20 April 2020

Coronavirus: updated guidance on safeguarding, remote learning and SEND support

On 19 April 2020, the DfE published guidance for schools on managing safeguarding procedures and remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic. We have summarised the key aspects of the guidance below. The full guidance can be accessed here.

This note should be read in conjunction with Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019 and with our previous update, available here.

The DfE has also published new guidance for schools on undertaking risk assessments for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) during the coronavirus pandemic. We have summarised the key points below, but the full guidance can be accessed here.

This note is accurate as at 20 April 2020.

Safeguarding and pastoral support

Managing safeguarding concerns

The key message is that schools must continue to follow their safeguarding procedures. Schools should consider whether their current policies are fit for purpose in the current climate and should make adjustments where necessary, ensuring that any changes (whether permanent or temporary) are circulated to all staff.

It is essential that schools have clear reporting routes so that children, teachers, and parents can raise any safeguarding concerns. These procedures must be communicated.

Online safety

Schools should liaise with parents to emphasise the importance of children staying safe online, and should ensure that parents are aware of what websites children are being asked to access, and which staff they may be required to interact with online. This is important for the safety of the child, but also the staff.

The guidance provides details of available resources regarding online safety that may be helpful to schools and parents.

Pastoral support

The guidance suggests that schools may want to work together with parents and pupils to prepare a weekly plan to balance education requirements, as well as play time and relaxing to reduce stress and anxiety for families.

For some pupils, one-to-one sessions may be appropriate, for example, to provide pastoral care or provide support for pupils with SEND. It is recommended that schools undertake a risk assessment, and seek approval from the senior leadership team before implementing any one-to-one pastoral support. We would recommend considering additional safeguards such as inviting a parent, or an additional staff member to the call to protect the staff and pupil.

Communicating with parents and pupils

Schools must ensure that all communication made on behalf of the school is professional at all times.

Schools should:

  • Limit communication to within school hours as much as possible (or hours agreed with the school to suit the needs of staff)
  • Communicate only through channels approved by the senior leadership team
  • Insist that school email accounts are used at all times, not personal ones
  • Where possible, insist that school devices are used over personal devices
  • Advise teachers not to share personal information with parents or pupils.

Data protection

Schools must be mindful of their data protection obligations and should continue to have regard to the guidance outlined in the “data protection: toolkit for schools” available here, but should be particularly mindful that they:

  • do not share contact details when emailing multiple parents
  • do not commit a data breach when sharing usernames and other personal data for access to online resources
  • provide access to school data systems safely

Virtual lessons and live streaming

Whilst there is no expectation that teachers should live stream or provide pre-recorded videos, schools should consider the approach that will best suit the needs of their pupils and staff during this time.

For most schools, online learning is a new concept, and it is of paramount importance that schools seek to protect their staff when providing remote education. The starting point should be for staff to follow the principles of a school’s staff behaviour policy (or code of conduct), but the guidance emphasises the importance for schools to consider how to approach its safeguarding procedures online.

If staff will be required to teach lessons, or to communicate with pupils and/or parents from home, staff should be reminded that they should maintain professional standards (for example, in relation to their dress, language, and professional boundaries). When broadcasting or recording, staff should be mindful of what is displayed in the background. This is important to protect both pupils and staff.

Access to technology

The DfE is working in partnership with an industry coalition to provide technology to support remote education.

Schools and colleges will shortly be provided with access to more online resources, and local authorities will also have a similar provision for care leavers and children with social workers.

The DfE, with assistance from technology companies, is in the process of obtaining:

  • internet access and digital devices for some disadvantaged pupils who do not already have them
  • support for schools to access online platforms to set and collect work
  • training on using remote education resources
  • support from other schools and colleges who are already using these resources.

Schools, trusts and local authorities will be able to place online orders for devices for eligible pupils from Wednesday 22 April.

Further information can be found here.

Provision for SEND pupils

Whilst schools are currently closed to the majority of pupils, they remain open for children of key workers, and vulnerable children.

On 19 April 2020, the DfE published guidance that recommended that local authorities, in conjunction with schools, carry out risk assessments to determine whether the needs of children with SEND, including EHC plans, can be best met at home, or at school during the pandemic.

The full guidance can be accessed here, but the key points to note are as follows:

  • The law in relation to EHC plans is unchanged, but there will need to be flexibility and temporary changes. Further guidance on this will be published in due course.
  • Local authorities have been asked to consider the needs of all children with an EHC plan, and make a risk assessment, consulting educational settings, parents and the pupil, to determine whether they will be able to have their needs met at home, and be safer there than attending school. The DfE recommends the child stays wherever they can.
  • Risk assessments should consider which children with EHC plans may benefit more from remaining at school or college than at home, and should balance:
    • any potential health risks to the individual from coronavirus
    • the risk to the individual if some or all elements of their EHC plan cannot be delivered for the time being, or in the usual way
    • the ability of the individual’s parents or carers to ensure needs can be continually met, bearing in mind the family’s access to respite
    • the potential impact to the individual’s wellbeing of changes to routine or the way in which provision is delivered
    • any out-of-school or college risk or vulnerability.
  • Local authorities, schools and parents should consider, as part of any risk assessment, whether moving either equipment or services into a child’s home would enable them to be supported there rather than staying at school.

The DfE has also published and answered some FAQs regarding the risk assessment process to assist schools.

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About the Author
Emma Glazzard, Solicitor

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