Half of UK teachers have experienced harassment by students online

Half of teachers (49%) have been the target of inappropriate use of online devices and social media by students, according to new survey conducted by classroom management and safeguarding software provider, Impero. A similar number (43%) agreed that this type of behaviour is on the rise in UK schools.


Around one-fifth revealed they have been approached online (22%) or followed on social media by their students (21%), while 15% have been filmed without permission in the classroom. One in ten have been abused online (11%) and the subject of student group chats (11%).


Charlotte Aynsley, safeguarding expert at Impero, says:


“It’s not news to safeguarding experts that teachers are often on the receiving end of cyber-bullying, but the extent of the trend is unsettling – especially since harassment of other students is also on the rise. A natural curiosity from children will quite often lead to social media interactions such as follow requests from students; teachers therefore have a responsibility to ‘protect’ their identity so they can’t be obviously found on social media. They should also follow the professional standards around not allowing students to befriend them to prevent any unwanted interactions.”


She adds:

“In today’s world, you can simply pick up a mobile phone, create harmful or inappropriate content, and share it to a wide audience online without being held accountable. Whilst schools play a critical role in educating students about online safety, the long-anticipated Online Safety Bill will be a huge step towards a safer online world for both adults and children – making platforms more accountable for the harmful content being disseminated.”

Growing teaching pressures


The survey of 500 UK-based primary and secondary school teachers, also found that the vast majority (89%) have considered leaving the profession as they face growing workplace pressures and classroom challenges.


The most common reasons teachers have considered quitting, are:


  • Excessive workload (67%)
  • Anxiety and stress (53%)
  • Salary expectations (40%)
  • Lack of support from the school (30%)


However, almost one-fifth (17%) cited harassment by students as a key reason, while just 14% expressed a loss of interest in teaching itself.


A call for improvement


The research also found that the majority of teachers also believe their schools need to improve on issues such as teacher safety and wellbeing (71%), staff retention (65%) and diversity, equity and inclusion (52%).


Other areas where teachers called for improvement were:


  • More effective classroom management technology (69%)
  • Academic performance (66%)
  • Student safety and wellbeing (60%)


Justin Reilly, CEO, Impero and former headteacher, says:


“Teachers have a job unlike any other. Their workloads seemingly increase year-on-year, especially with the continued rise in concerns around student behaviour, academic performance, and safeguarding. There are clear actions which can be taken to remove everyday stresses if we are to empower teachers and retain them. After, all the top reasons for wanting to leave are not linked to losing interest in teaching but are instead rooted in safety and wellbeing concerns.


“It is vital to create a safe and open environment for teachers to work effectively and feel valued. This means reviewing practices for engaging, protecting and retaining teachers, as well as swiftly addressing emerging safeguarding issues, such as the myriad of online abuse which we know can cause great harm to both students and teachers alike.”


Who is safeguarding the safeguarders? Study reveals school safeguarding staff are STILL suffering distress – yet are less likely than ever to seek support

                     30% of DSLs (Designated Safeguarding Leads) in schools admit suffering distress or upset as a result of carrying out their roles

                     DSL safeguarding distress similar to 2020 pandemic levels

                     Yet there is a 25% decline in DSLs seeking support compared with two years ago

New research released today for Mental Health Awareness Week, has revealed two years on from the pandemic starting, teachers and staff responsible for safeguarding are STILL suffering high levels of distress as a result of carrying out their role. However, they are less likely than ever to seek personal support to help address the issue.  

According to the data, released by Smoothwall, a leading digital safeguarding technology provider, nearly a third (30%) of those responsible for safeguarding in a school have experienced or seen something that has caused personal distress, such as upsetting images or content.

DSLs within private schools (20%) fare significantly better than those in state schools (31%). However, the levels of distress experienced by those responsible for safeguarding as a whole remains largely in line with comparative data from 2020 (33%).

