Staying safe online

Keep your organisation’s staff and students working safely online, whether they’re on or off-campus.


If you work in a school, college or university, 2020 brought many challenges with more teaching delivered online and fewer opportunities to check on students’ wellbeing. And organisations like the UK Safer Internet Centre and the Internet Watch Foundation reported a huge rise in reports of online harassment and harmful digital content. 

Even though face-to-face teaching may be returning, staff and students will still be spending a significant amount of time online and understanding how to keep safe is essential.

Guidance for senior leaders

As a member of a senior leadership team in a school, FE or HE institution you have a duty of care to protect your students and staff against harm when they’re working online. If you don’t, your institution is at risk of legal action and a damaged reputation. 

Ensure you have clear policies for online working

Make sure that organisational values and obligations are set out clearly in your policies and guidelines, to provide a common reference point and to guide decision-making. Without this clarity, inconsistent practices could put individuals at risk.

In addition, make sure the policies are in a consistent and accessible format and that they are easy to find and navigate.

You should have named members of the governing body as well as frontline staff with specific responsibility for safeguarding issues.

Read more in our guide on how your digital policies can support online safety.

Resources for schools and FE organisations

Resources for HE organisations

Check your web filtering

Our web filtering and monitoring framework can screen out harmful content. Schools and colleges have statutory duties to implement filtering, but these tools help all institutions protect people from online harm.

Check your current filtering - use SWGfL's test your internet pages to see if your ISP’s filtering arrangements guard against sexual, racist, extremist and other harmful content.

Be aware of the law

We’ve produced several guides to help you safeguard your network, staff and students and keep on the right side of the law:

Find advice from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) about how to deal with child sexual abuse images if they’re found on your organisation’s devices or networks.

Keep staff up to date

Make sure information on relevant policies and processes is up-to-date and easily accessible.

Ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities and how to report an incident.

Provide adequate training and support for staff on:

  • Safeguarding, so that they understand their duty of care, can make smart choices about using social platforms, and know how to respond to issues
  • Digital skills - our building digital capability service can help staff develop their digital skills and make better decisions about how to deliver teaching online and how to help students stay safe
  • Security – such as simulated phishing and associated training to help staff identify potential cyber threats.
  • Data protection and other legal considerations

Get more help from Jisc services

  • Cyber security services – tools and services to keep your online environment and physical infrastructure secure
  • Trust and identity services - includes a free health check and hands-on consultancy
  • Digital strategy review - our service that looks at your overall digital strategy, of which safeguarding is an integral part
  • Infrastructure review - this service takes a comprehensive look at your organisation’s digital infrastructure including aspects of cyber security

Online safety for staff

Staff must consider both how to protect themselves online and also their duty of care to learners.

Know how to report issues

Make sure you know who the school, college or university safeguarding lead is, and what you need to do if a student reports inappropriate content or has an issue such as online harassment or cyber-stalking.

There are several websites with specialist help and advice and some issues can be reported online.

Know when to escalate issues and when it’s important to involve the police. During lockdown offences like revenge porn and sextortion skyrocketed. It’s a mistake to try to deal with serious issues like these in-house.

Check privacy settings to create a safe space

If you can choose what platforms you use to support online learning you should understand the privacy and safeguarding risks associated with third-party tools. Some, for example, might facilitate private messaging between learners - or with the public - leaving users vulnerable to unsolicited or bullying messages.

When using non-institutional tools, ensure you know how to change privacy settings to create a safe online environment for learners, as well as how to empower learners to keep themselves safe. Remember that some learners will need additional support.

You should work in partnership with learners, listening to their needs particularly if they have concerns about using a certain platform.

Encourage students to use an online tool like SWGfL's test my privacy to check their privacy settings on various platforms and you can use their social media checklists to keep up with the safety features on popular social media platforms.

Think about the platforms you use when online with students, about whether you need to use the video camera and what you and your students can see if you do. Do you have consent for any recordings you make?

Ensure data is handled correctly

You need to understand how a platform’s data-handling policies may affect the privacy of anyone using it. Some systems’ features can change without much warning (and not everyone will have read - or understood - the terms and conditions agreements).

You should be responsible for following your institution's polices, training and guidance on everything from identifying cyber security threats to collecting, storing and managing data according to the law.

You should also be alert to how criminals can exploit human behaviour to attack organisational systems or gain access to data. .

Maintain appropriate boundaries with learners

Staff should take care to establish clear boundaries when building rapport with learners. It is easy to misconstrue meaning in online spaces. Our subject specialist Scott Hibberson offers some hints and tips on staff digital skills when communicating with students online.

If you’re a staff member, consider the implications of using your personal devices and personal online accounts when working with students.

Help and resources

Keeping safe online

  • The UK Safer Internet Centre has lots of tips on its web pages, and connecting safely online is a useful resource for parents and teachers of young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND)
  • SWGfL's coronavirus pages guide you through issues like data protection, setting up your own home working practices and communicating safely with colleagues and students

Develop your digital skills

Support for students

Using digital tools and online social spaces can be a highly positive aspect of someone’s learning. Understanding the risks and their responsibilities means that learners can take advantage of this in a way that protects their safety and wellbeing.

Don't make assumptions about digital capability

Don’t assume students are ‘digital natives’. They might need training in digital skills, in the importance of behaving appropriately online and in making sure they know how to manage their privacy settings. Also, some learners with additional needs will require extra support, especially as they are more likely to be vulnerable.

Support learners to make informed decisions about which platforms to choose and how to use them and do it in a way that enables them to transfer their knowledge to new technologies when they encounter them.

The reports from our digital experience insights service can help you get a detailed picture of learners’ experiences and expectations of technology in education.

Our digital capabilities service can support and guide staff and students to develop the digital skills they need and build their confidence with digital technologies.

Encourage responsible behaviour

Make learners aware of:

  • any relevant policies or guidelines and how to act respectfully and responsibly on social media
  • how to report harassment, bullying or harmful content, whether this is through their institution’s safeguarding lead, directly online or to the police
  • the need to protect their passwords and never share them
  • the thinkuknow website gives advice on sex, the internet and relationships

Educate learners about online identity

Offer guidance about how they can make choices about what elements of their identity they want to project.

Learners should be wary about the information they disclose or photos they share, even on platforms that feel private. Information could be placed on another platform without their consent and removing it may be very difficult - with potentially long-lasting effects on their online reputation and wellbeing.

Our subject specialists can help advise on online identities and offer training on supporting learners’ digital identity and wellbeing

Help learners protect personal data

Learners should understand how data protection affects them.

They should understand how personal data is collected and used in different systems and devices, especially the fact that private data may become de-anonymised when linked with other data sources. This Guardian article from 2019 refers to research that shows how this might be done with relative ease.

Learners should also understand how to help protect other people’s data by:

  • Understanding how their own devices or accounts may be vulnerable to criminals
  • Checking privacy settings and updating devices - the National Cyber Security Centre's Cyber Aware pages explain why you should keep your devices updated and more information about staying safe online


It’s very easy to find harmful content accidentally – racist, terrorist or sexually abusive material, for instance. These organisations will investigate, take action to remove criminal content and intervene to support victims:

Get involved

Join our defend as one campaign and help us unite higher and further education in a common cause - to build robust defences across the sector. As a member, you can sign up to receive personalised instructions on how to improve your cyber security posture across your organisation.

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