Push the button to close safeguarding gaps

Written by: Alex Handy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The simple introduction of an online reporting button has played an important supporting role in safeguarding secondary students at the Castle Phoenix Trust. Alex Handy explains


For a portion of the 1,500 students at Caludon Castle School in Coventry – part of Castle Phoenix multi-academy trust – the school is not just a place of learning, it is a place of security away from the challenges of home.

For some of our students that security was severely challenged with the onset of the school lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

In normal times, seeing those students day-in, day-out, meant that we could keep a close watch on them and respond to any concerns they had and, if necessary, flag those up to our safeguarding leads.

But when our schools closed to all but a few students it was difficult to maintain that same level of awareness.

The safeguarding systems that were in operation in normal times of course continued. We ensured that our staff made daily calls home to our most vulnerable families and held in-school meetings with families with the same regularity, while our safeguarding teams maintained close links with external agencies.

That still left us with a nagging sense among our designated safeguarding leads (DSLs) that not every base was covered and that there were some students – particularly those who were not on any safeguarding lists – who could fall through the gaps.

Our response was to create a simple online reporting button that meant that any student with a concern, be it isolation, friendship worries or family flare ups, could get in touch with us simply, quickly and privately.

As well as having those students at risk of falling through the gaps in mind when we were creating the system, we were also thinking of students such as those with autism who would not be comfortable with disclosing that they were having a rough time of it via the phone or through a Teams chat, but who would be quite happy to click on a link and fill in the form.

We wanted them to know that there was no minimum threshold for using the service and that they could also use the service if they simply needed a shoulder to cry on or if they were concerned about friends.

And indeed, several students contacted us because their mates had stopped texting them, or they were concerned about the tone of their messages and wanted us to check in on them.

We went for a simple online solution. I created a page as a subsection within the student dashboard area of our learning management platform that gave students contact telephone numbers for local support services and included a Safe@ button. The button was also visible as soon as they logged into their dashboard.

This was a simple link that when clicked opened up a short form to enter details of their concerns which would automatically go via email to one of our DSLs.

Setting up the technology was quick and easy. We wanted to avoid an approach that would add to the workload of staff so the Safe@ button was linked to a staff contact database that would then ping any message to the members of staff who oversee the system as well as all of our DSLs.

That message would then prompt a range of responses, from a reassuring, supportive reply signposting the student to advice and specialist support to, in more concerning cases, the triggering of our standard safeguarding protocols.

The Safe@ button is just one part of a complex jigsaw of safeguarding but it is a low-stakes, low-hassle way of giving students that would previously have slipped through the safeguarding net a way of getting support or help if they need it.

We have not had a deluge of students using the system, which hopefully shows that our safeguarding system works well. But the Safe@ button is still there and we will keep it for the foreseeable future as a small but effective part of our safeguarding toolkit.

In fact, we have rolled it out to the other secondaries in our multi-academy trust. We promote the Safe@ button through our school assemblies, reminding students that it is always there for them.

This is not a revolutionary approach, but it makes a difference. Safeguarding can cover a whole spectrum of issues, from a student feeling isolated to major cases of child abuse, so a nuanced and multi-layered approach is needed if we are to cover every student.

The key learning point for me in the creation of the Safe@ button was that the starting point of any challenge is to determine what the problem is, and then work out if technology can provide an answer.

Another learning point is to keep technology solutions as simple as possible – the moment you add any level of complexity for either student, parents or staff, you will not get the buy-in and it will not ultimately deliver the result that you want.

  • Alex Handy is strategic lead for digital technology at Castle Phoenix Trust, a MAT consisting of three primaries and three secondaries in Warwickshire. Castle Phoenix Trust uses the Firefly learning management system and a more in-depth case study can be found at https://bit.ly/3Kk1obB


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