Despite levels remaining high, there has been a significant decline in the number of DSLs seeking professional support, such as counselling, or personal help from colleagues or peers. In fact, when compared with two years ago, DSLs are 25% less likely to seek support of any kind, posing the question: who is safeguarding those with a responsibility to safeguard?

Safeguarding can be an extremely challenging role with seemingly ‘invisible’ issues such as students accessing harmful online material often flying under the radar and being difficult to spot. The research underlines this with 1-in-10 DSLs admitting they feel unable to spot mental health issues amongst children in their care.

Kat Howard, safeguarding expert at Smoothwall, said: “Those staff with a safeguarding responsibility are absolutely committed to providing the very best care and support for their students, and the fear of missing a vulnerable child can cause significant stress in itself. However, the experience of witnessing atrocious content, sexual imagery, online student chats with potential perpetrators and more through their day-to-day roles is not pleasant and over time can affect their wellbeing and mental health too.

 “Safeguarding issues are also widespread. Our own digital monitoring data shows that every 12 minutes, a child was found to have been involved in a serious sexual incident, and every 22 minutes, a child was involved in a serious cyberbullying, or violent incident.

“As such, it’s critically important we provide those with a responsibility for safeguarding, not only the right tools and technology to be able to do their job more efficiently and spot issues before they escalate, but also to recognise and provide the appropriate emotional and mental health support for those carrying out this crucially important job.”

Against this context, an active monitoring solution can provide DSLs with valuable support and reassurance in identifying those most at risk. Digital devices within a school are constantly monitored to check for signs of risk in children, quickly. 

Serious risks such as a suicide, grooming or a gang meeting can all be picked up in real-time if a child has used their keyboard to view content, message someone, look for information, type out their feelings – even if they delete it immediately or never press ‘send’ or ‘enter’. This approach can support the valuable ‘eyes and ears’ approach to safeguarding, that relies on teacher’s years of experience in intuition.

For more information on Smoothwall, or to access a full report into the research, visit  

Employment law and the duties of teachers: What do you need to know?

Professionals who work in education, especially those who work with minors, are expected to operate to very high standards of conduct, ethics and safety, due to the vulnerability of those who they work with and their position of power, influence and trust.


Dave Ward, a partner in the Employment team at Blacks Solicitors, shares his advice on what education employers and employees need to be aware of relating to allegations of misconduct and safeguarding, unfair dismissal and teacher’s duties. 


Safeguarding and misconduct

Professionals in education should always be mindful of the privileged position in which they work. The safeguarding of students and particularly children in education settings is absolutely paramount. It is likely that most instances of potential misconduct will give rise to safeguarding concerns. Errors of judgement, inappropriate behaviours and major failures to carry out aspects of the role could put children at risk.


Where misconduct is determined following a reasonable process, it can have career ending consequences for professionals in education, especially given there are regulatory reporting obligations and reference requirements, including DBS checks, that are naturally in place to alert local authorities and prospective employers to risks.


It is likely that those subject to allegations of misconduct will be represented by a union and their representatives can take various types of approach, from reasonable and pragmatic, to occasionally derailing processes which cause significant disruption, leading to the parties losing sight of the ultimate objective, which is the provision of a safe learning environment for all.


Disciplinary processes

Against this backdrop, education providers can rest easy in the knowledge that if there is reasonable evidence of wrongdoing, a robust and fair disciplinary process should allow appropriate action to be taken, without putting the establishment at risk.


However, providers must also be mindful of underlying causes of misconduct, such as what occurred in City of York Council v Grosset. In that case, the local authority was found to have discriminated against Mr Grosset on the grounds of disability when disciplining him, where it had not realised that his alleged misconduct was connected to his disability.


It is important for the employer not to place conduct standards and safeguarding on such a pedestal that employment rights are overlooked. Similarly, just because allegations are raised, the employer should not overreact and forgo a reasonable investigation and evidence gathering exercise, as this could well put the establishment at risk of failing to properly investigate, understand the facts and take appropriate remedial action.


