1 April 2020

Coronavirus: Interim safeguarding guidance for schools

On 27 March 2020, the DfE issued interim safeguarding guidance for schools and colleges to cover the period of uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic. The DfE has also suspended the consultation regarding the draft Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 guidance, in light of the pandemic.

The new interim safeguarding guidance is intended to supplement (and not replace) Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019 (KCSIE) and to provide clarity on the processes to be followed whilst educational institutions are partially or fully closed and operating differently compared to their normal processes.

The key message from the guidance is that whilst schools are currently operating differently in response to coronavirus, a number of important safeguarding principles remain the same:

  1. With regard to safeguarding, the best interests of children must continue to come first.
  2. If anyone in a school has a safeguarding concern about any child they should continue to act and act immediately.
  3. A Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) or deputy should be available at all times.
  4. It is essential that unsuitable people are not allowed to enter the children’s workforce and/or gain access to children.
  5. Children should continue to be protected when they are online.

We have summarised the key aspects of the guidance below. The full guidance can be accessed here.

Responsibility for safeguarding

The DfE will support local authorities to ensure that they can maintain effective safeguarding and child protection services so that schools can continue to access the support they need.

In some settings, schools are collaborating and clustering resources so that children can still attend school. The guidance confirms that safeguarding will be the responsibility of the host school and this includes ensuring that staff and volunteers have been appropriately checked and risk assessments carried out as required. We are expecting further guidance on this in due course.

Local authorities will continue to have the key day-to-day responsibility for delivery of children’s social care. As schools will be aware, there is an expectation that children with a social worker will attend school, unless it is agreed this is not in the best interests of the child. School staff should continue to work with and support children’s’ social workers to help protect vulnerable children.

Senior leaders, especially DSLs (and deputies) will know which children are considered the most vulnerable and will have the flexibility to offer continued education to those that do not currently satisfy the definition of ‘vulnerable’.

Child protection policy

It is accepted that during this interim period, child protection policies are unlikely to accurately reflect the procedures followed by schools in relation to safeguarding.

The guidance requires schools to review and revise their safeguarding policy and keep it under review as circumstances evolve. It states that ‘in some cases’ inserting an appendix or addendum might be more effective than re-writing and re-issuing the whole policy. We would not suggest re-issuing the whole safeguarding policy due to the current crisis. The guidance does not elaborate on which ‘cases’ or schools should insert an appendix or addendum. Our view is that an appendix or addendum is likely to be sufficient and more effective for most schools. The appendix or addendum should enable schools to make any required changes quickly and to make any new arrangements more accessible to staff (some of whom will, if they are from another school, be new and unfamiliar with school procedures). Staff and volunteers must be kept up to date as the procedures change.

The annex or addendum should include:

  • any updated advice received from the local safeguarding partners, local authorities regarding children with EHC plans, the LADO and children’s social care, regarding reporting mechanisms, referral thresholds and children in need
  • what staff and volunteers should do if they have any concerns about a child
  • the continued importance of all staff and volunteers acting and acting immediately on any safeguarding concerns
  • arrangements for contacting the DSL (and deputy) including contact details
  • the continued importance for school (and college) staff to work with and support children’s social workers and the local authority virtual school head (VSH) for looked-after and previously looked-after children
  • any revised process for handling allegations of peer on peer abuse in line with Part 5 of KCSIE
  • what staff and volunteers should do if they have concerns about a staff member or volunteer who may pose a safeguarding risk to children in line with Part 4 of KCSIE
  • any arrangements to support children that may be vulnerable, but that do not meet the ‘vulnerable’ definition
  • details of the arrangements in place to keep children not physically attending the school safe, especially online and how concerns about these children should be progressed

Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs)

It is recognised that it may not be possible for schools to have a trained DSL on site at all times during the pandemic. Whilst this remains the optimal scenario there are two alternatives that can be considered:

  1. a trained DSL (or deputy) from the school can be available to be contacted via phone or online video; or
  2. schools can share trained DSLs or deputies (who should be available to be contacted via phone or online video).

In addition, when there is no DSL physically on site, it is recommended that a senior leader takes responsibility for co-ordinating safeguarding to, for example, update and managing access to child protection files, liaise with the offsite DSL (or deputy) and (as required) liaise with children’s social workers where they require access to children in need and/or to carry out statutory assessments at the school.

However the situation is to be handled, all staff and volunteers must have access to a trained DSL and know on any given day who that person is and how to speak to them.

The DfE has also confirmed that whilst the COVID-19 measures are in place, 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.

Attendance

At present, schools do not need to complete their usual day-to-day attendance processes to follow up on non-attendance. Instead, the DfE has introduced a daily online attendance form to keep a record of attendees. This allows for a record of attendance for safeguarding purposes and allows schools to monitor the number of children taking up places.

Schools (and social workers where relevant) should be agreeing with families whether children in need should be attending education provision – and the school should then follow up on any child that they were expecting to attend, who does not.

In all circumstances where a vulnerable child does not take up their place at school, or discontinues their attendance, the school should notify the social worker.

To support the above, schools should confirm emergency contact numbers with parents and ask for any additional emergency contact numbers where they are available.

Staff training and inductions

All existing school staff will/should already have had safeguarding training and have read Part 1 of KCSIE. For existing staff, it is important for schools to notify them of any new arrangements, and where these arrangements can be found (i.e. the appendix/addendum to the child protection/safeguarding policy).

Where new staff are recruited, or new volunteers are present at school, schools should continue to provide a safeguarding induction and follow their normal procedures.

