The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Jack Procter-Blain

Inspecting e-safety: an update

Schools are struggling to train staff and foster a collective e-safety culture, according to a recent assessment report. How can they ensure that policy and practice are inspection-ready?

Attendees at last week’s Bett exhibition were invited to a half-hour seminar on ‘Inspecting Keeping Children Safe Online’, held by David Wright and Ken Cornish of the UK Safer Internet Centre (SIC), and John Nixon HMI from Ofsted.

Together, the speakers outlined the recent revisions to the broader safeguarding statutory guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education​, along with some areas of recent school performance and possible features of best practice.

What are the expectations?

Nixon made clear that Ofsted has no preferred styles or set requirements. Instead, schools must be able to show the quality and efficacy of their own ‘safeguarding culture'. 

At this point, many schools will already have comprehensive measures in place to monitor, filter and restrict online activity in schools. This is the primary responsibility of safeguarding governors. 

However, inspectors are looking to see this be reconciled with more holistic, pro-active efforts. 

All staff, particularly anyone to whom a referral could be made, must take responsibility for e-safety. They must receive regular, relevant training if they are to stay ahead of emergent risks.

At the same time, pupils need to engage with e-safety.

If a school is to be judged 'good', pupils must ‘[be] safe and feel safe. They have opportunities to learn how to keep themselves safe. They enjoy learning about […] how to prevent misuse of technology.’ 

If a school is to be judged ‘outstanding’, pupils must ‘demonstrate an excellent understanding of how to stay safe online.’

Crucially, Nixon pointed out that safeguarding concerns are likely to result in leadership/governance being judged ‘inadequate’.

Areas of school performance

To coincide with the seminar, the SIC published data analysis, Assessment of school online safety 2016, from its annual assessment of e-safety practices in approximately 8000 schools.

The data was collected in late 2016 via the ‘360-degree safe’ online self-review tool.   

Although the data reflects only those schools who used the tool, it can nevertheless help identify some basic trends in view of schools' recent e-safety performance.

Wright identified the more technical aspects, such as filtering and the introduction of Acceptable Use policies, as the strongest among the schools surveyed. 

Staff training, consistently 'one of the weakest performing aspects' in previous surveys, continues to prove a challenge.

The SIC reports that:

  • over 50% of schools have no means of evaluating the strength of their online safety policy
  • almost 35% of schools have no data protection policies
  • 50% have no specific e-safety training for staff
  • 55% have no specific e-safety training for governors
  • almost 60% of schools have no community engagement.

The implication is that, although schools must not underestimate the significance of effective monitoring and filtering, good quality and consistent training are likely to be high up inspectors' lists. 

Features of effective practice

The SIC suggests the following as issues on which to focus when reviewing e-safety in your setting.


Again, inspectors will look to see that e-safety is a shared responsibility in your setting. Even if a school has nominated individuals or online safety champions, devolving responsibility will encourage all staff to take an active role. 

Ownership relies on:

  • professional knowledge. Do staff know what’s in the policy, what their obligations are?
  • sustainability of practice. What are the outcomes of an e-safety policy? How can staff ensure that they are being met? 
  • consistency of practice. Are all staff following the same procedures? If a child reports or shares something, is there standard protocol? 


As anyone from MI5 or the CIA will tell you, intelligence gathering is a vital component of identifying, preventing and - when necessary - combating threats. Inspectors will look to see that there are effective, sensible reporting measures in place.

The SIC's research into sexting has shown that children are unlikely to come forward to individual members of staff, whereas anonymous or online reporting tools have proven popular. Give pupils ample opportunity to declare concerns or report incidents.

Staff training

Training needs to be quality-assured, but also valuable. ‘It's not enough to have someone come in for a couple of hours, scare the living daylights out of everyone and then leave,’ Ken pointed out.  

Encourage staff to acquire individual, specific ‘pools’ of knowledge - collaboration will help foster the above-mentioned 'safeguarding culture' which inspectors are so eager to see.

Finally, it's worth reiterating that all staff (from governors all the way through to administrative staff) must be kept up to date with the most recent statutory requirements and emergent risks. 

Is there such thing as standardised e-safety training? Expert consultant Alan Mackenzie has the answer.


This must not be something which gathers dust on your school's website. Instead, it must be:

  • current. An out-of-date policy will undermine everything the school does to foster an e-safety culture.
  • reviewed regularly –it’s important to keep in line with current and future revisions to regulation.
  • communicated and understood to all agencies. Do pupils know what the policy is and what’s included? Do parents know what the school is doing?
  • effective in practice. If an incident occurs and the policy doesn’t reflect what the school can actually implement, there’s a problem!


As previously mentioned, a good or outstanding judgment will rely on the school being able to demonstrate that all pupils are as engaged in their e-safety as staff. 

An e-safety curriculum will take into account that many pupils already know of, or have had experience with the more prominent e-safety risks. Sexting is the oft-cited example. 

Teachers must cover the full breadth of issues pertaining to e-safety, offer scope for progression and be focused above all not on inspection-proofing, but pupil outcomes!

How can a school engage all pupils in an e-safety curriculum? Find out how the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board managed to get everyone switched on. 


Cornish suggested that a balance ought to be struck between facilitating safety and upholding a school's duty of care. This means allowing secure, monitored access, while at the same time ensuring that all staff are there to support any pupil who may come forward with concerns. 

So what?

The performance trends identified by the SIC, along with Ofsted's comments, will either confirm the strength of your approach or perhaps draw you to areas of weakness in your own setting.

Pupils and staff need to share an active engagement in a whole-school e-safety ethos. Parents will be able to rely on you, and inspectors will clearly see that your policy and practices work when put to the test. 

Supporting older pupils

Our Safeguarding Teenagers: Supporting Mental Health & Protecting Young People Online conference will be the perfect opportunity to: 

  • network with leading practitioners and experts
  • attend a variety of keynotes and in-depth workshops
  • take away proven strategies to successfully protect older pupils from the risks of online and social media safety.

Register now to secure your place!


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