Whilst the education sector is a rather niche area of Human Resources, established best practice guidance as set out under the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, remains sufficient to conduct disciplinary processes in education settings. This is so, even where there are allegations involving the most serious types of misconduct.  A thorough, methodical and transparent approach to investigating and making decisions is vital.


For more information, please visit

Free webinar to help DSLs at Multi-Academy Trusts spot students at risk online

Digital safeguarding leads (DSLs), Teachers and IT managers from Multi-academy Trusts (MATs) across the UK are invited to register for a free webinar designed to help spot potential online threats that could be impacting their students, while understanding the benefits digital monitoring solutions offer for their school or college.


Taking place on March 11th at 10am, the webinar will be led by Rob Faulkner, Digital Monitoring Expert, at leading digital safeguarding technology provider, Smoothwall, who will be joined by Mark Osborne, Director of IT & Infrastructure at Northern Education Trust.


During the webinar, Mark will discuss exactly how his MAT is using Smoothwall’s digital monitoring tool, and the impact it has had across the board. Including, improved Ofsted ratings and an increase in seriously at-risk students being detected, all of which occurred in just 12-months of the MAT using the monitoring solution.


Throughout the session, DSLs, Teachers and IT Managers will gain insight into:

  • What digital monitoring is and how it works
  • How digital monitoring can help identify risks, including child-on-child abuse – a key and current focus of KCSIE
  • Understanding the difference between high-risk incidents and lower-risk, including how and when to action where relevant
  • How Northern Education Trust achieved the impact they did (including winning the Impact Award at BETT 2020)


The session has been launched to highlight how MATs like the Northern Education Trust, can work as a single entity to identify potential risks to students online, making the invisible, visible. An issue that is more important than ever, with the increase of schools and colleges using online devices, since the pandemic.


Gavin Logan, Smoothwall’s Executive Vice President said: “We’re thrilled to have Mark join us for what will be a really useful session for DSLs, Teachers and IT Managers at Multi-academy Trusts.


“Here at Smoothwall, we’re passionate about helping MATs across the UK protect their students against potential online threats, whether that be cyber-bullying, grooming or viewing harmful content, and we’re so pleased to see how much our digital monitoring solution has helped the Northern Education Trust. We hope this webinar will help us do that for many other MATs in the UK.”


To sign up for the webinar taking place on 11th March, please visit:


New data reveals a 71% increase in children “at serious risk” online while using school devices

This Safer Internet Day (8th Feb), UK digital safeguarding specialist, Smoothwall, reveals a significant increase in children “at serious risk” online in 2021, compared to the previous year

The 2022 Safer Internet Day theme focusses on gaming and demonstrating respect and relationships online

Data highlights the top three riskiest gaming platforms used by children on school devices


New data from leading digital safeguarding technology provider, Smoothwall, has seen a 71% increase in 2021* of reports of children being identified as in serious risk online through – as detected by the company’s digital monitoring solution.


The monitoring solution technology, designed to alert safeguarding officers and teachers 24/7, identified a serious risk every five minutes in 2021, with every hour seeing a child facing a “very serious risk to their health or life”.


With this year’s Safer Internet Day (8th Feb), focusing on the importance of children understanding respectful relationships while gaming online, Smoothwall wants to highlight the riskiest gaming platforms used on school devices, along with the threats that come with them, according to their most recent data. 


The three gaming platforms which saw the highest graded (levels 4 and 5)** safety alerts in 2021 were:

  • Omegle – 64.8% of risks
  • Discord – 27.2% of risks
  • Roblox – 8% of risks


The data shows that across these three gaming platforms, sexual content was the top risk identified, with nearly 1 in 2 (48%) of the alerts attributing to this category. This was followed by cyberbullying, which caused 18% of alerts, and online grooming which caused 17%.


