Last reviewed 13 April 2020

A great deal of general and educational sector-specific safe working advice is already available online. However, as circumstances evolve and official information is updated continuously, new guidance has been released about safeguarding young people at school, college or home. Jon Herbert highlights the relevant sources and looks at the guidance in more detail.

With schools, academies, sixth-form and further education colleges, plus other designated institutions now closed to most pupils and students, the Department for Education has issued very detailed additional guidance relating to keeping children safe in education.

Advice updated daily

Before looking at the specific provisions of this new guidance, it is helpful to note that additional advice is available and updated daily.

COVID-19 helpline

Also, that the Department’s COVID-19 helpline telephone service on 0800 046 8687 is open to answers questions from 8am to 6pm from Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm at weekends. Emails can be sent to DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk.

Early years and childcare closures

Additional guidance for local authorities, early years settings and OFSTED-registered childminders about special childcare provision to help cope with COVID-19 can be seen here. More information is given in the section below.

Remember, remember …

Most young people are now learning remotely at home, often with staff members online. However, the children of essential and critical workers may still be at school. General safety rules still apply in so much that anyone with a new or continuous cough or high temperature must be sent home.

It is also important to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces touched regularly, and supervise young children washing their hands more frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water or hand-sanitizer. Coughs and sneezes need to be caught in tissues.

Clusters, hubs and collaboration

The Department is working closely with all local authorities to ensure that both children of critical workers and vulnerable children can attend a school or college where effective safeguarding and child protection are maintained. Even though this may involve collaboration and temporary clusters and hubs in one central place, the principles of KCSIE (Keeping children safe in education) still apply. That means appropriate checks on staff and volunteers, plus risk assessments to ensure a safe environment. Further advice is expected.

The new guidance is designed to support governing bodies, proprietors, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads (DSLs). It recognises that COVID-19 circumstances are fundamentally different to business as usual and suggests policy and process changes while maintaining the key principles.

  • Safeguarding the best interests of children as first priority.

  • Acting immediately over any safeguarding concerns.

  • That a DSL or deputy should always be available.

  • Unsuitable people cannot enter the children’s workforce or have access to children.

  • Children must be protected continuously when working online.

It adds that as far as possible schools and colleges should take a whole institution approach to safeguarding to ensure new COVID-19 policies and processes do not undermine child protection policies.

Child protection policy

A key point made is that while a DSL or deputy should, where possible, review and revise policies as conditions change, in some cases an annex/addendum summarising key COVID-19-related changes might be more effective than re-writing and re-issuing the whole policy.

However, this should reflect:

  • updated advice from local safeguarding partners - local authorities regarding children in education, health and care (EHC – Education, Health and Care) plans, plus local authority designated officers and children’s social care, reporting mechanisms, referral thresholds and children in need

  • staff and volunteer concerns about children and the importance of immediately action

  • DSL and deputy arrangements

  • the importance of staff working and supporting children’s social workers and local authority virtual school heads (VSLs) for looked-after and previously looked-after children

  • peer-on-peer abuse (observing principles in part 5 of KCSIE)

  • action about staff/volunteers posing safeguarding risks to children (part 4 of KCSIE)

  • arrangements to support children who do not meet the ‘vulnerable’ definition

  • arrangements to safeguard children remotely - especially online - and ensuring action.

Designated safeguarding leads (DSLs)

Where having trained a DSL or deputy on-site is not possible, two alternatives are for them to be contactable by phone or online video from, say, home, or to share personnel with other schools/colleges.

When no trained DSL is on-site, a senior leader can assume responsibility – updating and managing access to child protection files, liaising with an offsite DSL and with the children’s social workers who either need access to children in need and/or carry out statutory assessments.

It is important that all staff and volunteers can contact a DSL on any given day and know who to speak to. Meanwhile, DSL training and refresher courses have largely been suspended.

Vulnerable children

Protecting vulnerable children is a top priority.

Vulnerable children include those with a social worker and young people up to the age of 25 with EHC plans. More information is available here.

Local authorities have key responsibility for children’s social care. It is expected that children with a social worker will attend their special COVID-19 provision unless, in consultation with the child’s social worker and family, this is not thought to be in the child’s best interests. Senior leads (DSLs and deputies) know who most vulnerable children are and have flexibility to offer places to those on the edge of receiving children’s social care support.

Attendance

Usual day-to-day non-attendance processes need not be followed – schools/colleges and social workers can agree with families whether children in need should attend – with the condition that they follow up on children expected to attend who don’t.

It is also important to follow up with parents and carers who arrange care for children who do not subsequently attend. Confirming current emergency contact numbers, plus additional contact details, with parents and carers is also important.

In all cases where vulnerable children do not attend, social workers should be notified. To help, the Department has also introduced an online daily attendance form to record accurate up-to-date data on the number of children taking up places.

Staff training and safeguarding

Existing staff will have had safeguarding training and read part 1 of KCSIE. But they must be aware of new local arrangements to know what to do if they are worried about any child. New staff and volunteers must have safeguarding inductions.

The existing workforce may also move temporarily between schools and colleges. In this case, receiving schools should judge case-by-case the level of induction required – in most cases they will only need a copy of the local protection policy, plus confirmation of local processes and DSL arrangements.

Children moving schools and colleges

Schools and colleges must also pass forward to temporary hubs where reasonable relevant workforce and child protection information, especially where children are vulnerable.

Any change in school for looked-after children should be led and managed by the VSH; receiving institutions should be told why a child is vulnerable and of any supporting measures. As a minimum, access at DSL level should provide access to EHC plans, plus child in need or child protection plans.

