Coronavirus (COVID-19) Safeguarding considerations

The current exceptional circumstances and change to school provision has brought various safeguarding issues to the fore, both in relation to pupils who continue to attend school, and those who are at home. We have outlined some of these issues below, including:

  • Changes to the school’s child protection / safeguarding policy
  • Staff awareness and training
  • DSL arrangements
  • Non-attendance of vulnerable pupils, and other pupils who may also be vulnerable
  • Potential for stigma and data issues relating to those continuing to attend school
  • Pastoral support and mental health concerns
  • Recording registration and non-attendance
  • Safer recruitment and changes to DBS checking
  • What to do with safeguarding information when a pupil temporarily transfers to another setting
  • Increased online safety risks (e.g. bullying, sexting)
  • Safeguarding in the remote learning environment
  • Pupils with particular needs
  • Effective parental communications
  • Pupils with or awaiting an EHC Plan
  • Self-isolation within a boarding environment
  • IT and cyber security issues

Please do contact a member of our team if you need assistance in relation to the particular circumstances of your school.

Guidance

Please note that the links and guidance are correct at the time of writing; however, government guidance is rapidly evolving at present, and schools should check that they are looking at the latest versions. The primarily statutory safeguarding guidance remains Keeping Children Safe in Education KCSIE 2019 which is supplemented by the coronavirus/Covid-19 guidance.

The main government guidance for Coronavirus safeguarding in schools was recently supplemented by Safeguarding and remote education during coronavirus (Covid-19) which was published on 19 April 2020 DfE Remote Education Guidance.

All school leaders (including designated safeguarding leads and any deputies) should ensure they are familiar with both these publications. There is also more specific guidance, including:

Do we need to make changes to our child protection policy?

Yes – as the policy and procedures will need to reflect any interim changes both in light of any interim arrangements of local safeguarding partners, and practical arrangements at the school. This is likely to be simplest by way of addendum or appendix to the current policy. This must be published and communicated as appropriate.

The DSL (or deputy) should also consider any challenges particular to their school in light of the current situation, and reflect those in the policy as appropriate.

The government recognises that schools may consider their safeguarding arrangements differently when compared to ‘business as usual’. However, the following safeguarding principles remain the same:

  • child-centred approach, what is in the best interests of the child?
  • if anyone in a school has a safeguarding concern they should continue to act immediately
  • a DSL (or deputy) should be available
  • unsuitable people must not be allowed to enter the children’s workforce and/or gain access to children
  • where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer harm, a referral to social care and/or the police should be made
  • children should continue to be protected when they are online

A school’s DSL or deputy (wherever possible) should, in light of the above, review and revise their school’s child protection policy to ensure it reflects:

  • any updated advice received from local safeguarding partners,
  • any updated advice received from local authorities regarding children with Education, Health and Care Plans, the local authority designated officer and children’s social care, reporting mechanisms, referral thresholds and children in need
  • what staff and volunteers should do if they have any concerns about a child
  • the importance of all staff and volunteers acting immediately on any safeguarding concerns
  • DSL (and deputies) working with and supporting children’s social workers and the local authority virtual school head for looked-after and previously looked-after children
  • peer on peer abuse
  • staff and volunteers should do if they have concerns about a staff member or volunteer (the principles in part 4 of KCSIE will continue to apply)
  • arrangements to support any children who do not meet the ‘vulnerable’ definition
  • what arrangements are in place to keep children not physically attending the school safe, especially online and how concerns about these children should be progressed
Staff awareness and training
All existing school staff

Staff should be:

  • made aware of any new local arrangements so they know what to do if they are worried about a child;
  • made aware of any changes to the school’s child protection policy;
  • reminded of the principles for safer work practices, particularly in an online environment; and
  • provided with the relevant staff behaviour policy / Code of Conduct.

Within the above arrangements, staff should be clear as to acceptable methods of contact between staff and pupils and any associated guidance, the procedures and guidance for any 1:1 provision, and for any recorded or streamed lessons.

