The isolation issue – how digital monitoring can help shed light on the dangers young people face online

Comment from Adele Abbiss, Online Safety Expert at Smoothwall

Be it a rise in digital dangers, increased pressure placed on the shoulders of young students or simply a shift in the nation’s culture, disruptive behaviour in schools is on the incline and it’s costing thousands of students a quality education, impacting on exam results and placing at risk children in ever more vulnerable situations.

New data shows there has been sharp rise in the number of children being excluded due to disruptive behaviour within the learning environment. Perhaps even more concerning is the deep rooted level it appears this ‘exclusion epidemic’ is reaching, with the number of primary school children in PRU pupil referral units (PRU) in England having more than doubled since 2011.

Yet such a clear risk to the quality education of students up and down the UK, is not an easily resolved issue. Indeed, with so many varying challenges facing students in the digital era, it is little surprise behaviour has become a barometer for the mental state of the student nation. That said, the barometer is tipping crisis levels.

Getting under the skin of the issue

Like any growing problem, there are intricate and complex reasons affecting and shaping the rise in behavioural issues within schools, making it ever more difficult to try and find a simple resolution that will have real impact.

Of course the rise in risks online is not helping the matter. It was reported that 27,000 children have been lured into gangs as part of grooming scandals. The online explosion has meant that criminal gangs are now able to easily find and recruit those that are most vulnerable by using a variety of online platforms. This is just one example of new risks facing young people across the UK. To further the magnitude of such pressures, we can look to the recent NHS research conducted that found a strong link between social media use, cyberbullying and conditions such as anxiety and depression.

It is also proven that if children are exposed to potentially harmful and inappropriate material or experiences, it can result in a dramatic change in behaviour that often causes disruption and extends to the classroom.

These are all examples of issues that could be impacting students and in turn effecting their behaviour. But such varied, complex and private issues are not easy for young people to talk about and are too often left to fester and can remain hidden behind a tirade of disruptive behaviour.

This makes diagnosing the cause trickier than ever for those with a duty of care. However there are solutions. If schools are armed with the right tools, they can detect issues and concerns regarding individuals in advance and take the necessary measures to help them. This is where digital technology can turn from foe to friend.

Working with digital experts in filtering and monitoring, such as Smoothwall, to keep abreast of students’ activity online, and potentially identify causes behind disruptive behaviour can help to protect children’s safety and wellbeing.

The vital role of tech in safeguarding

To elaborate, in schools, monitoring technology can play a vital role in identifying the risks that children may be exposed to early on. Monitoring technology can help to provide context around why pupils may be acting out and misbehaving in the classroom and can provide schools with the necessary tools to identify a potential problem in advance and in turn offer support to those in need. This can help to make students feel supported and safe as opposed to isolated and lonely, and also ensure valuable classroom time is disrupted as little as possible.

Through the right filtering and monitoring tools, software providers such as Smoothwall can monitor search terms and phrases as well as any harmful content to create an understanding of each at risk student. This tactic ensures those students in need are never let down, that their issues are understood and that they are allocated the appropriate support and guidance to feel safe and well at school.

The Home Secretary said in the Online Harms White Paper that “we need to give them the freedom to explore their world and to realise their ambitions. But we also need to provide a safety net” and here at Smoothwall we couldn’t agree more. We strongly believe that protecting children comes first, whether that be online or in the physical world.

Beneath disruption can sometimes be a much darker picture. Using the appropriate measures will alert schools and prompt them to take the required action. By working together schools can help to ensure that children are getting the care that they need to have a happy and safe childhood and learning environment.