Schools have been instructed to partially close due to coronavirus. School closure can raise significant concerns for pupils’ welfare, so schools need to make sure they have systems in place to protect pupils as much as possible during the period of closure. This article provides schools with the essential safeguarding considerations they need to make whilst they are closed due to coronavirus.
Pupils working from home
During the closure, most pupils will not be attending school. Schools should continue to support and communicate with these pupils throughout the closure with regard to appropriate safeguarding and risk assessment measures. Schools should also consider providing these pupils with educational material to complete at home to minimise the disruption to their education.
Schools need to confirm contact details for the pupils and their families, as well as any other necessary emergency contact details, ideally before the closure or as soon as possible after.
Appropriate methods and usage of communication
The school’s methods of communication need to be carefully considered. All schools need to assess which methods present the smallest risks to safeguarding and are the most convenient for everyone involved.
There are many different ways schools can send work home, including through webinars, live video feeds, email communication and printed workbooks. One way to determine the most appropriate method to use is to engage parents in planning work provisions and gauge which methods they are equipped for at home.
Schools also need to consider who will be home during school closures, e.g. siblings and parents also working from home. If households do not have enough devices for both pupils and parents to work from home, e.g. if a household only has one computer, teachers may wish to send work home in printed form or have set hours where pupils are able to have access to the computer. The same consideration should be applied to households without the devices needed to complete work digitally.
Levels of communication should be reasonable and by no means excessive. Schools should be mindful that parents may be working from home at the same time as teachers are delivering work to pupils. If schools set ‘contact hours’ (times where pupils should be working), then they should make parents aware of this and open alternative communication channels that parents can use if they have a problem, e.g. an email account especially for concerns. If teachers decide to use webinars or live feeds for lessons, they should not be too long, e.g. each session lasting a maximum of 50 minutes. This allows teachers to provide pupils with education without being too intrusive to their families’ home lives. All live feeds or webinars should be recorded and stored securely in line with the school’s Records Management Policy, so they can be reviewed if there is a complaint made about the content of a session.
Schools need to establish how feedback on pupils’ work will be sent and ensure this is consistent throughout the school. Schools should strongly discourage one-to-one calls with pupils. If pupils are struggling with the content, they can email questions to their teacher’s school email address. All communication should be made using school accounts, e.g. emails or subscriptions.
Important: If schools use subscription services or other online programmes to set work, the DPO needs to make sure that they are GDPR compliant – they also need to ensure all communication methods are used in line with the school’s duties under the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.
Appropriate use of video communication
All communication should be made using school accounts, and any video recording should be made against a neutral background in a “public” living area, such as an office or living room. All participants in video communications should be dressed appropriately, e.g. not wearing pyjamas. The language and behaviour of pupils and staff should remain at the same standard as that within the school grounds, and staff need to respect that there will be other people in the house where pupils are receiving work.
Awareness of internet safety
Schools need to ensure all pupils are aware of the dangers of the internet, and should strongly encourage parents to set up security controls on internet sites to protect their children as much as possible. Open communication surrounding the dangers pupils can face online and how they can overcome them is essential.
If schools are loaning pupils school equipment to take home, it is important that the IT technician or another suitable member of staff ensures the device is secure and that suitable anti-virus software is downloaded before the device leaves the school premises. They should also ensure all devices have password-protected parental control internet filters to prevent access to age-restricted content. It is recommended that pupils and parents sign a device user agreement to outline what is expected from pupils whilst using a school-owned device. This agreement should outline correct use, damage and further expectations.
We appreciate schools are now partially closed – you can download information for parents on online safety here, and for pupils here. For additional advice, access our resource pack here. These resources can be quickly distributed and help with the management of school closure.
Communicating changes to pupils with SEND working from home
Some pupils with SEND may find the transition from going to school to working from home traumatic. In this case, it is important that the school and parents work together and communicate with the child to discover how they can make this transition as easy as possible. Schools should ensure that the discussion includes the SENCO and any other relevant multi-agency workers. Schools also need to ensure that the work being set is appropriate and inclusive of all pupils. Individuals with communication difficulties may need additional support at home, so the work being sent home should not be too intrusive to parents’ home or work life, in case they need to help with their child’s understanding of the work.
Pupils attending partially closed schools
A number of pupils will still be attending school during the partial closure, including vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. Schools should continue to look after these pupils in line with their usual safeguarding procedures, and also implement any additional safeguarding measures they deem necessary. It is vital that schools put the best interests of pupils first.
Safeguarding in school during partial closure
While the school is partially closed, staff should continue to act on any safeguarding concerns immediately. During the pandemic, all referrals should be made via email to Misconduct.Teacher@education.gov.uk.
