This week marks the start of a new academic year for schools and colleges across England and for many staff, as well as pupils, will be the first time they have been back in school in a long time. With the new Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 published just this week, now is a great time to refresh staff safeguarding knowledge and awareness to ensure we are doing the best that we can to protect the welfare of our pupils.
During the lockdown period and throughout the summer term, the Department for Education provided specific guidance for schools around safeguarding during the covid-19 pandemic. That guidance was withdrawn on 31st July 2020 and it is important that schools return to their usual way of working when it comes to safeguarding.
Of course, safeguarding has remained a priority for schools even when they have been closed to the majority of pupils and it has been incredible to see the wide range of support that has been provided to pupils and their families throughout this incredibly strange time. From welfare checks to food vouchers and visits throughout the summer holidays, schools really have gone the extra mile and it has further reinforced the view that schools are no longer simply educational establishments. For many children and young people schools are a safe environment where they feel cared for, nurtured, protected from harm and are often the only place where they will receive a hot meal. Although safeguarding practice remained at the forefront for schools, the DfE guidance during the pandemic provided flexibility with regards to safeguarding training due to their being limited ability to access courses. Any Designated Safeguarding Lead whose training had expired during summer term was able to continue the role without refresher training to ensure that schools were not stretched or left without a DSL. However, it is important to note again that this guidance has now expired and schools must do all they can to get back on track, as quickly as possible, for the welfare of their pupils and to ensure that they are compliant with legislation. Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 states that “ the ultimate lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection […] remains with the safeguarding lead ” and that “ training should be updated every 2 years.” It is important that senior leaders ensure that their Designated Safeguarding Lead has up to date training and that anybody new to post also receives this training in a timely manner.
Along with the usual challenges of a new academic year, schools are this year faced with the added pressure of dealing with situations which may have occurred in the last 6 months and it is highly likely that many of these will be of a safeguarding nature. It is a well-known fact that the number of domestic abuse incidents that police were called to in the last 6 months was much higher than previous months and schools have therefore received more Operation Encompass notifications than they usually would. There has, and will continue to be, an increased number of people who are unemployed due to the impact of coronavirus on businesses. This will cause huge financial difficulty for some families and may result in housing issues, a lack of food in the house and the added burden of such situations is proven to increase the likelihood of domestic abuse within the home. We must also take into consideration that some pupils and families may have suffered a bereavement during this time, for which some pupils will require support; there will undoubtedly be increased anxiety for many children on their return to school after being away for so long; schools may be faced with concerns around criminal and sexual exploitation whilst their pupils have been particularly vulnerable during school closures. Designated Safeguarding Leads are well trained in managing such situations and know when and who they should report concerns to. However, it must be recognised that initial signs, indicators and disclosures, are often received by wider staff members and it is paramount that these individuals are trained in how to deal with disclosures or concerns.
Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 states that “all staff should receive appropriate safeguarding and child protection training which is regularly updated. In addition, all staff should receive safeguarding and child protection updates, as required, and at least annually”. Now is a great time to refresh staff awareness and knowledge when it comes to safeguarding and more importantly, to reinforce their understanding on your setting’s processes and procedures. There is bound to be an increased number of safeguarding concerns and cases that arise due to schools being closed for a long period of time and it is paramount that ALL staff know how to recognise these.
As mentioned above, many families will be struggling financially due to the impact coronavirus has had on businesses throughout the country and worldwide. Schools may not be informed directly by families who are struggling but indicators may be that children arrive to school without appropriate uniform or inadequate lunch, that they are tired or hungry. Part 1 of Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 states that “All staff should be prepared to identify children who may benefit from early help”. Senior Leaders must ensure that school staff read and understand part 1 of KCSIE and also understand their role in identifying these pupils. If required, refresh staff knowledge of early help.
Finally, senior leaders must ensure that the updates stated in Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 are reflected in their safeguarding policies, that staff are notified of these changes and are given the time to read and familiarise themselves with the policies.
If your whole staff team or particular individuals require any safeguarding training please contact the Education Welfare & Safeguarding Team at One Education. We offer a wide range of Accredited training courses and would be happy to support you and your school.