As a remote education offering is soon to become a legal requirement, a reminder that safeguarding duties persist.
The Covid-19 crisis poses a number of novel safeguarding issues for schools, particularly around the safety of remote education and the wellbeing of children. However, while many usual ways of working may have been disrupted by the pandemic, it is important to remember that the basic safeguarding duties of schools and their staff have not changed.
New legal requirements for remote education
The expectations around remote education have moved pretty quickly in the last week or so. On 25 September, the DfE published its expectation that schools will have the capacity to offer "immediate remote education" where pupils need to self-isolate or local restrictions require pupils to remain at home and to have a "strong contingency plan in place" by the end of September. On 1 October, the DfE updated its remote education guidance to state that this expectation will become a legal requirement for state-funded, school-age children in schools in England from 22 October 2020.
Safeguarding considerations for remote education
Schools have been working incredibly hard to put in place contingency plans to enable the delivery of education remotely where it is required. Some of these plans include technological innovation such as live streaming of lessons (whether from home or school), enabling a pupil to interact with their teacher and school-based class through video-conferencing, and creating banks of video lessons and online resources.
Schools should be aware of different risks posed by these new approaches and by the fact that children will necessarily be physically isolated from their usual support networks, in some cases, for significant periods of time. Key considerations include:
- Considering safety and privacy as standard when making choices about online platforms, school devices and software;
- Ensuring that child protection and safeguarding policies refer to measures to protect children who are receiving remote education;
- Highlighting that the usual code of conduct and safeguarding routines apply when using remote teaching tools;
- Creating, implementing and reviewing
clear protocols for staff who are teaching remotely including:
- communicating within school hours as far as possible;
- communicating through channels approved by the senior leadership team;
- using school email accounts only;
- using school devices over personal devices wherever possible; and
- advising staff not to share personal information.
- Ensuring staff understand the need for privacy and data protection protocols when pupils or teachers are visible in their own homes (including in relation to other members of their household);
- Being alert to the increased risk of wellbeing concerns for children who may be experiencing trauma, isolation or difficult domestic situations because of the pandemic;
- Appreciating the heightened impact of online bullying on a child who is isolated from friends and staff support;
- Planning regular wellbeing contact / pastoral support for isolating pupils;
- Ensuring that downtime and recreation is included in the remote teaching timetable;
- Directly teaching pupils about online safety when accessing internet resources, video-conferencing and live streaming, particularly when in an isolated private setting;
- Creating, implementing and reviewing alternative routes for safeguarding disclosures and concerns, taking into account a pupil's home circumstances;
- Engaging parents with online safety concerns and in ensuring that home devices, networks and software are safe;
- Engaging parents with wellbeing strategies for their isolating children.
DfE safeguarding guidance
The DfE's guidance on safeguarding and remote education during Coronavirus was published before the whole-scale return to school in September but remains largely relevant and helpful and includes some useful links to resources.
Schools should of course be aware that the new version of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE) applies from 1 September 2020. Annex C of KCSiE makes specific reference to (now withdrawn) guidance on safeguarding in the context of Covid-19 and guidance on safeguarding and remote education. Other key additions to KCSiE this year include the need for staff to be alert to children's mental health problems as a possible indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation, and the need for schools to follow up on safeguarding concerns in relation to supply staff.
No one size fits all for remote education
Of course, "remote education" does not exclusively mean online provision or learning through electronic devices. Schools will be well aware of the need to tailor remote provision to the educational abilities and needs of pupils who are not able to attend. Factoring in a particular pupil's ability to access electronic devices and the internet at home will of course be a crucial part of ensuring that remote education is suited to pupil circumstances. Reliable "old school" approaches such as workbooks and textbooks will be part of the solution and should not be overlooked.
Students with disabilities will continue to require additional and differentiated approaches while learning from home. Schools should consider the reasonable adjustments which they should make to any standard remote education provision to help students overcome barriers posed by their disability when working remotely. Students with particular clinical vulnerabilities because of a medical condition are likely to spend longer learning remotely and could be disproportionately disadvantaged by one size fits all policies.
The legal requirement that all schools provide remote education from 22nd October will certainly be a prompt to ensure that school policies, procedures and technology for remote teaching and learning are in place and fit-for-purpose. When working on remote education contingency plans and provision, it is important that schools continue to prioritise the safeguarding and welfare of pupils and students while they learn from home.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.