School safeguarding during the pandemic and beyond: Speaking to the experts
26th May 2020
When schools physically closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, many were concerned about student attainment. Only later did the conversation move on to school safeguarding. But as anyone who has worked in education knows, safeguarding is the foundation of effective teaching.
We recently conducted research with teachers across the UK and found that most are more concerned about the safeguarding and protection of children (40 percent) than attainment (30 percent) during the lockdown. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) say they have contacted ‘at risk’ pupils – students considered particularly vulnerable due to their history or circumstances – during school closures, with information on where they can go if they need help. Meanwhile, more than two thirds (67 percent) have flagged concerns, or intend to, about ‘at risk’ pupils’ safety to local authority social care teams.
School safeguarding virtual roundtable
With schools due to partially return from the start of June, many are wondering how to handle and prioritise safeguarding issues moving forward. We decided to gather safety experts around a (virtual) table to discuss the safeguarding issues they’re concerned about at the moment, and asked them to share their advice on what schools should do when students walk through school doors once again.
Joining us at our panel:
- Chief Constable Simon Bailey, The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection and chief constable of Norfolk police;
- Claude Knights, Independent Consultant on Family and Child protection issues;
- Ceri Stokes, Assistant Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead at Kimbolton School;
- Charlotte Aynsley, former Head of Safeguarding at Becta, e-safety consultant safeguarding advisor at Impero
- Justin Reilly, CEO, Impero.
Some of the issues that panellists raised included child sexual abuse; online threats and scams; exposure to domestic violence; chaotic lifestyle; drug abuse; alcohol abuse; peer-to-peer bullying; sibling rivalry and the overall impact they might be having on the development of young people. Without teachers on the ground to watch out for signs of abuse and other safeguarding issues, the panellists agreed that vulnerable children are likely going under the radar. Chief Constable Simon Bailey said that his main concern was “preparing for what I believe will be the inevitable surge of reports that will come to the safeguarding experts, the practitioners in the field, once there is an easing of lockdown.”
Ceri Stokes, designated safeguarding lead at Kimbolton School, gave an insight into what safeguarding has been like for schools during the lockdown, saying that merely identifying the vulnerable children who are eligible to still come into school has been an enormous challenge. “A vulnerable child is only really defined by having either a social worker, special educational needs or being on some kind of threshold. I am sure that there are lots of teachers who feel that there are students that should be a vulnerable child, but don’t meet these criteria. And we really would like them in the schools, but how do you suggest that to a parent without making it sound like you’re insulting them or upsetting them?”
Panellists agreed that mental health needs to be a priority when children return. Charlotte Aynsley, safeguarding advisor at Impero, said: “there has to be an emphasis on children’s mental health and their wellbeing. The difficult transition that lots of them are going to make back into the classroom, if indeed they do at all, will have to be less focused on academic achievement and more focused on their wellbeing their mental health, supporting them back into the school environment.”
Teachers, who are so crucial to the safeguarding process, will be welcome additions back into the classroom. Chief Constable Simon Bailey summed it up nicely when he said that “Teachers play an absolutely critical role in the wellbeing, the welfare and the safeguarding of children. Teachers, in my own experience, are the first group of professionals to get a sense for when something is not quite right. It could be that a child comes into school and their clothes are dirty, they are dirty, or they’re hungry – it’s all those really early signs that teachers are very good at picking up on, identifying and then passing on to the safeguarding lead. That will be even more important when children return to school.”
If you would like to watch the roundtable, you can do so, for free, here.