New staff/ volunteers

Should continue to be provided with a safeguarding induction, a copy of the school’s updated child protection policy, and the staff behaviour policy or Code of Conduct.

Temporary staff

Staff who may move to the school on a temporary basis in response to COVID-19, should be judged on a case-by-case basis to determine the level of safeguarding induction required. In most cases, all they will require is a copy of the receiving school’s child protection policy, confirmation of local processes and DSL arrangements (see further below).

For the period COVID-19 measures are in place, the government has confirmed that a DSL (or deputy) who has been trained will continue to be classed as a trained DSL (or deputy) even if they miss their refresher training.

DSL arrangements

Staff and volunteers should have access to a trained DSL (or deputy) and know on any given day who that person is and how to speak to them.

All schools should therefore continue to have a trained DSL (or deputy) available on site. Where this is not possible, schools should ensure that the DSL (or deputy) is available via phone or online video or schools may ‘share’ a DSL (or deputy) who can be contacted remotely.

Where a trained DSL or deputy is not on site, the government recommends a senior leader takes responsibility for co-ordinating safeguarding on site who updates and manages access to child protection files; and liaises with the offsite DSL (or deputy) and children’s social workers (where required for any children in need and/or to carry out statutory assessments at the school).

Vulnerable pupils not attending school

Schools should ensure a process is put in place to check on the welfare of any pupil identified as a vulnerable child who was expected to continue to attend school, but who has not presented.

This should include following up with the child’s parent/carer and the child’s social worker/ local authority, where appropriate to explore the reasons for absence. If necessary, safeguarding protocols should be followed including by liaising with social services as required.

If a parent says that they do not want to bring their child into school for particular reason, the government guidance regarding vulnerable pupils includes some suggestions as to how to respond.

In all circumstances where a vulnerable child does not take up their place at school, or discontinues, the school should notify their social worker or the relevant partner. Where appropriate, the school should keep in contact with the family.

Designated safeguarding leads should keep under review their lists of vulnerable children and young people who should be attending provision, and share this with their local authority.

Note: In order to stay in touch with and support the safeguarding of vulnerable pupils, the government recommends that schools confirm with parents/carers that emergency contact numbers are correct and ask for any additional emergency contact numbers where they are available.

Other potentially vulnerable pupils

In addition to those identified by the government as vulnerable, school pastoral and safeguarding leads should identify any children who fall outside of this category, but who the school considers may need additional support and strategies to promote their safety and well-being when not at school. This may include those who present with mental health concerns (see further below).

The government guidance advises that if a school considers a pupil to be particularly vulnerable in their home environment, but that they do not meet the definition of a vulnerable child, schools should begin by liaising with children’s services and any third-party services they feel is appropriate. In such instances any strategies or support put in place should be carefully documented and monitored.

Where such children do not present at school and were due to attend, follow up action should include liaising with the child’s parent/carer and other partners where appropriate.

Additional complications may also arise where concerns relate to pupils who reside overseas. In this instance, safeguarding leads should liaise with children’s social care and take advice as to what information, if any, may need to be shared with agencies in the child’s home country.

Pastoral support and mental health concerns

Schools should ensure appropriate pastoral support is in place (including remotely) for their parents and pupils during the current uncertain climate. Senior management should discuss ways to achieve this, which may include helping families make weekly plans (to include time for learning, play and relaxation) to help reduce stress and anxiety; providing 1:1 pastoral support for vulnerable pupils and/or those with SEND (subject to an appropriate risk assessment discussed and approved by the school’s senior leadership team); and including a child’s parents on discussions surrounding a child (where appropriate).

Schools should be particularly alive to mental health issues which can bring about changes in a young person’s behaviour or emotional state and may be an indication of an underlying problem.

Support for such pupils should include existing provision in the school (although this may be delivered in different ways, for example over the phone, for those children receiving remote provision of education) or from specialist staff or support services.