If staff are required to move between schools, it will be the responsibility of the receiving school to judge, on a case-by-case basis, the level of safeguarding induction required. In most cases, it is to be expected that staff will already be aware of KCSIE, and will only require a copy of the receiving setting’s child protection policy, confirmation of local processes and confirmation of DSL arrangements.

Children moving schools

If children are to be educated in another setting, it will be the responsibility of the transferring school to provide the receiving school with any relevant welfare and child protection information, having appropriate regard to data protection legislation. This will be especially important where children are vulnerable.

For looked-after children, any change in school should be led and managed by the local authority/VSH with responsibility for the child. The receiving institution should be made aware of the reason the child is vulnerable and any arrangements in place to support them.

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 and know who the child’s social worker (and, for looked-after children, who the responsible VSH is).

Ideally, the sharing of information should take place before a child moves schools wherever possible. Any exchanges of information will ideally happen between DSLs, or between SENCOs for children with EHC plans. Where this is not possible, senior leaders should take responsibility.

Safer recruitment and movement of staff

It remains essential that people who are unsuitable to work with children are not allowed to work in schools.

Schools must continue to follow safer recruitment processes when recruiting new staff, including volunteers, having regard to the relevant sections in Part 3 of KCSIE. Under no circumstances should a volunteer who has not been checked be left unsupervised or allowed to work in regulated activity.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has made changes to its guidance on standard and enhanced DBS checks to minimise the need for face-to-face contact. This can be accessed here. There is no expectation that a new DBS check should be carried out on staff moving from one school to another. The receiving school should instead risk assess as they would for a volunteer, and perhaps seek assurance from the current employer regarding their suitability, and document the response in their risk assessment.

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 or vulnerable adult, and continue to consider making referrals to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) where required under KCSIE.

Schools must continue to keep the single central record (SCR) up to date, and if a school chooses to do so, the SCR can be used to log everyone that will be working or volunteering in a school on any given day, including any staff who may be on loan from other institutions. The SCR can also be used to log details of any risk assessments carried out on volunteers and staff on loan from elsewhere.

Mental health

Teachers should be aware of the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ (and their parents’) mental health, and should keep this in mind when setting expectations of pupils’ work where they are at home. We are awaiting separate guidance on providing education remotely.

Where schools are providing education on site, schools should ensure appropriate support is in place for them in line with existing DfE guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools.

Online safety

In school

It will be more important than ever that schools provide a safe environment, including online. Schools should continue to ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place to protect children when they are online on the school’s IT systems or recommended resources. There is a reference to information provided by the UK Council for Internet Safety to assist schools to assure themselves that any new arrangements continue to effectively safeguard children online. Schools should also consider who in their institution has the technical knowledge to maintain safe IT arrangements, particularly if the usual IT staff are unavailable due to illness or self-isolation.

Outside of school

All schools should be doing what they reasonably can to keep all of their children safe, even if those children are not physically present in school. All staff who interact with children, including online, must continue to look out for signs a child may be at risk and deal with those concerns in accordance with the school’s child protection policy.

The DfE is due to release specific guidance on delivering education remotely, which will include guidance on safeguarding and using online platforms. In the meantime, schools should remind staff that they should follow the same principles as set out in the school’s staff behaviour policy or code of conduct in relation to acceptable use of technologies, staff pupil/student relationships and communication, including the use of social media. These policies should be reviewed and updated if they do not adequately support remote working arrangements.

Schools should ensure that any use of online learning tools and systems is in line with privacy and data protection/GDPR requirements.

When planning remote working requirements, schools must ensure that children have very clear reporting routes in place so they can raise any concerns whilst online, both at the school, and to external (age appropriate) resources such as ChildLine, UK Safer Internet Centre etc.

When contacting parents, schools should reinforce the importance of children being safe online. Ensuring parents are aware of what their children are being asked to do online, including the sites they will asked to access will be important. It will also be important to advise parents who from the school (if anyone) their child is going to be interacting with online, especially if on a 1:1 basis.

It is likely that parents will want to supplement the school resources with support from online companies and in some cases individual tutors, particularly if the schools remain closed for a long period. Schools should emphasise in communications to parents 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.

What should schools be doing?

  1. Update your child protection/safeguarding policy to reflect the interim procedures in place – we suggest an annex or appendix which can easily be amended and then removed once the DfE confirms that these interim arrangements no longer apply.
  2. Continue to carry out the usual safer recruitment checks on new staff and volunteers. Where staff move to your school from another setting, you should risk assess as you would for a volunteer, and seek assurance from their current school regarding their suitability, and document the response in your risk assessment.
  3. Staff and volunteers should be informed of safeguarding procedures, particularly new starters, or those that have temporarily transferred from other schools or settings. Staff should be briefed again each time procedures are changed.
  4. Consider your DSL arrangements and circulate contact details and arrangements to all staff and volunteers. If your DSL or their deputy cannot be on site at all times ensure that one of them can be contacted by phone or online video.
  5. Prepare or update your online or remote working policy, to include a code of conduct for staff and pupils on acceptable behaviour and communication.
  6. Keep a record of who is on site at any one time – perhaps a daily register of staff and volunteers, recorded on the SCR.
  7. Follow-up with parents if you agreed that their child or children will attend school but did not. Inform social workers when vulnerable children do not attend school who you were expecting to attend.
  8. When communicating with parents of children attending the school, check their emergency contact details are correct and request additional contact information if necessary.
  9. Ensure that child protection and welfare information about vulnerable pupils is accurate and updated, and can be easily located and securely shared in the event a pupil is required to move schools to access provision.

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About the Author
Kristine Scott, Partner, Head of Education Sector and Cheltenham Office

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