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Sexting and the Internet

on Tuesday, 26 January 2016.

Schools should be aware that for the first time, the High Court recently awarded financial compensation for sexting involving a senior member of staff and a pupil.

Further to the article which appeared in our December e-zine looking at sexting between pupil peers, schools should be aware that for the first time, the High Court recently awarded financial compensation for sexting involving a senior member of staff and a pupil.

In summary, a pupil (the claimant) who had sent explicit texts and images to her teacher, was awarded £25,000 in damages for intentional infliction of harm.

In this case Mr Whillock was the Vice Principal and Child Protection Officer at a special educational needs school attended by the claimant. In 2010, a member of staff discovered 18 sexually explicit text messages and 20 indecent photographs sent by the claimant to the Vice Principal on her mobile phone. The claimant subsequently sued both the School and the Vice Principal for personal injury caused by sexual assault, rape, grooming and being encouraged to exchange messages of a sexual nature.

In relation to the sexting, the Court found that Mr Whillock had emotionally manipulated the claimant by encouraging her to send indecent images of herself and engage in 'sexual banter' in the texts. These actions had consequences, or potential consequences, which the Court found to be so obvious that it could not realistically be argued they were unintended.

The NSPCC has warned that 'there is a danger young people could just use this as a way to get cash by suing each other'. It is important for victims to get justice but it is equally important to educate children about not sharing this kind of explicit material.

These comments and the publicity arising from the case appears to be somewhat timely, considering that judgement in this case was handed down in September. However, it appears to have only just hit the headlines at the same time as the government has announced that all schools will be required to put in place strengthened measures to protect children from harm online. These measures include cyberbullying, pornography and the risk of radicalisation, through the revisions that it is proposed are made to Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE), which is currently out for consultation. We expect to see a revised version of KCSIE in force from September 2016.

Under the new proposals, all schools will need to have appropriate filters and monitoring systems, so that no child can access harmful content via the School's IT systems and concerns can be spotted quickly, together with being required to ensure that they teach pupils about safeguarding, including online.

So what should schools do?

  • Ensure that pupils are taught about safeguarding, including online safety through teaching and learning opportunities, as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • IT Staff should check that appropriate and robust filters are in place and that there is regular monitoring of pupil's online activity, with reports being available as soon as concerns become apparent.
  • Ensure that the school has in place a robust and easily understood by all, acceptable use policy, which clearly sets out the school's position on the use of electronic devices and their use during the school day. The school's anti bullying policy should be checked to ensure that it covers issues such as cyber bullying and sexting.
  • All staff should be subject to up to date safeguarding and IT awareness training so that they have the skills to pick up, and be aware of, pupil's online safety and other e-bullying issues.
  • Child protection and safeguarding related policies should be updated and reviewed to ensure that the school has robust and easily understood policies in place, which cover all aspects of safeguarding and child protection in accordance with the latest statutory guidance and departmental advice.
  • Ensure that policies including the staff code of conduct, social media policy, IT acceptable use policy and disciplinary procedure are up to date and cover communications between staff and pupils, whether taking place during or outside the workplace.
  • All staff should be required to familiarise themselves with, and have understood the polices referred to, whether as part of an induction process or otherwise.
  • In the event that a sexting allegation is made against a member of staff, be guided by the local authority's designated officer or team of officers (previously LADO) and if appropriate, the police, prior to commencing an internal disciplinary investigation.
  • It is always advisable to seek legal guidance as early on as possible.

Our lawyers will be pleased to advise on the issues raised in this article. Please contact our Academies specialists Tracey Eldridge-Hinmers (education pastoral law) on 020 7665 0802, or Naseem Nabi (employment law) on 0117 314 5630.

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