For looked-after children, access is also needed to their personal education plan. It is important to know who the child’s social worker is, and for looked-after children who the responsible VSH is, before they arrive or as soon as possible. Data protection and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requirements should be kept; further advice about information sharing is given in paragraphs 76 to 83 of KCSIE.

Safer recruitment/volunteers and staff movements

Unsuitable people must not enter the children’s workforce of gain access to children, with new staff following the relevant safe recruitment process (part 3 of KCSIE).

Because of COVID-19, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has changed itsguidelines on standard and enhanced DBS ID checking to minimise face-to-face contact.

Volunteers must follow the checking and risk assessment process in paragraphs 167 to 172 of KCSIE. Receiving institutions can seek reassurance from current employers rather than run new checks. The legal duties to refer to DBS anyone who has harmed, or posed risk of harm, to a child or vulnerable adult continues (paragraph 163).

Information of referrals to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) is given in paragraph 166. During COVID-19, email referrals should be made by email to Misconduct.Teacher@education.gov.uk and could lead to an interim prohibition order (IPO).

A single central record of staff/volunteers present daily must be kept as outlined in paragraphs 148 to 156.

Mental health

Teachers should be aware of negative experiences and disturbing life events when setting pupils work while they are at home - separate guidance will be provided on remote education. Appropriate support should be in place; information is set out on how changes in behaviour or emotional states can be displayed in different ways, plus indications of underlying problems. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mental-health-and-behaviour-in-schools--2.

Online safety in schools and colleges

Schools/colleges must ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place for IT systems or recommended sources used by children online (https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-centre/teachers-and-school-staff/appropriate-filtering-and-monitoring).

Contingency arrangements may be needed where IT staff are not available. It is also important to see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/online-safety-in-schools-and-colleges-questions-from-the-governing-board and https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/helpline/professionals-online-safety-helpline.

Children and online safety away from school/college

Educational institutions must do what they can to keep all children safe. Normally, this is at school or college. However, while with COVID-19 most are now at home, it is important that staff look out for signs of children at risk.

The Department will be providing separate guidance for remote education, setting out four key areas that leaders should consider as part of any remote learning strategy. This includes the use of technology.

Two important sources are https://swgfl.org.uk/resources/safe-remote-learning/ and https://static.lgfl.net/LgflNet/downloads/digisafe/Safe-Lessons-by-Video-and-Livestream.pdf.

The starting point for online teaching uses the same principles as for staff behaviour (sometimes known as a code of conduct). It includes acceptable uses of technology, staff/pupil/student relationships and communication using social media. Careful consideration is needed to ensure policies are adequate for so many people working remotely online.

Again, adding an annex/addendum will suffice. Further help can be found at https://www.saferrecruitmentconsortium.org/; local authorities are also often able to help. Online learning tools and systems must comply with privacy and data protection/GDPR requirements.

Very clear reporting routes must also be in place which children can use while working online. In addition, parents and carers must understand the implications of child safety online.

Other useful resources are listed in the guidance.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

The EYFS statutory framework which sets standards schools and childcare ‘settings’ must meet for the learning, development and care of children under 5, still applies in full, with the exception that the EYFS profile has been cancelled for this year. Further information is expected.

The COVID-19 outbreak is an exceptional temporary circumstance in which staff-to-child ratios can be changed if necessary. However, childcare settings or schools must still ensure the safety and security of children in their care.

DBS and criminal record checks

As per requirements in paragraph 3.11 of the EYFS, settings must obtain criminal record checks for new members of staff/volunteers. If a DBS application has been made but no disclosure has yet arrived, new staff/volunteers can still care for children if supervised by someone with a DBS check.

Unchecked member of staff must never be left alone with children. For staff with a DBS check who move temporarily, no new check is expected. However, the onus is on the receiving setting to satisfy themselves that staff have the required checks, albeit via an assurance from a current employer.

Cancellations

Early years settings must normally deliver learning and development requirements set out in the EYFS framework. However, the current priority is keeping children safe and well cared for. Detailed curriculum or teaching approaches are not prescribed and can be tailor to children in care.

The Secretary of State for Education also announced on 1 March 2020 that exams or assessments in schools this summer will be cancelled, including assessments of children in reception year against early learning goals.

Paediatric first aid certification

Paediatric first aid certification requirements stay in place as set out in paragraph 3.25 and Annex A of the EYFS, with the stipulation that ‘at least one person who has a current paediatric first aid (PFA) certificate must be on the premises and available at all times when children are present, and must accompany children on outings.’

If COVID-19 stops paediatric first aid certificate requalification training, the validity of current paediatric first aid certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020 can be extended by up to 3 months.

Summary

  • Since 27 March 2020, schools and colleges have been closed to almost all UK pupils and students. Most are now learning at distance at home, often with online support from teaching staff.

  • The exception is the children of critical workers who are still able to attend temporary clusters or hubs serving surrounding schools and colleges. Childcare settings for early years children may also be affected.

  • The Department for Education has issued new guidance on the application of KCSIE (Keeping children safe in education) principles in the current temporary circumstances, covering:

    • child protection policy

    • designated safeguarding leads (DSLs)

    • vulnerable children

    • attendance

    • staff training and safeguarding

    • children moving schools and colleges

    • safer recruitment/volunteers and staff movements

    • mental health

    • online safety in schools and colleges

    • children and online safety away from school/college.

  • Information on early years and childcare closures is also provided at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures with specific reference to the EYFS statutory framework at (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-foundation-stage-framework--2) which continues to apply.