Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools

This guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students with regard to digital technology. 

Roles and responsibilities

  • Planning a response
    • Consider the following with regards to the roles and responsibilities of internal staff and external organisations.


      • Identify existing internal expertise and plan for ongoing professional development.
      • Designate responsibility for developing incident management policies and processes.
      • Create an online safety group or digital citizenship committee that includes young people and community members to advise on prevention and incident response.


      • Include contact with the following external organisations in the incident response plan.
        • New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA) provides services to support its members in their governance and employer roles.
        • NetSafe provides content and services to support schools to manage incidents. Plan to contact them early in an incident for specialist advice.
        • NZ Police – The Lead Police Contact is the conduit to the relevant police group for incidents in which a crime may have occurred.
        • Other key community organisations such as church groups, marae, youth or sports clubs.
  • Schools’ responsibility and authority to act
    • Schools are involved in an increasing number of incidents where the activities of students at home or in their own time have an impact on the life of the school. This presents teachers with the challenge of knowing the extent of school’s power and responsibility to act in such cases.

      When an incident comes to the attention of the school, it can be difficult, if not impossible to establish when or where misconduct involving digital technology first took place. In general, a school’s responsibility to maintain a safe educational environment justifies a measure of authority over off-premises and student afterhours conduct. When establishing a school’s power and responsibility to act, a school’s focus should be on whether the misconduct has an adverse impact on the educational function of the school rather than when or where that misconduct took place.

      Regardless of whether a student has created inappropriate digital content on their own digital technology or away from school or not, schools have the responsibility and the power to act when any such content could reasonably be expected to impact negatively on the school learning environment.

  • Distinguishing between inappropriate and unlawful conduct
    • Inappropriate and unlawful conduct can be broadly divided into 2 areas: conduct that can be addressed through criminal law (i.e. a criminal offence), and conduct that can be addressed through civil law. General information on types of problematic conduct and relevant legislation is provided in the Appendices.

  • Identifying those involved in an incident
    • Identifying those involved in an incident is central to its effective management. This can be hard to do using the digital technology involved and schools should use a range of enquiries. In general, there are 3 roles in incidents involving the misuse of digital technology:

      1. perpetrators
      2. targets
      3. bystanders.

      The relationships within and between these categories can quickly become complex, for example, targets and bystanders can also be perpetrators. It is recommended that schools:

      • make a record of all available information. While the identity of those behind a webpage or communication may be anonymous, it is important to collect all available information before it is changed, removed or hidden. Schools should consider seeking specialist advice.
      • look for relationships between online and offline behaviour. Young people who have been the target of online harassment often know the perpetrator in person before the incident. They are also likely to be experiencing offline harassment as well.
      • be aware of the central role of bystanders. In psychology the 'bystander effect' refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the numbers of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. In the majority of online incidents, there will be digital bystanders, whose role may be either passive or active. For young people, the culture driving bystander behaviour is strongly related to peer relationships. Understanding and 'breaking down' a bystander culture is both a prevention and response activity.