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Social Media within Schools and Child Protection

Social media within schools is a contentious issue. Pupils, parents and teachers are more than likely to have some sort of online presence whether on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube.

This week, Anna Slater, director of Pressglue, the online newsletter specialists, writes about eSafeguarding and child protection in relation to social media.

Facebook is a very popular form of social media and if used carefully, can be a very powerful communication tool. It can have a positive impact on many peoples’ lives and can be used as a simple and effective way to communicate quickly amongst ‘friends’ and family.

Here a few important notes that will help ensure that the safeguarding guidelines are followed in terms of social media:

  • As part of the eSafeguarding role of a school, a risk register should exist, and this will need updating to reflect the use of Facebook and other Social Media accounts. As with any web publishing site, there are risks; and it is vital that schools have explored the consequences of these and fully accepted them before setting up an online presence.
  • There should be no information on the school’s social media profile/group that could lead to anyone discovering the identity of a child or where they live. This should be reflected in your school’s eSafeguarding policy and photography and image policy (if you have a separate one).
  • Child Protection needs to be considered at all times. Bear in mind that schools may have children involved in custody cases and witness-protection schemes. Also consider that children under 13 are particularly vulnerable as they are under the registered Facebook age and so are likely to be even more secretive with their online activity. The location services that can identify a user could potentially be activated without the user realising and this may cause problems for both younger and older pupils if they are innocently commenting on your page and do not have adequate privacy settings.
  • Be wary of parents commenting on photographs which may enable people to identify their child and other details on any of the major social networks. For example, if a parent has included personal information on their profile and has not set their privacy settings then personal information may be discoverable. A clause to this effect can be written into your IT policy for all parents to sign.
  • The local press are not forgiving, they will search social media accounts for any nugget of information, to the detriment of the school, and any accounts that aren’t ‘private’ can be targeted. A school’s reputation is important and it is the Headteacher’s and Governing Body’s moral duty to protect that status.

If used carefully, Facebook can be a powerful tool for communication. However, as with any web publishing site, there are risks; and it is vital that schools have explored the consequences of these and fully accepted them before setting up an online presence.

Download Cyberbullying and IT Model Policies from TheSchoolBus.

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