarding

As the online world has an ever greater presence in the day to day life of students across your school, the more exposed the young people in your care are to online risks. By implementing a considered digital safety culture, you can help to build pupil resilience and better protect students from digital dangers.

When the digital safety culture in your school is right, the efficiency of your digital safeguarding records are also improved, meaning that alerts and staff actions are tracked so that no pupil slips through the net. In addition, firewalls and filters provide safer access, whilst monitoring picks up any safeguarding concerns.

Without this DSLs are forced to rely on paper safeguarding records, which can be difficult to update and recreate reports from. As a result, follow ups from staff are often missed, actions are harder to track and dangerous or inappropriate online access or actions occur and aren’t flagged.


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Better teaching practices

However the benefits of a digital safety culture aren’t restricted to improving safeguarding across a school – teaching practices can also be significantly improved:

  • Teachers need to be able to focus on teaching! Digital monitoring works as a safeguarding safety-net so that teachers can focus on teaching. They need IT to not be a headache, but a time saver that speeds up their workload. A strong digital safety culture can help teachers to achieve this.
  • Teachers need an effective classroom management system that will give total control and confidence over the digital classroom. They need wide access to resources so that they can teach innovative lessons without needing a plan B due to access failure or over blocking.
  • Teachers timetables are packed, and they need an easy way to raise a concern if they are unable to see a DSL in person. Secure, digital safeguarding records ensure that concerns can be quickly inserted and shared with the relevant staff. This will reduce delay in follow up and stop key information being lost.

A strong digital safety culture will improve teaching access to digital resources, give students the opportunity to build online resilience, and improve educational outcomes for all.


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Improved behaviour

Behaviour across your school can also benefit from an investment in digital safety culture:

  • Classroom Management systems, allow an optimum safer digital learning environment.
  • Any students off-task will be highlighted, and teachers can have whole class control at the touch of a button.
  • Real-time on-screen monitoring allows teachers to easily check pupil engagement and online safety. With remote access to students they can see and remove any tabs that shouldn’t be open and ensure any lesson wreckers are kept at bay.
  • Evidence screenshots of activity can also be useful for behaviour management.

Fundamentally, students need to be safe in the school digital environment. They need to be protected from harmful content and communication through effective firewall, filtering and monitoring solutions.


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Identifying children at risk from online harm

Students will benefit from an internet that is not locked down so that they can build resilience in a safe environment. By being able to explore age-appropriate exciting resources that meet real world requirements, they will become more understanding of the online space. Knowledge is power, and lack of understanding creates vulnerability. A granular content filter and a clear acceptable-use-policy will train students to understand consequences and act responsibly online.

An effective digital safety culture will also help to identify students with cause for concern. Those with hidden issues may be picked up through digital monitoring activity. If they’ve tried to visit a concerning website or had a concerning online conversation, schools need to know about it.

Effective digital monitoring gives schools the confidence that any digital signals showing child protection or mental health concerns are picked up using keystroke and screen content monitoring. This can help detect issues such as cyberbullying immediately and an early intervention strategy can be adopted.

A good solution will monitor on and offline and be able to analyse actions such as webchats, emails etc rather than just static web pages.

An optimal monitoring system should respond in real-time. It should have an intuitive dashboard showing all information around a capture including how serious the issue is and giving clear evidence through a detailed description or screenshot. A managed monitoring option uses a mixture of AI and human specialist digital safety staff to ensure that false positives are removed. It reduces the admin required by schools and maximises risk protection.


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Creating an effective digital safety culture

Planning to build a digital safety culture may initially seem daunting but it can be made simple by using a digital safety partner. Their specialist knowledge can look at your IT infrastructure and create a combined solution that is right for you.

By using one combined solution you can ensure that all the different components will work effectively together and create maximum protection.

Smoothwall is a digital safety partner and can work with you to achieve the right digital safety culture for your individual organisation. With a strong commitment to the education sector, Smoothwall takes the time to understand the changing needs of organisations as they develop their safety solutions.
Smoothwall offers significant benefits to schools, colleges, MATs, independent schools and Local Authorities across the UK. These are achieved by Smoothwall:

  • Being an experienced market leader in digital safety across the education sector.
  • Offering advanced solutions for all 6 components to create a great digital safety culture.
  • Being an expert education provider with experience of working with all school and college types including Independent Sector, MATs and Local Authorities.
  • Understanding compliance for safeguarding and digital safety in education.
  • Creating quality-value with savings made by a single provider combined solution.
  • Offering varied solutions across the six components to suit individual organisations.
  • Having an advisory board of key experts including school leaders, governors and digital safety advisors.
  • Holding regular customer conferences to exchange ideas and share best practice in digital safety.
  • Having an exclusive partnership with National Online Safety- providers of expert training and resources in online safety.

Speak to a Smoothwall digital safety expert to help you plan your digital safety culture today. Get in touch here.

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