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19 Feb 2016

Online Safety Q&A with Head of Product Phil Smith

Online Safety Q&A as featured in Teach Secondary Magazine; Head of Product Phil Smith explains how Smoothwall helps schools to meet their new safeguarding responsibilities, including the Prevent Duty.

1. Name three challenges UK schools face in the provisioning of safeguarding over the next 12 months?

  • Implementing Government Guidance - The Prevent Duty introduced in March 2015 made it a legal requirement for all schools, local authorities and other childcare providers to ‘prevent students from being drawn into terror’. Since then many of our customers have told us they are still unsure of their obligations and lack the necessary information and guidelines from the Government on implementation
  • The task of identifying vulnerable and ‘at-risk’ students and having the right processes and resources to provide additional support where it is needed and prevent serious safeguarding issues.
  • How to meet increased safeguarding obligations within the school's existing budget and resources.

2. What is Smoothwall doing to help schools meet their safeguarding obligations in 2016?

An enhancement to our current web filter product coming out this month contains a specific safeguarding report and alerting system that sends messages to the schools’ nominated safeguarding lead when it looks like there might be a potential ‘incident’ to investigate. We have a full development programme planned for 2016 that builds on this to deliver a comprehensive intent-based alerting system. For example, if a student is searching for ISIS, it doesn’t necessarily imply they are being recruited for ISIS, but a search for this coupled with visits to flights to Turkey, and how to make a bomb, build a convincing argument for closer scrutiny of that student’s web activity.

3. Give us an example of the type of incidents Smoothwall protects against.

We are initially focusing on radicalisation, suicide and bullying - but the intent-based system will allow schools to look at other areas as well - such as grooming.

4. How does Smoothwall help students to become better digital citizens?

At the moment our system blocks content deemed inappropriate. This has been a standard approach in the web-filtering community for many years. However, we believe the needs are changing from an event-based ‘block’ approach to a more embracing ‘allow, but monitor for bad intent’ approach. It is clear that blocking searches such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and weapons is not viable. But examining the use of these terms and putting them in context builds towards a system where teachers can be alerted to undesirable intent and act directly with the student to discuss. This is essential with the Ofsted requirement to “… prepares (sic) pupils positively for life in modern Britain and promotes the fundamental British values of democracy ..."  

5. What measures does Smoothwall have in place to detect vulnerable and ‘high-risk’ students?

Smoothwall logs attempts to sites that are deemed ‘dangerous’ and blocks access to these. We also capture all search terms used so we can examine whether the context of the search is valid. The intent-based monitoring enhancements throughout 2016 will be building on this capability.

6. What advice would you give to a school that has been tasked with improving its online safety policy?

Don’t just block access. This will encourage students to use 3G/4G services to access undesirable content - legally this cannot be blocked by any school system. Encourage students to use their own devices on school wireless and put in place a monitoring system such as ours, along with blocking the most dangerous (and obvious) sites.

If you have any concerns about safeguarding in your school, or need advice on meeting your new safeguarding responsibilities, get in touch [email protected]  

Further Reading
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