Education Industry Adopts Social Media Checks To Aid Safeguarding

The Department of Education (DfE) is consulting on changes to the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance, to include the recommendation of social media background checks and adverse internet checks on prospective teachers.

The proposed changes would be set to come into effect from September 2022, ahead of the new school year. They would apply to England only but the devolved UK governments could soon follow suit.

What is the statutory guidance?

The Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance outlines recommendations for schools and colleges on safeguarding children.

The updated version for 2022 comes into force on 1st September and includes guidance for the Education sector on the recruitment and selection process, regulated activity and recommended background checks. 

What recommendations are being made?

Under the statutory guidance, recommendations are being made for the process of shortlisting candidates. Currently, the process must include a self-declaration of a candidate’s criminal history, as well as declarations relating to their qualifications and eligibility for teaching in the UK.

Crucially, the guidance now also recommends that “online searches” should also be undertaken:

“[As part of the shortlisting process] Schools and colleges should consider carrying out an online search as part of their due diligence on the shortlisted candidates. This may help identify any incidents or issues that have happened, and are publicly available online, which the school or college might want to explore with the applicant at interview.”

These additional online searches have been recommended to supplement traditional background checks. They include screening a candidate’s online activity, including social media, as well as any relevant adverse media relating to the candidate online.

Conducting these checks at the shortlisting phase when hiring will help exclude inappropriate candidates from the later stages of the recruitment process, improving hiring efficiencies.

Recent Case Study: Senior Manager With Hidden Abusive Past

Social media policies for teachers

Education employers will now almost universally have a strict social media policy relating to the conduct of staff online, with clear behavioural guidelines.

These guidelines will typically include interaction and engagement with students and their families online but wider behaviour online should also be considered.

Social media screening checks will review online activity and check whether a teaching candidate displays behaviours that would make them unsuitable for this particular role, or whether their online activity could potentially bring the institution’s reputation into disrepute.

Why conduct additional background checks on teachers and education staff?

A growing number of sectors, now potentially including Education, are using online reputation screening to assess shortlisted employment candidates or existing employees.

What was once a “nice to have” check has now become a fundamental element of a robust hiring process, supplementing existing screening procedures. 

Increasingly, this type of screening is being adopted by industries whose employees are responsible for handling the vulnerable, such as teachers, as an added measure of risk management. 

Over thousands of social media background checks, we have proven their effectiveness at identifying potentially behavioural risk, which would have gone unnoticed by traditional screening methods.

Here are examples of the types of “red flags”, or risks, which are typically uncovered in these types of online searches:

  • Extreme views and opinions
  • Hate and discriminatory behaviour
  • Inappropriate or undesirable content
  • Illegal activities
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Violent content
  • Sexually explicit content

Safeguarding children and protecting institutional interests

Conducting online reputation screening on prospective teaching candidates can help identify problematic or dangerous behaviours that wouldn’t be included in a CV or typically exhibited in an interview.

These checks help screen the attitude, as well as the aptitude of a hiring candidate. Additionally, the school, university or teaching facility can protect themselves, students and staff from the wider impact of employing a “bad apple”, including:

  • Avoiding the time and monetary cost of a bad hire
  • Protecting the children from a loss of productivity
  • Safeguarding against reputational loss to the institution, as any negative act of an employee in the media could be associated with the employer
  • Maintaining a positive workplace culture within the faculty, as a bad employee can negatively impact the whole team and be detrimental to the overall culture

Recent examples

In our 2021 Employment Screening Annual Report, we revealed that up to 16% of cases displayed at least one high-risk behaviour in their online activity. As these behaviours would generally go unnoticed using traditional background checks, this could be the difference between safeguarding children and exposing them to a potentially dangerous individual.

In July 2022, a teacher in the US was fired and investigated by the police after he was found to have been trying to meet up with a minor. While a person is under investigation or faces allegations, their criminal record remains untarnished, meaning this behaviour would not appear in traditional background checks.

Another US school teacher was previously fired following her sharing a series of racist messages online. A teacher in the UK was recently also removed from her post, following an investigation that cited her damaging comments online about students and her employers.

Why you should use third-party specialists

As experts in online reputations screening, we welcome the potential introduction of these checks to the Education industry. They are already a crucial element of the hiring process for thousands of businesses in the UK and will certainly enable more proficient, effective, data-driven safeguarding procedures when screening potential teaching roles or education support staff.

Social media background checks should always be conducted by third party specialists like Neotas. Checks conducted  internally could lead to accusations of bias or breaches of GDPR, which could have costly consequences in the future.

To find out more about social media and online searches, schedule a call with our team today.

Leave a Comment