Risks of stigma / data breaches where children are still attending school

Broadly, the only pupils who are currently attending school are vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. This means that there is a potential for children (particularly older pupils) to question why other children are in school. This may be quite simple for those who are children of key workers, but poses greater problems for those who are vulnerable. Other pupils may not be aware of the reasons as to why a pupil is vulnerable and care must be taken to ensure this information is safeguarded accordingly.

Government guidance says “…there should be no reason that vulnerable children will be identified separately. However, where parents may feel concerned that their child attending school identifies them as being in need of social work support, schools and social workers can support families to decide how best to manage that.” This may mean making bespoke arrangements, which should be kept under review in order to protect confidential information about pupils.

How should we record registration and non-attendance?

The DfE has published guidance as to how to record attendance during the Covid-19 outbreak. At the time of writing, in order to reduce the administrative burden on schools, the DfE advises that schools must:

  1. Stop taking their normal attendance registers;
  2. Consider making use of the record of attendance spreadsheet (available via the above link) to record attendance for all children at the educational setting. This spreadsheet is not mandatory – it is intended as a tool to help you with recording your attendance and does not need to be submitted to the DfE.
  3. Use the information in the record of attendance spreadsheet, or from another source if the information is held elsewhere, to complete this online form notifying the Department for Education about your school’s status regarding COVID-19. The online form should be submitted by midday, each weekday.

The spreadsheet provides further detail as to how schools should record pupils who are still attending school, including for any pupils who are attending the school but are not on its roll.

Any vulnerable children who are able to attend a setting must be recorded on the online form. This must be completed daily for safeguarding purposes.

How should we approach safer recruitment, including where staff temporarily move to another school to help provide care?

The DfE Covid-19 safeguarding guidance makes clear it remains of vital importance that people who are unsuitable are not allowed to enter the children’s workforce or gain access to children. All schools are therefore expected to continue to follow their safer recruitment processes, in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE). This includes keeping the Single Central Register up to date.

New DBS checks are not required on staff who temporarily move to another school to support the care of children. Nor is the type of setting on the DBS check, for example a specific category of school, a barrier. The receiving institution should conduct a risk assessment and satisfy itself that the individual has had the required KCSIE Part 3 checks, such as via seeking assurance from the current employer. The receiving school may, if they wish, utilise the SCR to log any staff who may be on loan from other institutions.

Any school acting as the hub in a cluster should ensure that staff and volunteers have been appropriately checked and risk assessed as required.

How can schools ensure that their staff and volunteers are appropriately DBS checked?

Safer recruitment processes are still essential, despite the challenging circumstances.

In light of the restrictions on travel and social interaction, the DBS has made temporary changes to the ID checking guidelines to minimise the need for face to face contact. This note from the DBS shows the changes that came into effect on 24 March 2020.

These changes mean that in some circumstances ID documents can be viewed over video link and scanned images can be used in advance of the DBS check being submitted. However, it is important to note that this approach should only be implemented for urgent cases where it is not possible to follow the normal identity checking guidelines. The applicant must present the original versions of these documents when they first attend their employment or volunteering role.

The government advice regarding checking identity documents for indicators of fraud still applies at the time of writing.

Note: Schools must continue to follow their legal duty to refer to the DBS anyone who has harmed or poses a risk of harm to a child and consider and make referrals to the TRA where appropriate.

What should we do with safeguarding information when a pupil temporarily transfers to another setting?

Any school whose pupils are attending another setting should do whatever they reasonably can to provide the receiving institution with relevant welfare and child protection information. This should happen before the child transfers or, where this is not possible, as soon as reasonably practicable after. Ideally the school’s DSL (or senior leaders in their absence) should ensure this sharing of information takes place.

As a minimum the receiving institution should (as appropriate):

  • Have access to a vulnerable child’s EHC plan, child in need plan, child protection plan or, for looked-after children, their personal education plan;
  • Know who the child’s social worker (and, for looked-after children, who the responsible virtual school head is); and
  • Be aware of the reason the child is vulnerable and any arrangements in place to support them.