Schools should review their Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy in light of the new circumstances and revise it as necessary; however, it is acceptable to add an annex or addendum of any changes, rather than rewriting and reissuing the entire policy. The policy should be kept under review throughout the closure and be publicly accessible. Policy changes should reflect the following:
- Updated advice from local safeguarding partners.
- Updated advice from LAs regarding pupils with EHC plans, the LA designated officer and children’s social care services, reporting mechanisms, referral thresholds and children in need.
- What staff and volunteers should do if they are concerned about a pupil’s safety.
- What staff and volunteers should do if they are concerned about another staff member or volunteer who may pose a safeguarding risk to pupils.
- The continued importance of acting immediately on safeguarding concerns.
- The continued importance of working with social workers and virtual school heads (VSHs) for LACs and PLACs.
- DSL arrangements.
- Peer-on-peer abuse management and reporting.
- Arrangements to support pupils who do not meet the ‘vulnerable’ definition, but who staff are concerned about.
- Arrangements to ensure the safety of pupils not physically attending the school during the closure.
During the closure, schools should continue to fully check all new staff and volunteers before they begin working at the school – this includes DBS checks, the guidance for which has been updated to minimise physical face-to-face contact. Volunteers who have not yet been fully checked should not be left unsupervised. Staff moving to other schools do not need new DBS checks.
Moving to a different school
Due to capacity and staffing, pupils and staff may be required to attend or work at schools other than their own during the partial closure. These ‘hub’ schools should continue to follow the guidance of KCSIE and maintain social distancing standards.
Staff moving from another school will require:
- A copy of the receiving school’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy.
Confirmation of local processes.
- Confirmation of DSL arrangements.
When receiving vulnerable pupils from another school, schools will require the relevant welfare and child protection information and, where applicable, the following:
- The pupil’s EHC plan
- The pupil’s child in need plan
- The pupil’s child protection plan
- For LACs, the pupil’s personal education plan
- For LACs, the identity and contact information of the pupil’s social worker and/or VSH
Ideally, the receiving school should be provided with this information before the child arrives, or as soon as possible after. Any exchanges of information will ideally happen at DSL level, and likewise between SENCOs or the named individual with oversight of SEND provision for children with EHC plans. When exchanging this information, schools should maintain compliancy with GDPR and data protection standards without compromising the safety of the pupils.
The government has released an attendance form for use specifically during the coronavirus pandemic, which can be found here. Schools need to be aware of who is present in the school each day, so should continue to keep up their single central record (SCR).
During the closure period, vulnerable pupils are expected to continue attending school, unless it is agreed between their social worker and parents that this is not in their best interests. Social workers and VSHs will continue working with vulnerable pupils during the partial closure. In addition to these pupils, schools should have the flexibility to grant places to pupils on the edge of receiving social care support, and should agree with families which of these pupils need to attend.
If any pupils subsequently do not attend school after their continued attendance is agreed upon, schools should immediately follow up on the matter. Schools should also immediately notify the pupil’s social worker, if they have one.
Please note, schools must have procedures in place for sickness absence for both pupils attending school and pupils working from home. Schools need to communicate procedures with parents to enable them to inform the relevant teacher if their child is too ill to do the scheduled work for that day. This may not apply to some methods of sending work home, e.g. workbooks, unless the illness continues over an extended period. Schools also need to respect school holidays and not expect pupils to work during holiday time.
Communicating with the DSL and reporting safeguarding concerns
As working from home can increase the safeguarding risk to pupils, it is essential they know who they can contact should they feel unsafe at home or due to the behaviour of a member of school staff. This also applies to pupils attending a partially closed school, who may feel anxious or unsafe in these new circumstances.
Schools should provide pupils and parents with the contact information for the school’s DSL so that they can confidentially report a safeguarding concern. In addition to the DSL, schools should provide pupils with the details of organisations they can contact, such as Childline, if they feel threatened at home.
It is also essential that staff remember to report any concerns they have over a pupil to the DSL. If a DSL cannot be present at the school, one should be available via phone or online video.
Schools are facing uncertain times and we want to help as much as possible. Schools can access our Coronavirus Advice and Next Steps Resource Pack here. It details the government’s current advice surrounding coronavirus, and includes a policy on pupils working from home, guidance on maintaining educational provision, and information on what schools need to consider during a period of closure.
DfE (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-safeguarding-in-schools-colleges-and-other-providers> [Accessed: 1 April 2020]
DfE (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): attendance recording for educational settings’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-attendance-recording-for-educational-settings> [Accessed: 1 April 2020]
Hall, A., (2020) ‘Safeguarding Briefing - 16th March 2020’
SEA Inclusion (2020), (Email communication regarding safeguarding concerns during working from home.) [Personal communication: 19 March 2020]
Tes (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Your complete planning guide for closures’ <https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-your-complete-planning-guide-closures> [Accessed: 1 April 2020]