On 27 March 2020 the DfE issued updated safeguarding guidance for schools, highlighting a number of key concerns, some of which are explored below.
It is important to note that the ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ statutory guidance (KCSIE) continues to apply. However, where there is a hub school, the onus will be on that school to provide a safe environment. Further guidance from the DfE on clusters and safeguarding may be issued in due course.
Key safeguarding concerns to note are as follows, though please consider these in light of further updates:
Designated safeguard lead (DSL)
Either a DSL or deputy should always be available at the school during the school day. However, it is understood that for a number of reasons this may not always be possible, and where this is the case the following approach should be taken:
- a trained DSL should be available either on site, or by telephone/video if they are working remotely; or
- the school can collaborate with other schools to share trained DSLs; or
- if neither of the above options are possible, the school should ensure that a senior leader takes on this responsibility.
Child Protection policy
As a result of fast paced developments, a school’s safeguarding and child protection policies (as well as other key policies in place) may not accurately reflect the new arrangements that are in place, with many principles requiring amendment following the government’s COVID-19 response. Therefore it is important that schools consider, revise and keep under review these policies as guidance is issued. Given the circumstances this can more practicably be done via the introduction of an annex/schedule to the relevant policy which highlights the key changes.
In respect of child protection policies in particular, the latest updated safeguarding guidance document notes the following changes that should be considered:
- “any updated advice received from the local 3 safeguarding partners;
- any updated advice received from local authorities regarding children with education, health and care (EHC) plans, the local authority designated officer and children’s social care, 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;
- DSL (and deputy) arrangements;
- 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;
- peer on peer abuse – given the very different circumstances schools and colleges are operating in a revised process may be required for managing any report of such abuse and supporting victims (the principles as set out in part 5 of KCSIE should continue to inform any revised approach);
- what staff and volunteers should do if they have concerns about a staff member or volunteer who may pose a safeguarding risk to children (the principles in part 4 of KCSIE will continue to support how a school or college responds to any such concerns);
- any arrangements to support children the school or college are concerned about who do not meet the ‘vulnerable’[*] definition; and
- what arrangements are in place to keep children not physically attending the school or college safe, especially online and how concerns about these children should be progressed”.
*There is specific guidance in respect of vulnerable children and young people which would need to be considered in respect of the above.
DBS checks and reporting
Another key consideration is safer recruitment, in accordance with part 3 of KCSIE.
It is helpful to know that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has made changes to its guidance on standard and enhanced DBS ID checking to speed up checks for new recruits. However, if staff already have the appropriate DBS check, there is no requirement for a new DBS check to be obtained where, for example, that employee temporarily moves to another site/school though, the receiving site should conduct a risk assessment to satisfy themselves that the required checks have been completed, and consider, for example, seeking written assurances from the current employer.
The legal duty to make the necessary referrals to the DBS and the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) still apply.
All schools will also need to give careful consideration to the safety of pupils working online. The government’s safeguarding guidance states that schools should signpost children to age appropriate practical support, for example from; Childline (for support), (UK Safer Internet Centre (to report and remove harmful online content) CEOP (for advice on making a report about online abuse); reinforcing the importance of online safety through communications with parents.
We strongly advise that all schools familiarise themselves with the full guidance document so as to ensure safeguarding practices are in line with recent developments. Should you require any assistance with policy development, for example, please do not hesitate to contact our team.
Children with medical conditions
Schools will also need to review any individual health care plans that are in place for any children with medical conditions who are continuing to attend school to ensure that members of staff who may not be familiar with their medical needs have any information that is necessary for the welfare of the pupil (it is particularly important to securely share this information if the pupil is attending a different ‘hub’ school). As part of this review, schools will need to ensure that they have trained staff who can administer medication where that forms part of a pupil’s health care plan and that sufficient stocks of medication are held on site. For pupils with medical conditions who are not attending school, it is important to check if the parents or carers require you to return any medication that you hold on site to ensure that those children have enough of their medication at home. Please liaise with an appropriate healthcare professional for further support.
Guidance on health and safety for home workers
A concern that must not be forgotten in this time of upheaval is an employer’s health and safety responsibility to home workers. We are currently seeing key issues being raised in respect of this responsibility surrounding limited supervision and effects on mental health.
In order to prevent such difficulties, employers should ensure communication is maintained with remote workers. Limited contact could result in a sense of further isolation, with little or no support being offered at a time where it may be vital for many to delicately manage work flow, stress levels and mental health.
Employers will also need to ensure that they have considered their employees’ health conditions to determine if they are safe to work.
Please see the HSE website for further information on health and safety obligations for employers, accessed here.
We anticipate that this is an area which trustees / governors should review and assess as part of their governance functions during this period. Key questions to ask when considering your responsibilities include:
- How will we keep in touch with employees? Daily/weekly virtual meetings?
- How will work flow be monitored? Will there be a designated key worker?
- Will there be online support/access to support?
- What work can be conducted at home, and what work cannot be? Has a risk assessment being conducted if the work is sensitive?
- Is the working from home network secure? Are there policies in place for employees to ensure that the systems stay secure and protocols are followed?
- Has everyone working from home been provided with emergency contact details?