Quick guide

How your digital policies can support online safety

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The four priority areas that may need to be reviewed with the move to online relationships with staff and students.

Online safety may be a concern for universities and colleges who are switching from on-campus to online relationships with their students and staff. 

In fact, most risk assessments and support measures already taken by institutions will still be appropriate during times of change and are likely to be unchanged.

There are four areas where the move to online relationships with staff and students could affect the assessment of risk or the effectiveness of existing measures. As the most likely to need review, these should be your priority:

Code of conduct and acceptable use policies for students and staff

You should already have policy defining expectations of staff and student behaviour, online as well as offline, and the consequences of failing to adhere to these standards (features 1e and 1g of the higher education online safeguarding self-review tool).

Documents setting out acceptable use may refer to campus networks or the Janet Network. However, when staff and students are working from home neither of these may be involved – particularly where an institution makes significant use of cloud services.

You may need to amend policies and guidance to refer to any use of institutional systems or for institutional purposes. At a time of public stress, good behaviour online is recommended for any use of computers, mobile devices and networks.

Appropriate filtering and monitoring

This refers to an institution’s use of tools to monitor internet access across its networks and consider the use of filtering where necessary (feature 3a of the higher education online safeguarding self-review tool).

If your institution has implemented filtering of web and similar traffic on campus, this is unlikely to protect staff and students who access the internet from their home or mobile networks. Monitoring data probably won’t be available for these users.

If this is a worry when institutional use is taking place off-campus, you might want to investigate whether your filtering systems are available as cloud or end-device solutions that can be made available to your off-campus users.

Alternatively, you could provide guidance to staff and students on how to use filtering functions provided by their internet service provider (ISP). Please note that mobile networks typically implement more filtering by default than landlines.

Student engagement

This concerns the engagement of students in developing safeguarding policies and practice (feature 4a of the higher education online safeguarding self-review tool).

Check that such engagement does not assume students and staff are on-campus together and that discussions can continue using online systems 


What provision is there for reporting online safeguarding incidents or concerns across the institution? (Feature 4c of the higher education online safeguarding self-review tool)

As with student engagement, check that your institution has channels where students and staff can report concerns and incidents, either online or by telephone, and that these channels are publicised effectively.

If you previously offered anonymous reporting, check that the online systems provide this. Given heightened awareness of online tracking, staff and students may need particular assurance on this point. 

Further information

This guidance is based on a tool to help higher education institutions self-review their online safeguarding practice (pdf), developed by the University of Suffolk in 2019 with support from the Office for Students (OfS).

The tool looks at 23 features across four themes: policy, education and training, technology, practice. You can self-assess each feature at four levels: 0 (none), 1 (basic), 2 (embedded) and 3 (holistic).

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).