HUNDREDS of North East schools could be without access to adequate e-safety advice and security resources when a Government-backed support network closes this year.
IT experts Advantex Network Solutions Ltd warns that the end of Northern Grid for Learning (NGfL) will have a ‘massive’ impact on schools, colleges and other training providers unless they act and start to draw up alternative plans.
The countdown has started to NGfL winding down at the end of July, when broadband procurement, safety, safeguarding and digital literacy services will no longer be available to around 450 local schools and dozens of other sector providers.
NGfL works to keep thousands of young people in the region safe and secure from cyber bullying, radicalisation and other online threats through specialist workshops, advice, campaigns and events.
In the light of its closure, schools and others will need to seek alternative arrangements if they are to comply with changes to statutory guidance on keeping children safe, warns Advantex.
The Department for Education (DfE) plans (Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory Guidance for Schools and Colleges) came into force in September.
These lay out actions for education leaders to consider in relation to staff understanding and knowledge of safeguarding in schools.
They also require an effective and appropriate whole-campus approach to online safety, requiring schools to link together technology, people, policy, processes and procedures.
Stephen O’Connell, managing director of Gateshead-based Advantex, which provides broadband advice and e-safety services to dozens of local schools, says that the closure plans could not have come at a worse time.
He adds that North East schools could be staring into ‘an online safety and security abyss’ if they fail to act now.
“The loss of Northern Grid for Learning’s services will have a far reaching impact for education leaders and managers who aren’t prepared.
“The DfE makes it clear that children have to be safeguarded from potentially harmful and inappropriate online material.
“The spotlight – and responsibility – is on governing bodies and proprietors to ensure that not only is appropriate web filtering in place but also the correct monitoring.”
Schools are being urged to do all that they reasonably can to limit a child’s exposure to online harm, with the appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place.
Stephen O’Connell’s advice to schools is to move quickly and seek professional advice to ensure that they are not caught out come the summer.
He adds: “There will be no safety net, so schools must review their IT systems now to ensure compliance with the regulations and create a safer online environment for their pupils.
“Failure to do so, made even more pressing with NGfL’s closure, could not only be costly but also have consequences that will be felt now and long into the future.”
Advantex will be holding an education technology workshop on the 8th February at Hardwick Hall featuring expert speakers. Anyone interested in attending or for more information, please contact Rachel Dixon, marketing manager, Advantex. Email Rachel.Dixon@advantex.uk.com or tel. 0191 481 3730.