With the ever increasing variety of websites and apps, social media cannot be ignored. More and more children are using mobile phones and opening their own accounts, so parents and schools need to understand the risks and opportunities in this ever changing area.
From a legal perspective, the key is to have a policy that works, make sure everyone knows what the policy is, to follow the policy and to have an audit trail to demonstrate that it has been followed. The single most important factor to keep in mind with any policy is safeguarding. Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) expressly state that policies should include: ‘acceptable use of technologies, staff/pupil relationships and communications including the use of social media.’ Policies need to be both taught to and accessible to students, parents and teachers. Whilst it will be for individual schools to develop their own policies, the starting point has to be to make sure that it includes the key points contained in KCSIE.
KSCIE makes it clear that ‘Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure children are taught about safeguarding, including online, through teaching and learning opportunities, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum.’ The sad reality is that while social media provides many opportunities for instant communication and sharing ideas, it has also become a tool used by people seeking to groom children. This can include online gaming as well.
For Governing bodies and parents, keeping up to date with the latest app is very difficult, which is why regular training is important. In addition, policies should include what the expectations are around aspects such as use of mobile phones at school and set out potential disciplinary consequences in relation to cyber bullying.
While social media does carry risks, it is also an opportunity to provide a forum for the school community to come together to share good news, celebrate success and get information out to people quickly and easily. But, again, having a policy is key.
If you require any further information about the risks of social media in schools, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Education Law team.