Recent coverage of a 14 year old boy who sent a naked photo of himself to a girl from school via his mobile phone has resulted in him having a serious crime recorded against his name on the Police National Computer (PNC). So how should schools deal with these incidents?
There is no specific statutory guidance on how schools should deal with these incidents but available guidance includes 'Sexting' in schools: advice and support around self-generated images. What to do and how to handle it, which has been supported by the Department for Education (DfE) and the National Association of Head teachers (NAHT). Although it is not new, it offers practical guidance for schools from a multi-agency perspective.
Some of the key points from the guidance are:
- Clear policy
Schools should have clear policies about the acceptable use of technologies and the action that will be taken if the rules are breached. Although a standalone policy may be helpful, we suggest that reference to the protocols and procedures in relation to sexting in relevant school policies, such as acceptable use policies, behaviour policies, child protection and safeguarding policies, and anti-bullying policies, is sufficient.
- Dealing with the incident
When a member of staff first becomes aware of the incident, they must act in accordance with the school's child protection policy and notify the school's Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL).
- Informing the police
Although a criminal offence may have been committed, there is no obligation on the school to inform the police. If a matter is reported to the police, then it is down to the discretion of the officer whether the incident is investigated and how it is resolved. The victim or their parents may also report the incident to the police.
- Locating the image and taking action
Members of staff are permitted to search a pupil without his or her consent for certain items, in certain circumstances. Schools' policies and procedures should be clear about these powers to search, and they should be drafted in accordance with the DfE guidance 'Searching, screening and confiscation. Advice for head teachers, school staff and governing bodies' (February 2014). If a matter is referred to the police, the school's own disciplinary procedures should be suspended pending the outcome of any investigation.
- Pastoral support
Often, schools are balancing the needs of victim, offender, abuser and bystander, some of whom may have a multiple role in such incidents. Distress is a key emotion in such incidents, and vulnerability to mental harm is likely to be high because of the nature of the incident and the age of those involved.
Sensitive pastoral support for all those involved is essential. School counselling services maybe a helpful resource when such incidents occur, and the involvement of outside agencies in accordance with the school's safeguarding policies should always be considered.
For further advice and support in managing these incidents, please contact Tabitha Cave in our Academies team on 0117 314 5453.