Online safety: governors' role

Understand your role in keeping pupils safe online. Ask the right questions when monitoring your school's internet policies and practices.

Last reviewed on 1 June 2022
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  1. Your responsibilities
  2. Questions to ask
  3. More resources

Your responsibilities

1. Monitor your school's online safety programme

Make sure:

  • Your school is teaching children how to stay safe online (and that this teaching is adapted for vulnerable children, victims of abuse and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, where necessary)
  • All staff undergo safeguarding and child protection training which includes online safety
  • Online safety is a running and interrelated theme while your school leaders devise and implement a whole school approach to safeguarding and related policies/procedures 
    • This means considering how your school leaders reflect online safety in:
      • Policies
      • The curriculum
      • Teacher training
      • The designated safeguarding leads's (DSL's) responsibilities, and
      • Parental engagement

This is set out in paragraphs 124, 127 and 135 of statutory safeguarding guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2022. 

KCSIE refers to schools having a 'whole school approach' to online safety, and this non-statutory guidance also recommends this. It means your school should consider all aspects of school life, such as your ethos, environment and partnerships with parents. 

KCSIE suggests schools use this free online safety self-review tool from 360 Safe to review their approach to online safety.

2. Ask if your online filters are fit for purpose

Make sure your school has appropriate filtering and monitoring systems in place to protect pupils when they access the internet at school – this is covered in paragraphs 141 and 142 of KCSIE 2022.

This means doing all you reasonably can to protect children from harmful:

  • Content, such as pornography, fake news and racist or extremist views
  • Contact, like adults posing as children or engagement with commercial advertising
  • Conduct, such as making, sending or receiving explicit images, or online bullying
  • Commerce, such as online gambling, phishing scams, and inappropriate advertising

Consider whether your school's filtering and monitoring systems are appropriate in light of: 

  • The age range of your pupils
  • The number of pupils at your school
  • How often pupils access the IT system
  • Costs vs risks

Tip: your school was already required to carry out an online safety risk assessment under the Prevent duty. That will at least partly inform the appropriateness of the filters and monitoring systems at your school.

Find out more about how you can help to make your whole school more cyber-secure with our article.

3. Watch out for 'over blocking'

Your school should take care that its filters and monitoring systems do not place unreasonable restrictions on what children can be taught regarding online teaching and safeguarding, according to KCSIE 2022 (paragraph 134).

The UK Safer Internet Centre has guidance for schools on filtering and monitoring. It includes:

  • Content areas that schools should focus their filtering system controls on
  • Principles for school filtering systems
  • A guide for appropriate levels of monitoring
  • Checklists for filtering and monitoring providers to 'self certify' their systems

Questions to ask

Ask your school leaders the following questions to make sure your school has good online safety policies and practices, and that you're adopting a 'whole school approach' to online safety:

How do our school's policies and practices incorporate principles of online safety?

How do we make sure everyone understands them, including pupils and staff?

For example:

  • Does our behaviour policy incorporate online behaviour? 
  • Does our child protection policy have a clear process for reporting online incidents or concerns?
  • Does our anti-bullying policy make clear what's acceptable online behaviour and include sanctions for unacceptable behaviour?
  • Are our pupils clear what's expected of them both online and offline?

Good answers should include:

  • Evidence of where your school's policies refer to online safety
  • How regularly your policies are reviewed (such as a policy review cycle)
  • How your school's various policies are interlinked through online safety
  • That your school leaders took a collaborative approach to creating your school's online safety policies (e.g. involving pupils and parents)
  • That your policies are easily accessible (e.g. on your school's website)
  • How pupils are made aware of these expectations (e.g. assemblies, the curriculum, relationships and sex education (RSE) lessons)
How are we getting parents and pupils involved in activities that promote online safety?

For example:

  • Are we working together with parents and pupils to understand their online experiences and concerns? How?
  • How do you reinforce the importance of online safety to parents? How do you make them aware of what:
    • Filtering and monitoring systems you use
    • You ask children to do online (e.g. sites they need to visit or who they'll interact with during remote education)
  • Could we implement a peer-to-peer programme so pupils can help each other stay safe online?

