Full re-opening on March 8: Safeguarding priorities

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
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With schools due to re-open fully from March 8, safeguarding issues will be foremost in our minds and our preparations must begin now. Expert Elizabeth Rose advises on what our priorities and approaches should look like


We know from our experience last September that a child’s transition back into school following an extended period of time learning at home is not always easy.

Once again, children will have had varied experiences during the latest lockdown and, sadly, we know that many will have experienced harm or abuse. Children who have been learning on-site might also find the transition back to “normal” difficult.

There are lots of things that we can do to support and safeguard our young people and the next few days are a real opportunity to make sure that you can hit the ground running when all children are welcomed back from March 8.

In this article, I outline the safeguarding priority areas, things to consider and proactive steps that you can take to support young people at this challenging time.


Your safeguarding policy

At the time of writing, the latest government guidance (DfE, 2021) states: “You should consider revising your child protection policy to reflect the return of more pupils. This should be led by your designated safeguarding lead.” Things to consider:

  • The safeguarding addendum containing information for partial closure should be withdrawn and removed from your website.
  • Unless you have a significant change that will impact the main policy on a permanent basis (e.g. the designated safeguarding lead has changed), it is likely that any revisions can be added to the policy as a Covid-19 appendix. This avoids continuously updating the main body of the policy. Add concise information detailing any Covid-specific safeguarding measures.
  • Check with your local safeguarding partners and ensure any changes to safeguarding arrangements are reflected.


The staff

Re-establishing your culture of safeguarding on-site is crucial and training will help to embed this. Things to consider:

  • Schedule a short safeguarding training session to remind staff of key indicators of harm, tell them about any revisions to the safeguarding policy and remind them of school safeguarding procedures. Do not forget to include safer working practice and remind them how to raise concerns about other members of staff.
  • Children will continue to learn remotely when shielding or self-isolating, so on-going training for staff on how to keep both themselves and children safe online is essential. Plan it in now to make sure it is regularly discussed.
  • Remind staff that children’s mental health is likely to have been affected by lockdown. Children who are suffering may not be the ones who have been identified previously and issues may develop over a period of weeks or months. Staff should be vigilant for any signs of mental health issues (for more advice on this, see Knightsmith, 2020), know that they could be an indicator of abuse, and know who to report this to.
  • Do not forget safeguarding induction training for any members of staff who are newly appointed. If staff started in January and received remote safeguarding training, schedule an on-site refresher.


Children who have been learning remotely

Last September, many safeguarding leads reported a relatively straightforward start to term but found that by week three, safeguarding disclosures began to increase. We can prepare for this in advance and put some simple strategies in place to support children who have been learning at home to seek help sooner. Things to consider:

  • Think about how children reacted last time and contact each child before they return to school. You could do this by phone or by sending out a pupil wellbeing questionnaire. This helps children to feel confident that they are cared for and keeps lines of communication open. It can also provide information about family changes, bereavements or other issues so that you can prepare support.
  • If some families were reluctant for children to come back into school last September, or have on-going attendance issues, start to work with them now to help them feel confident and encourage a positive start back. Provide them with information and reassurance about your Covid-19 measures.
  • We know that the risk of online harm increases during lockdowns. Organise an online safety session to be delivered early on with information about where to go for help.
  • Use remote assemblies between now and March 8 to signpost children to sources of help, both in and out of school.
  • Consider the additional support that vulnerable children who have not attended during this time might need. Schedule in mentoring sessions or check-ins so support is pre-arranged.
  • Do not make assumptions about what lockdown has been like for children. Circumstances have changed for many families and children may be dealing with things that were not present in their family homes before – issues with redundancy, mental health, parental substance misuse or domestic abuse, for example. Make sure staff understand that any child may be suffering harm.
  • Some children will remain at home and continue to learn remotely. Put a plan in place for regular contact with these children, checking on both attendance and engagement, and have virtual meetings with parents/carers now to establish if additional support is needed.

Children who have been learning on-site

It is important to provide these children with reassurance about what school will be like when others return and to discuss any fears that they have about the virus and mixing with others. Many of these children will be your most vulnerable, so good communication with them, their parents/carers and social workers is essential in laying the groundwork for effective continuous support after March 8.

Any child may require additional pastoral support, health support or counselling. It could be helpful to think about how you will provide this now. Make a plan with your school nurse (if you have one) and source (or expand) good quality counselling provision.


The physical environment

Children navigate the school space in a completely different way to adults and it can be helpful to consider the environment from their perspective before they return. Things to consider:

  • Complete a site walk, checking for safety or security issues.
  • Consider socially distanced fire drill procedures and schedule a drill as soon as possible.
  • Walk around outside school to remind yourself of the journey that children take to school. Think about any contextual safeguarding issues and plan in any interventions or adaptations now.
  • Consider the safeguarding impact of any measures such as staggered start times.
  • Liaise with your police community support officer for local intelligence. Enlist their support in the local area for the first few days back if possible.


Looking after your staff (and yourself!)

This will be an anxious time for staff and safeguarding leads are often a source of emotional support for colleagues as well as children. It is important to consider how you will manage this when all children are back on-site. Things to consider:

  • Implement safeguarding “open door” hours, where staff can come to speak to you about any concerns they have about children, or other safeguarding issues. This does not replace raising safeguarding concerns immediately of course, but it encourages a culture of information-sharing and helps to protect your time too.
  • Consider formal supervision support for safeguarding and pastoral staff.
  • Think about positive ways to look after yourself and build them into your routine. Simple things like setting an out of office with “who to contact” safeguarding information can help you to switch off when you are not at work.
  • Safeguarding decision-making is not always immediate and you need time to think about the best course of action. Try to carve out time in the school day where you can quietly reflect on things you are managing so you can feel confident you have made the right decisions.


Conclusion

We know from experience that this is likely to be a turbulent and challenging time, but we have the benefit of our experiences in September to support us in preparing for many of the safeguarding challenges we are likely to face. By considering the points above and your own policy, procedures and past experiences, you should be well-prepared for a safe and smooth transition from March 8.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Visit www.sosafeguarding.co.uk or follow her @sosafeguarding


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