The 7 Imperatives for Web Filtering in UK Education

All web filters are not created equally

So how do we tell the difference between basic web filters and those that are suitable for an education environment?
Why does this difference exist, and why does it matter?

This article examines these questions and presents 7 imperatives every IT leader needs to consider when choosing a web filter for their school, college or MAT.

Table of contents

The 7 imperative to web filtering in UK education

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How to tell if your school’s web filter is designed for education

You may assume that your school’s web filter was designed for UK education but look a little deeper and you may find all is not as appears. There are 6 key signs your web filter wasn’t tooled to handle the demands and statutory requirements for web filtering in a UK education environment.  

  • The filter is an add-on to a security suite
  • Policy tools are limited
  • English language only
  • Authenticated access isn’t present
  • Evidentiary standard logging
  • The filter is not part of an education-focused suite

Click here to read the checklist in full and see how your current filter stacks up and, crucially, what you may be missing.

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Flexible policy controls in web filtering

Many schools and MATs, particularly those who are larger or inner city have complex needs when it comes to internet access and digital safeguarding.

It’s typical to have students that span a broad range of ages, nationalities, and who have a diverse mix of device types, including students with 24/7 Wi-Fi access from their own devices.

The web filtering policy controls within Smoothwall Filter help schools address these needs in an intuitive, flexible and powerful policy system.

All Smoothwall Filter policies consist of four elements – Who, What, Where and When.

Read the full article on flexible policy controls here.

Who, what, where, when settings used in Smoothwall Filter

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Non-english web filtering

Schools with student populations where English is not the first language must have a filter capable of handling different languages.

Although English will be the majority of content used for education purposes, it’s common for searches for illicit material to start in a student’s native language, often because filters pay less attention to this.

What does this mean for a quality web filter? What should you be looking for when considering a new filter?

Read the full article on non-english web filtering here.

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Web filtering and BYOD (bring your own device)

Allowing students to connect their own smartphones, tablets and laptops to the school wireless network is becoming commonplace across secondary and tertiary education. Recreational BYOD filtering is particularly important for out of school clubs, study groups and boarding schools.

A combination of two key technologies within Smoothwall Filter make this possible – transparent filtering and 802.1x BYOD authentication.

How do they work?

For a step by step breakdown of how transparent web filtering and BYOD authentication works, read the full article.

BYOD network diagram

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Web filtering and AI evaluation

Machine learning is an important part of digital safety technology – particularly your web filter.
It is used in different ways however and this can make a comparative analysis between alternative solutions difficult to do.

For example, closed loop learning, human directed learning, and then various models beneath, such as simple HMM or tensorflow. All of these techniques can be applied well or poorly.

The most important question to ask is where does your filter apply these AI techniques?

Usually it will be used in one of two areas.

1. In line with the web filtering in real-time
Real-time filtering is either baked into a network appliance, or is part of a filtering client. There are occasional updates to the rules database, but generally, the filter makes all decisions locally.

2. Out-of-band offline processing
With out-of-band intelligence, uncategorised URLs are fed back to the filter vendor, and the site is then visited by an automated web crawler or “spider”. The results are then passed through the intelligent system, and a categorisation attached to the URL. The categorisation makes it back to the point of filtering in regular URL list updates.

Read the full article on web filtering and AI evaluation here , including an in live v out of band chart to facilitate a comparison with your current provision.


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Your web filter and RIPA – Being prepared

In the UK the “Regulation of Investigatory Powers” act (or RIPA) was passed in 2000. RIPA gives the Police and some other government organisations authority to access communication related data.

As a school you may be required to hand over information about a pupil’s access to a particular website. Sometimes this can be terrorism or extremism related but it can be for other purposes also. Your web filter plays a crucial role in evidencing.

Read the five-point checklist on ensuring your web filter can accommodate an information request under RIPA here.

Computer and smart device diagram

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Choosing the right web filter for your school, college or MAT is no longer an isolated choice

Digital safeguarding technologies have expanded in recent years and the traditional web filter now has several important relatives. These include digital monitoring, classroom management solutions, digital record keeping, Google classroom and Active Directory.

Understanding how they function alongside your web filter, and in some cases, overlap, is important to ensuring you achieve maximum impact from each and don’t inadvertently introduce compromise.

Read the full article to learn the solutions that integrate versus those that align.

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