The events, now in their fifth successful year, focused this year on raising awareness about the potential implications for schools and school staff in terms of employment law, data protection, defamation, cyber bullying, copyright, and privacy issues.
Entitled "Protecting Your Professional Identity", the event was a response to the ever-evolving online world, in which teachers and students may have multiple online identities and profiles to be managed.
In addition to insightful presentations from the SWGfL e-safety experts, delegates were also addressed by guest speakers from schools, the police, Local Child Safeguarding Boards and legal representatives from Ashfords. Amongst the discussions highlighting the potential perils associated with the online world and the importance that staff separate their personal and professional lives, the speakers also encouraged delegates to consider the opportunities in collaborative technologies and social networks in engaging and motivating pupils.
The events took place in Devon, Portishead, Barnstaple and Shaftesbury, attracting over 200 delegates from a range of professional backgrounds, including School Heads, Local Authority Children’s Services, and representatives from local police forces, higher education establishments and ICT network managers.
Ken Corish, E-safety Consultant for the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) said: "With the explosion of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, social networking opens many opportunities for educational institutions such as schools and universities - but also a series of potential issues that staff won't have covered in their training.
We feel it is important, in a world where online activity is rapidly evolving, to ensure that schools and staff are aware of the risks as well as the benefits, know how to address them whilst maintaining their professional and organisational integrity."
Guest speakers included Rhiain Lewis, a Partner in Ashfords' employment team, who covered issues such as cyber-bullying, duties of the school employer to their staff, exposure to the risk of allegations of inappropriate contact with pupils, disciplinary action for inadvertent misuse of the internet (both in and outside work), staff disciplinary and grievance policies, and policies relating to acceptable use of ICT, anti-bullying and safeguarding children.
Victoria Ferguson, a solicitor in the commercial, intellectual property and IT team, discussed copyright issues, for example in material available on the internet, the risk where such material is used without consent or licence, and the legal remedies available to schools and others if their copyright is infringed. Victoria also considered the rights of staff and pupils under the Data Protection Act to their personal information, such as the right of access to data held about them, and what steps to take to protect personal information online.
David Beadel, a Partner at Ashfords LLP, who specialises in reputation management, explained the relationship between defamation, privacy and the criminal law, and how these issues can easily appear in the online arena. David gave practical advice to schools about the options available to them in such cases. He said: "More often than not, the most urgent work is to help the school with steps to have the offending material taken down.
"This may not be straightforward because many sites, for example Facebook, Twitter and Google, are based outside the UK. English law may not be immediately relevant to attempts to persuade the sites to take down the material. A working knowledge of the relevant law, the sites' procedures and codes of conduct, backed up by printing off hard copies of the offending material, is very helpful in achieving an early and successful conclusion."