Good answers should include:

  • Ways your school is encouraging reporting from parents, such as an online portal
  • That your school uses regular communication with parents to reinforce the importance of online safety
  • Planned and effective peer support strategies (e.g. reporting mechanisms/escalation processes)
  • That school leaders regularly evaluate reporting and communication channels
How are we keeping up with new and evolving online risks?

Your school should review and communicate safety principles on a regular basis. How are we:

  • Integrating online safety into staff safeguarding training? 
  • Reviewing our policies and practices so that new issues facing pupils are covered in a timely manner?

Good answers should include:

  • That your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and deputies have a higher level of knowledge, expertise, and training
  • How often staff undergo updated training that includes online safety (your school leaders might refer to a training schedule)
  • How staff are encouraged to share knowledge and expertise
  • That your online safety policies are reviewed regularly (such as a policy review cycle)
How are we reinforcing our online safety principles?

Are we taking appropriate and consistent action every time a pupil:

  • Reports unacceptable online behaviour, including cyber-bullying?
  • Expresses concern about something they've seen online?

Good answers should include:

  • Regular reviews of your school's online safety policies and procedures
  • Planned and effective support strategies for those who report concerns
  • Auditing systems so your school knows the most common risks and can plan ways to reduce these risks 
  • Case studies of how different issues were dealt with consistently
  • How staff are kept up-to-date on the latest procedures
Do we consistently model our online safety principles?

Your school should set expectations for pupil behaviour when they go online at school, whether they're logged into school computers or their own devices. Do we:

  • Have a clear policy on the use of mobile technology within our school in addition to an ICT/acceptable use policy?
  • Partner with parents so they can extend the same standards of online behaviour at home? How do we do this?

If you're struggling with parent behaviour online, read our article to prevent and deal with incidents.

Good answers should include:

  • Evidence that policies are designed collaboratively with input from parents
  • That school policies recognise child-on-child abuse and outline ways that this can be reported and dealt with
  • How parents and students are made aware of acceptable use policies including the use of mobile phones
  • That policies do not use, and actively challenge, "victim blaming" language and recognise that children are not to blame for the harm they receive
How is online safety integrated into our curriculum?

Your school can decide how to embed online safety into its curriculum. You may find the DfE's guidance useful for monitoring your school's curriculum – see pages 9 to 23 for a table that identifies some issues pupils may be facing and where these could be covered in the curriculum. 

Ask school leaders:

  • How are we teaching pupils to evaluate what they see online and not assume everything they see is true or valid?
  • How are pupils learning to recognise persuasive techniques used to manipulate them?
  • How are pupils learning to identify online risks so they can make informed decisions on how to act?
  • Do pupils know how to seek support if they're concerned or upset by something they've seen online?

Good answers should include:

  • That online safety is embedded throughout the curriculum
  • That opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence of pupils/students, on issues related to online safety, are planned into all relevant lessons (e.g. PSHE, citizenship, and ICT/computing)
  • Regular reviews of the online safety curriculum to ensure its relevance to pupils/students
How are we meeting the needs of vulnerable pupils?

Some pupils are more vulnerable to online risks than others. This includes pupils with:

  • Family vulnerabilities, like looked after children and young carers
  • Communication difficulties, including pupils who speak English as an additional language or have speech or hearing difficulties
  • Physical disabilities, including visual difficulties or a long-term illness
  • Special educational needs 
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Cognitive understanding difficulties, where pupils are unable to understand the difference between fact and fiction in online content and then repeating the content/behaviours in schools or colleges, or the consequences of doing so


  • How are we making sure online safety training is accessible and relevant to more vulnerable pupils?
  • Are staff sufficiently trained to respond specifically to concerns reported by these vulnerable pupils?

Good answers should highlight that interventions look beyond just the reported issue and consider the child's: 

  • Specific vulnerabilities
  • Support system
  • Wider online experience

For more details on what to look for when questioning school leaders on online safety policies, please see this guidance from the UK Council for Internet Safety.

More resources

Article updates

27 May 2022

We updated this article in line with the 2022 version of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE).

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