Schools must have regard for data protection considerations when sharing data (in this case special category data), but schools are reminded that data protection law does not prevent the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe. Please see the key principles on information sharing.

Increased Online Safety Risks

As above, the DfE has now produced specific guidance in relation to remote learning in terms of safeguarding pupils and staff in the remote environment, and which includes reference to various resources for schools: DfE Remote Education Guidance.

With pupils likely to spend more time online / on social media due to remote teaching and learning and social distancing, schools should be particularly alive to the risks presented (such as cyber-bullying, peer-on-peer abuse and sexting). This should be part of the risk assessment process, with strategies in place to manage identified risks.

All staff should be reminded of the school’s safeguarding and child protection policy and procedures and what to do if they see or hear something worrying during an online session and/or a child makes a disclosure remotely. Schools should also ensure there is a ‘safe space’ for pupils to ask questions and raise concerns, as well as signposting children to age appropriate practical support, such as:

It may also be a good time to remind pupils (and parents) about online behaviours between themselves as well as how to stay safe when online. Parents, in turn, should be encouraged to use filters and set age-appropriate parental controls on digital devices at home to help ensure a safe online environment. Parents should also know what sites the school will ask their child(ren) to use and the staff their child(ren) will interact with.

Where parents choose to supplement the school’s online offer with support from third parties, schools should emphasise the importance of securing online support from a reputable organisation/individual who can provide evidence that they are safe and can be trusted to have access to children.

How can schools safeguard when pupils are learning remotely from home?

Many schools and staff are now providing education remotely through a variety of technology solutions. These arrangements require particular safeguarding considerations to protect both staff and pupils. Suitable risk assessments should be in place for remote learning generally, with steps in place to minimise any identified risks.

Schools should consider providing guidance to staff, pupils and parents in terms of safe access to remote learning. As above, staff should also be reminded that the staff code of conduct/staff behaviour policy will continue to apply to online and distance learning arrangements. Any existing codes of conduct, behaviour, acceptable use or e-safety policies should be reviewed and checked to see if they need to be updated in light of the current situation, and to reflect the fact that the same principles apply equally to the remote learning environment.

For instance, in order to protect staff, teachers may be advised insofar as possible to:

  • Deliver the content in a neutral location with no personal items in sight;
  • Be dressed appropriately (i.e. work clothes, not loungewear);
  • Ensure their family members are out of the room;
  • Check the content reflects the pupil cohort taking account of the needs of any vulnerable pupils (including those with SEND);
  • Consider if any sessions are being delivered 1:1, and whether any additional protections should be in place; and
  • Manage IT arrangements wherever possible to ensure that staff do not use their personal phones or email addresses to contact pupils / parents.

Similar arrangements should be in place for pupils/parents, with particular regard for those who may be participating in live sessions, for instance advising parents to ensure that pupils are learning in a neutral environment (not a bedroom) and are dressed appropriately. Pupils should be provided with and/or reminded of the expectations of their behaviour in relation to each other and staff (including issues such as cyberbullying, sexting etc), and reminded of any relevant policies such as acceptable use. Pupils must be clear as to how to raise any concern they may have.

Live streaming and recording of lessons

There is no right or wrong approach for schools – rather a risk-based strategy, taking account of the particular school context (including available IT systems, resources, age of children), regard to guidance, and with appropriate risk mitigation strategies in place. The DfE has made clear that there is no expectation or requirement for schools to live stream or provide pre-recorded videos. Schools should consider the approaches that best suit the needs of their pupils and staff and in light of any identified risks.

When considering whether to record sessions, schools should consider any associated risks (for instance, do recordings protect staff if complaints were raised at a later date), and how to store such data in line with data protection laws.

The government guidance reiterates that all schools should be doing what they reasonably can to keep their children safe. In the online environment, it is important that staff who do interact with children, including online, continue to look out for signs a child may be at risk.

Clear reporting routes for staff - as well as pupils and parents - to raise safeguarding concerns are essential. Any concerns should be dealt with in accordance with the child protection policy and with appropriate referrals to social care and/or the police as appropriate. Schools may wish to review these existing arrangements to ensure they continue to be appropriate during school closures, or if additional or alternative arrangements need to be put in place.

