University academics harness expertise to help tackle online harms


A new partnership between Birmingham City University (BCU) and leading safeguarding company Renato Software Ltd. links expert linguists with industry to innovate technology used by UK schools to protect children.

The project, funded through the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, will tap into academic research and linguistic expertise to further advance safeguarding software designed to protect children and young people from online harms.

The linguistic expertise of academics in BCU’s School of English will be harnessed to support online safeguarding software – owned by Renato – to detect and flag a range of online harms, including abuse, bullying, extremism, sexism, and self-harm.

Dr. Mark McGlashan, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University, said: “I am proud to have led the development of this KTP, which brings together expert linguists at BCU with Senso’s state-of-the-art safeguarding technology.

“This partnership will translate linguistic expertise into research-informed tools for threat detection that will enable Senso to tackle some of the most serious safeguarding issues in schools today - ultimately improving the lives of children.”

McGlashan, the academic supervisor of the project, will play a key role in further developing Senso’s capabilities in detecting online threats through applying tools from corpus linguistics, a computational approach to the study of patterns and trends in extremely large bodies of language (‘corpora’).

Michael Payne Director of Operations at Renato Software Ltd., said: “It’s awesome to be in collaboration with a significant partner like BCU, this partnership will allow senso to turn safeguarding on its head and make it even more effective.”

Claire Hayden, Head of Customer Services at Southwest Grid for Learning (SWGfL), a key partner for Senso, said: “SWGfL are very proud to be partnering with Senso in providing an Assisted Monitoring Service for schools across the UK. Our team of experts are in place to assist schools with their safeguarding responsibilities, providing support in monitoring online activity across the school community.”

The initiation of the KTP – which coincides with Safer Internet Day – comes as renewed concerns are raised about online safety for pupils across the country, with schools organising dedicated workshops to tackle the malign influence of extreme misogynist social media influencers.

The project aligns closely with BCU’s emphasis on the STEAM agenda, which places the Arts at the centre of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines to foster innovative solutions to a range of commercial and societal challenges.

The University is recognised as a leading institution in promoting the STEAM agenda, and recently launched a new, £70 million ‘STEAMhouse’ building, located on its city centre campus.

BCU’s School of English is a thriving academic community conducting research in Linguistics, Literary Studies, and Creative Writing; 94% of its research was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework.

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