Sexual Harassment in Schools: SafeToNet and Reaching the Soul of Society…

Reports of sexual harassment in schools has sky rocketed over the last few weeks following the Everyone's Invited campaign, which launched June 2020.

Here Derek Peaple, Head of Education at SafeToNet reviews the role of schools in protecting their pupils against sexual harassment and shares how the SafeToNet app can help students, parents and schools take action to challenge harassing behaviour and promote respect.

Schools, perhaps more than ever, have now become the hubs of the communities that they serve. A focal point for those otherwise potentially disorientated, perhaps offering the one source of certainly and security in an otherwise increasingly uncertain and insecure world.

A hub. A focal point. A microcosm of those communities. But maybe therefore also an echo chamber for them. 

It is in this context that the role of schools in addressing the issues of harassment and abuse, raised so horrifically by Everyone’s Invited, has become crucial, at so many levels.

Let’s be clear. Schools themselves do not spawn these issues; nor can they resolve them alone. Or be the only solution. That’s why is so important to note that Ofsted now intends to work with representatives from social care, the police, and victim support groups alongside school and college leaders to share insight into this wider societal issue.

But they can, as in so many other areas of young people’s lives, be the most positive force for change. And in the context of this newly enhanced community role, also now act as a catalyst that mobilises the wider engagement of that whole community in addressing this pervasive issue.

Great schools are values-driven. Well-being, be it emotional, mental or physical sits at their core. Beliefs in respect and equality shape culture and ethos and behaviour.

So how can this be reflected in practical approaches that positively promote these beliefs across the wider learning community of pupils, parents and staff?

SafeToNet, where I am now Head of Education after twenty years of secondary headship and thirty four years in teaching, offers school leaders a tool to do so precisely that because it is about learning. About Community Education, in the widest sense.

SafeToNet, put at its most simple, is about a safeguarding app. The keyboard uses artificial intelligence to detect and filter risks. Crucially, it encourages young people’s self reflection on the use of language and the impact that this can have on others. And it provides advice and guidance to both children and parents, in real time.

And you then only need to look at the Guidance to Inspectors in relation to Safeguarding under the new Ofsted Framework from September 2019 to recognise the resonance of the approach in school, and the value that it can add:

  • action is taken to ensure that children are taught about safeguarding risks, including online risks
  • the setting takes effective action to prevent and tackle discriminatory and derogatory language
  • as part of the curriculum, children and learners are supported to understand what constitutes a healthy relationship both online and offline, and to recognise risk
  • staff, leaders and managers oversee the safe use of electronic and social media by staff and learners and take action immediately if they are concerned about bullying or risky behaviours

And it is of course on the basis of this evidence that…

Inspectors will evaluate... the extent to which the provision is successfully promoting and supporting children’s and learners’ safety… understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships and how they are supported to keep themselves safe from relevant risks including when using... social media.

But let’s also look beyond Ofsted. Let’s look, as great school leaders, about what really matters now.

Lockdown - and perhaps more accurately - the longer-term uncertainties associated with it for young people have created a ‘void’ in which more anti-social online behaviours can potentially develop. And without the rapid interventions that consistently effective ‘real time’ schooling can provide.

In this hybrid learning environment the welfare challenges facing schools are now at least parallel to those that were initially associated with teaching. The same key staff are having to address real time issues generated in school, as they always have done. But with the additional demand of monitoring and responding to online welfare and safety issues potentially generated by the dual paradigm for learning.

By considering use of the app as a key part of a genuinely holistic approach to safeguarding across their community, school leaders can help to bring parents, children and school together in a shared commitment to challenging the behaviours so starkly evidenced by Everyone’s Invited and potentially amplified by the pandemic. A commitment that brings powerful mutual benefit to all partners. It can…

For Students:

  • Keep them safer online whilst respecting their privacy
  • Provide real-time advice on cyber-safety topics
  • Positively addresses issues of anxiety, low self-esteem and bullying
  • Encourage self regulation and de-risk online behaviour

 For Parents:

  • Provide insights into a young person’s digital world without spying or snooping
  • Promote positive and informed dialogue with their child about online safety
  • Offer advice and guidance

For the School:

  • Support staff in educating students about good online behaviour and respect
  • Reduce the time and resource that staff spend on resolving difficult online issues - often ‘imported’ from outside school

 It is also as part of this wider range of community benefits, that we are now working in partnership with schools to develop and deliver free of charge:

  • CPD for staff
  • Online safety webinars for families
  • Access to a ‘Digital Champions’ e-peer mentoring programme for students
  • Online safety teaching materials and assemblies

If education is indeed, as G.K. Chesterton once observed, ‘the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another’ let’s work together to ensure that we do our best to reach it.

You can find out more about how the SafeToNet app works here:


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