On 20th May 2020, the government updated their guidance ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers’ as they plan to start to reopen schools for some groups from the 1st June. This is if its assessment of the coronavirus situation indicates that it is safe to do so.

Schools have been expected to update their existing safeguarding policy during this time when they are only open to certain groups of children, namely those identified as children of key workers and those identified as ‘vulnerable’.

It is anticipated that in the next few weeks, schools will open to more children and this guidance aims to help schools think about safeguarding procedures from that perspective.

It should be noted that this interim safeguarding guidance is currently in place until 31st May 2020 with the government set to review it before the 1st June.

There are a few changes that have been outlined in the different sections of the guidance.

Phased return

During this period of Coronavirus (COVID-19) schools and other childcare settings need to be implementing various protective measures.

Safeguarding principles to protect children from harm and abuse will remain largely the same. Keeping Children Safe in Education and the Prevent Duty remain in force.

  • Therefore, the only significant change that schools need to think about when considering wider opening is the link between risk assessments and related health and safety risk assessments to your school safeguarding and child protection policy. Risk assessments should therefore link together safeguarding and health and safety.

Child Protection policy

The Child Protection policy should have been reviewed to consider an increase in the number of pupils. It is expected that policy would have been revised, not re-written to include an annex/addendum to the main policy that summaries the main changes.

There may be however a need to change some of the wording around how staff might identify new safeguarding concerns about individual children as they begin to see them in person following the partial closure.

  • Staff need to know what they should do if they have concerns about a child, including new concerns when children are returning.
  • Safeguarding information held on individual children needs to remain accurate. This could mean that staff will need to have conversations with parents about how situations at home may have changed.
  • Any changes in staffing need to be addressed. Schools need to update any changes to DSL and deputy DSL arrangements.
  • Schools should remind staff about what they should do if they have concerns about an adult in school.
  • Schools should consider any updated advice from the local authority and the local safeguarding partnership and continue to work with safeguarding and welfare partners.
  • Finally, it is important that all staff and volunteers are aware of the new policy and are kept up to date as it is revised. The revised policy should continue to be made available publicly.

Designated safeguarding leads (DSLs)

As more children return to school, it is expected that all schools and colleges will have a trained DSL available on site. However, the guidance does recognise that in exceptional circumstance this may not always be possible. It suggests two options if this is the case:

  • A trained DSL (or deputy) from the school can be available to be contacted via phone or online video if the member of staff is working from home.
  • Sharing a trained DSL (or deputy) with another school who should be available to contact via phone or online video.

If neither of these options are possible then another member of the senior leadership team will be required to take responsibility for coordinating safeguarding on site.

If there are any changes in staff, it is important to make sure that staff are aware of who the DSL is on a day to day basis and who they need to go to should they require any guidance or support.

A key point that the guidance makes is that DSLs should also provide support to children who are not returning to school.

This is going to be a difficult period for schools as there will be some children at home and some will be attending school.

My thoughts are that the guidance is emphasising that schools should not forget to support the children who are still at home as well as those who will be in school. There is a new line added to this guidance which is “where possible staff should try and speak directly to children to help identify any concerns.”

There is also a reference to CPD and an acknowledgement that DSL training is unlikely to take place during this time. DSLs can continue to be classed as a trained DSL even if they have missed the statutory 2 yearly refresher training.

However, DSLs (and deputies) should continue to do what they reasonably can to keep up to date with safeguarding developments.

Whilst coronavirus and lockdown has been the main emphasis, we are fully aware that other safeguarding issues are still going on in the background. There potentially has been an increase in child abuse in the home, it is widely reported that domestic violence has increased during this period and county lines remains a concern.

Attendance and vulnerable children

In addition to children of key workers, vulnerable children should be attending where appropriate. If children are not attending, then schools should be working with families to ensure that children do return to school.

For continued attendance during the coronavirus outbreak vulnerable children are identified as:

  • Children with a social worker.
  • Children with an education, health and care plan EHCP.
  • Children who have been identified by the school or local authorities as vulnerable.

Staff training and staff induction

The important thing for existing staff is the ‘awareness of any new local arrangements’ given that more children will be returning to school. This is so they know what to do if they are worried about a child.

New staff who are recruited should still be provided with a safeguarding induction. A copy of the updated child protection policy and part 1 of Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) will suffice.

Children moving School

Where children have moved schools, it is important that the previous school continues to do whatever they reasonably can to provide the receiving institution with any relevant welfare and child protection information.

This will be particularly important for vulnerable children. The receiving institution should be made aware of the reason why the child is vulnerable and what support has been organised.

Safer recruitment and movement of staff

As we approach the final resignation date of the academic year this is likely for some schools to be significant period for recruitment. However, schools must consider whether recruitment is needed at this time, and if so, how can this be best done. Many organisations are starting to recruit virtually but it is important that safer recruitment processes are still maintained and that standards are not compromised.

A common inquiry from schools is around whether a new DBS should be obtained for members of staff who have not been in school for the past 3 months. This could include staff who have been at home shielding or if they possibly went overseas and have not returned after the holidays.

The government guidance is very clear; there is no requirement to obtain a new DBS where staff have been continually employed but were not working in regulated activity.

The guidance also mentions that the Single Central Record (SCR) can be used to log who is in school “on any given day” including “loan staff” or volunteers. It can also be used to log risk assessments that have been completed on ‘loan staff” or volunteers.

My thoughts are that it is not statutory to have this information on the SCR and that this may not be the best place to keep this information. Updating the SCR daily could be challenging and may give rise to inaccuracies.

Mental Health

It is widely acknowledged that current events can affect the mental health of children and their parents. Schools should be able to identify and support young people in schools, by telephone or from specialist staff or support services.

The guidance also specifies that “Teachers should be aware of the impact the current circumstances can have on the mental health of those students/pupils (and their parents) who are continuing to work from home, including when setting expectations of childrens’ work.”

Again, my thought is that the guidance is very clearly stating that schools should be thinking about those students who are still at home as well as those in school and that regular contact with students at home can be made via telephone.

Online safety in and away from schools and colleges

Schools should do all they 'reasonably' can ensure children at home are safe online. There is a plethora of guidance, advice and support out there to raise awareness about online safety. National Online Safety has several resources on the website that can be shared by staff with parents.

What do you need to do next?

  • Read the government guidance or at least read this summary guidance provided.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of who the DSL (deputy) is and how to contact them each day.
  • Risk assessments need to link health and safety and safeguarding.
  • Ensure that safeguarding information remains up to date and is publicly available.
  • There is no requirement to obtain a new DBS for staff who have been away from school.
  • Mental Health will have been impacted and it is important to identify and support those children.
  • Schools should do what they ‘reasonably’ can to ensure that children at home are safe online.

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