Schools should also consider signposting the school community to the practical support and resources available for supporting online safeguarding, reporting harmful or upsetting content, as well as those platforms for pupils to confidentially report online bullying and abuse.

Pupils with particular needs

Separate consideration should be given to pupils who may have particular needs (whether learning, emotional or otherwise) or disabilities which may make aspects of the remote learning provision particularly challenging. Schools together with relevant staff (e.g. pastoral leads, SENCO, or particular academic staff) should consider any pupils who may have particular difficulties to consider what adjustments, strategies or support can be put in place to support them during this period, to take account of their individual circumstances.

Such arrangements should be documented on any individual pupil plans, and be monitored for effectiveness. This will help ensure the school is meeting the needs of those pupils, and mitigate against future complaints and claims for instance of a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Effective parental communications

Schools should ensure, when communicating online with parents and pupils, that in so far as possible communications are within school hours (or hours agreed with the school to suit the needs of staff) and via school senior management approved channels.

To help safeguard staff, communications should be via school email accounts and using school devices (wherever possible). Staff should be reminded not to share any personal information with pupils and their parents. These measures will, in turn, help ensure compliance with data protection law.

Arrangements for pupils who have an EHC plan or are awaiting one

The DfE has produced guidance in relation to pupils who have, or are awaiting, an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan).

Schools will be expected to liaise with their local authority when determining whether those pupils with an EHC Plan will be able to have their needs met at home, and be safer there than attending an educational setting. The recently updated DfE guidance (dated 19 April) makes clear that local authorities and schools should decide together who is best placed to undertake this risk assessment, noting that the duty to secure provision remains with the local authority. The guidance lists various factors that should be considered when conducting the risk assessment. Each decision should be made individually, based on the pupil’s particular needs and circumstances.

DfE guidance makes clear that where the risk assessment determines a pupil with an EHC Plan will be safer at home,they should remain at home.

The DfE recognises that where local authorities and schools have already undertaken risk assessments and taken decisions on appropriate provision, there is no need to re-do these in light of the updated DfE guidance. However, those who have undertaken provisional risk assessments will want to revisit those to check whether the decisions made initially will remain suitable over time.

For pupils who are awaiting an EHC Plan (for instance if it is being processed by the local authority or an appeal is pending / ongoing in the tribunal), the above does not apply. However, the school has discretion to undertake a risk assessment and offer support if that is needed.

Self-isolation in a boarding school

As the outbreak has evolved, boarding schools have sought clarity as to how to implement self-isolation for pupils who remain in boarding houses. The DfE has published guidance for residential settings (which includes boarding schools) on this topic.

This guidance includes what boarding schools should do if a boarder starts to show symptoms of Covid-19 (including in terms of self-isolation). The guidance clarifies that boarding schools are usually considered households for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy (which means that the setting should self-isolate if a boarder shows symptoms). The approach to self-isolation will depend upon the layout of boarding houses and staff arrangements. Therefore, boarding schools will need to decide whether the whole setting should be treated as a single household or as multiple households. For example, where boarding provision is spread across several, separate buildings, you may wish to treat these as different households.

IT and cyber security issues

There are IT / cyber security implications of any online learning environment, with consideration given to who is able to access what. Care must be taken around permissions and extent of access granted to pupils (and staff) through the remote routes, and content should suitable for the age of the pupils accessing it.

These considerations should be documented with the school’s risk assessment, with strategies and measures taken in relation to these risks documented and monitored.

Schools should also continue to ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place to protect children online when accessing the school’s IT systems or recommended resources online. Staff with the relevant technical knowledge to maintain safe IT arrangements should be identified, including additional points of contact in their absence.

There are some helpful links relating to online safety support within the government’s Coronavirus safeguarding guidance.

There are also some helpful links to various resources to support parents to keep children safe online. In some areas, schools may also be able to seek online safety support from their local authority.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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