Across the three gaming platforms however, Omegle was where the safeguarding technology spotted the largest risk for online grooming. The platform which allows users to jump into video chats and forums with strangers around the world saw 26% of risks in the grooming risk category.


The top three risks for each gaming platform in 2021 were:


Omegle Discord Roblox
Sexual content – 48% Sexual content – 50% Sexual content – 49%
Grooming – 26% Cyberbullying – 37% Cyberbullying – 39%
Offensive user – 9% Offensive user – 8% Offensive user – 10%


Smoothwall’s monitoring solution works alongside schools to help prevent serious harm to children.


Gavin Logan, Smoothwall’s Executive Vice President said: “With last year seeing nearly all children aged 5-15 active online, it’s more important than ever for education organisations to have the benefit of a human moderated, digital monitoring solution to help detect students who may have become vulnerable from online gaming – as well as from other school activities.


“Smoothwall’s service works 24/7, 365 days a year, and is a virtual assistant to a school’s designated safeguarding lead, removing false positives and sharing risks they need to know about immediately. This means early intervention and improved student outcomes. We hope our latest data helps safeguarding officers, teachers and parents understand the true risks to children while gaming online and encourages them to ensure their school is protected effectively.”


If you’d like to find out more about Smoothwall’s multi award-winning Monitor solution please click here to book a free walkthrough and Q&A session with one of the monitoring experts.


Safer Internet Day: How to spot the signs of cyberbullying

Ahead of Safer Internet Day 2022 (8 February), online safeguarding experts are urging parents and carers to continue to keep a close watch on their child’s online activities and to be aware of the signs of cyberbullying.


More than 1.7million laptops and tablets have been delivered to schools, colleges and local authorities as part of the Government’s Get Help with Technology programme to help children and young people during the pandemic.  And with so many more connected devices in children’s hands, the Safer Schools Initiative, led by safeguarding experts Ineqe Safeguarding Group in partnership with specialist schools insurer, Zurich Municipal says it has never been more important for parents and carers to be aware of the dangers posed to young people online – and specifically cyberbullying.


To mark Safer Internet Day, the Safer Schools Initiative has released tips and guidance for parents and carers on spotting the signs of cyberbullying and how to support someone who is being bullied.


Tilden Watson, Head of Education, at Zurich Municipal says: “Nearly two years have passed since the UK’s schools were forced to close their doors and switch to remote learning. The Get Help with Technology programme has helped millions of disadvantaged children and young people to continue their studies, but by increasing access to connected devices, potentially unsupervised at times, the risk of online harm is greater. Cyberbullying in particular is a growing problem, affecting around a fifth of 10-15 year olds.). Unfortunately, with the ongoing rise of smart phones and tablets cyberbullying isn’t going away anytime soon, so spotting the signs and knowing how to react is vital for parents and schools.”

Jim Gamble, online safeguarding expert and the force behind the Safer Schools app said, “Online bullying remains a monumental challenge for parents, carers, teachers and safeguarding professionals. The best way we can help young people stay safe online is by empowering them through education and teaching them how to protect themselves from harm. However, should you find out a young person is being bullied online it’s important to know how best to respond.”

How to spot if someone is being bullied online

Often signs a child is being bullied, even in the online environment, will manifest in the classroom, corridors and playgrounds of the school and at home.  Keep an eye out for changes to behaviour.  This could include:

  1. a change in sleeping patterns and frequent nightmares,
  2. not wanting to attend school,
  3. a noticeable decline in standards of schoolwork,
  4. a nervous reluctance to use their mobile phones/internet 
  5. showing unusual aggression, being disruptive or unreasonable.

So, what should you do if someone is being bullied online?

