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Safeguarding in the coronavirus era

Charlotte Aynsley, advisor at safeguarding software firm, Impero, outlines what all schools need to know

Across the world, state schools, international schools and private language schools are all having to strike a balance between online and in-person teaching, since it remains unclear what the weeks and months ahead have in store. For example, for state schools in the UK, the Department for Education (DfE) recently released a temporary continuity direction mandating that all schools make provision for “immediate access to remote education,” in case a student is absent or a school has to close due to Covid-19.

However, providing remote education is only part of the puzzle, and to ensure that any type of school can continue operating in these uncertain times, safeguarding approaches must also adapt and be fit for purpose.

A successful approach to effective safeguarding requires a holistic approach based on four related considerations: policies and practices; infrastructure and technology; education and training; and regular monitoring of the approach. This multi- faceted approach is key to safeguarding students in the age of coronavirus.

Updating policies and practices

Changes in circumstances require updates and adaptations to current policies and procedures, for example – codes of conduct, behaviour policies and acceptable use policies.

The norms of the virtual classroom have been established after an early period of trial and error, so this is the right time for schools to embed them. Schools should, for example, outline what appropriate clothing students and staff should wear for virtual lessons, and restrictions on phone use.

There should also be strict guidelines that highlight the hours that students and teachers have contact, and these should broadly reflect the school day. Similarly, teachers must limit interactions with students to approved school accounts and platforms and avoid unapproved one-to-one meetings. Necessary exceptions – subject to the approval from the senior leadership team, the student and their parents or carers – should also be documented.

Both teachers and students must also be made aware that online interactions are subject to additional laws and regulations on privacy and recording. School policies should make clear what data to keep and what to discard, balancing data protection with the importance of keeping accurate records.

Choosing the right Infrastructure and technology

Schools may be tempted to opt for two systems, one offline and one online. However, a split system can make it difficult to identify patterns of behaviour and risks. Using a system that links offline and online behaviours means that early signs of risks can be spotted, allowing schools to act promptly.

For the many schools that still rely on a paper-based system or other offline system, this is the moment for change. Fortunately, modern, cloud-based solutions exist which neatly address the problem. These safeguarding systems, some of which are free, are accessible from any internet-connected device, ensuring that staff can record and review concerns anywhere, at any time.

Modern safeguarding software also enables schools to upload existing offline records, ensuring continuity and avoiding a dangerous online-offline schism in the school’s safeguarding infrastructure.

“Teachers must limit interactions with students to approved school accounts 
and platforms and avoid unapproved one-to-one meetings.”

Providing education and training for students and staff

Every new system, no matter how intuitive, has a learning curve, and teachers, parents and students must be supported in getting up to speed when schools make changes. This is especially important for teachers, who should never feel hesitation using the safeguarding system or concern that they are operating it incorrectly.

Training should be led by the safeguarding or child protection lead, or the school’s equivalent. This ensures that there is a single, consistent message on safeguarding and that everybody knows who to approach with questions or concerns.

Students may benefit from sessions outlining online risks and when to reach out to a member of staff with issues. Parents, meanwhile, must be reassured that students learning from home are subject to the rigorous level of safeguarding they expect.

What to do when things go wrong

Things can go wrong in the virtual classroom and schools should prepare for it. If a teacher is immediately worried about a student, such as in a case of neglect, they must reach out to the school’s safeguarding lead (or equivalent) as soon as possible.

Teachers should never attempt to intervene directly through one-to-one sessions without prior approval of senior leadership, and they should refer to safeguarding policies and procedures or their safeguarding lead for guidance if they are unsure how to proceed.

If something inappropriate is brought up online during a remote or hybrid lesson, teachers may need to use their discretion to immediately end the session for all students. Depending on the nature of the inappropriate material, teachers must work with their safeguarding lead to determine whether to report it to organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation.

Schools should maintain a regular recording and monitoring system for online classes to ensure student safety. Records will be vital if allegations are made against a teacher.

Schools’ admirable efforts must continue

It is clear that the coronavirus – and therefore the need for remote learning – will not abate in the near future, so schools must continue their impressive efforts to adapt.

Schools need to review their current approach to safeguarding to stress test whether it still works under these revised conditions. Only then can the school ensure that students are as safe learning remotely as they are in the classroom.

Editors’ Note: In our UK language centre young learner specialist rankings in this issue, we have indicated which schools have signed up to the Accreditation UK code of conduct for online learning, available for review here on the British Council website: https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/code_of_practice_for_online_elt_0.pdf

Image courtesy of Library
Charlotte Aynsley
Charlotte Aynsley
Charlotte is the safeguarding advisor at Impero Software and a digital safeguarding consultant with a broad range of experience in the field of internet safety - advising governments, organisations and charities on effective strategies for keeping children safe in a digital world.
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