Young people may not describe what is happening to them as bullying, so it is important to listen if they mention things that are upsetting them or worrying them online. If a child describes an experience which sounds like, or is online bullying, Jim Gamble’s advice is to:

  • Take time to listen to them and try not to interrupt. Try not to get angry or upset at the situation.
  • Don’t stop them from accessing social media platforms or online games. It may feel like punishment and stop them from telling you in the future
  • Reassure the child that things will change, and they have done the right thing by telling you. This can help reduce their anxiety.
  • Make sure the child knows it’s not their fault and they have done nothing wrong
  • As a parent or carer, it is important not to get involved or retaliate in cases of online bullying. This will likely make the situation worse for the child
  • Talk to the child about what they would like to see happen. Involving them in how the bullying is resolved will help them feel in control of the situation



To support parents and schools this Safer Internet Day, Ineqe’s online safeguarding experts have curated a set of resources available to download or view on the safer schools website. These cover a range of topics designed to help children and young people develop and maintain safer, healthier relationships with others online.

The Safer Schools App was launched by Zurich Municipal and online safeguarding experts, Ineqe Safeguarding Group in 2018. Since then, it has been rolled out across thousands of state schools in the UK. The App combines the expertise of a range of safeguarding professionals to provide staff, parents and carers with greater understanding of the digital space, trends and emerging risks as well as education about frequently used online language, social media buzzwords and credible video contact.

Available free for schools insured with Zurich Municipal, the award-winning Safer Schools App, resources and training offer critical advice regarding image sharing, online bullying safer gamin and much more. For more information and resources visit:

What teachers need to know about online safety laws

Words by Charlotte Aynsley, safeguarding advisor at Impero

Given the incredible work they are doing during the pandemic, teachers and school staff may not be up to date on the latest news about internet safety legislation. But these laws will directly impact the safety of students in the years ahead, and teachers can be a powerful lobby for changes in their timing or extent, so it is important for teachers to understand the legislative landscape.

As children spend more time online, they are more likely to encounter threats. For example, the volume of child sexual abuse imagery has increased significantly during the lockdown. At Impero, our recent survey found that 64% of primary and secondary school teachers had dealt with reports of online bullying. It is clearer today than ever before that the work of safeguarding students must span both the virtual world and the real world, and these laws will affect this work. Here’s what teachers need to know about the two largest pieces of online safety legislation. 

Europe’s ePrivacy Directive

The first law worth knowing about is the European commission’s ePrivacy Directive. The directive, which has been in place for several years but is currently being updated, aims to improve the privacy of online communications. However, child safety has become an issue in discussions over the law. Debate in the European Parliament reached a deadlock at the end of 2020 about a potential exemption to the law designed to protect children from abuse.

Currently, the directive’s robust privacy policies offer respite for abusers and others who would harm children. For instance, Facebook has paused some scanning of private messages for child abuse because of the law’s current manifestation. The NSPCC has accused Facebook of going too far in this reading of the legislation and called for immediate resumption of message scanning.

Despite Brexit, many international companies and social media networks will still abide by the European directive. For that reason, the UK government has issued a statement calling for an urgent exemption to the law for child safety.

The UK’s Online Harms Bill

Some teachers may already be familiar with the Online Harms Bill. The legislation was first proposed in a 2019 white paper, intended to improve child safety online by establishing a new regulator to enforce clear rules for companies operating online. The law would create new codes of practice for companies and enforce a statutory duty of care, making it safer for young people to be online.

Unfortunately, the legislation has faced constant delays and obstacles from several directions.  For example, experts have recently suggested that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US may see the UK bow to pressure from American tech giants to water down the bill. Meanwhile, the coalition supporting a strong bill continues to grow and now includes educators, experts, and professional footballers who have experienced harassment online.

What does this mean for teachers?

Every day, teachers do an outstanding job of safeguarding students, both online and in the classroom. If handled correctly, these laws will support teachers by reducing  online threats to students and increasing the recourse that they will have if they experience bullying, abuse, or other online harm. In short, these regulations should make teachers’ lives easier – if they’re working properly – so it’s essential that the industry is aware of them and gets behind them.