Duty placed on schools to provide remote education shines spotlight on the need to ensure proper safeguards online

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05 October, 2020

On 1 October 2020, the Government updated its guidance on 'Education and Childcare during Coronavirus,' to include a duty on schools to provide a remote education provision for pupils who need remain at home for reasons relating to Coronavirus, who are of compulsory school age or under that age (if it is advantageous to educate pupils who are of that age). This shift highlights the need to ensure appropriate protections and safeguards for pupils and staff, when providing teaching online.

The Secretary of State has given a temporary continuity direction, in order to require schools to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to the need to self-isolate or as a result of a local lockdown. This will come into effect from Thursday 22 October 2020. It applies to publicly funded schools, including academies and independent schools, who rely wholly on public funding to pay for their pupils' education.

Prior to this, the Department of Education made clear it 'expected' schools to be able to offer pupils access to remote education and in doing so, schools should ensure remote education, where needed, is high-quality and aligns as closely as possible with in-school provision.

These changes highlight the need to comply with 'Keeping Children Safe in Education' (KCSIE) and associative guidance on 'Safeguarding and remote education during Coronavirus,' which confirms that whilst it is essential to ensure the safety of pupils, it is also essential to ensure the safety of staff. Incumbent in this is the expectation that:

"Governing bodies and proprietors should be doing all that they reasonably can to limit children's exposure to the above risks from the school's or college's IT system. As part of this process, governing bodies and proprietors should ensure their school or college has appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place" and;

"that online safety training for staff is integrated, aligned and considered as part of the overarching safeguarding approach." (KCSIE, annex C).

Further, Government guidance indicates it is essential to have and communicate clear reporting routes so that children, teachers, parents and carers can raise any safeguarding concerns.

School Business Leaders will also need to be mindful of GDPR compliance, when dealing with pupils' personal information online, including the way this information is stored and shared. The technology used to provide remote education provision for pupils will require an assessment to determine the level of security the provider of the technology has in place and how it will comply with the GDPR. Schools must only use technology that can provide sufficient guarantees that it has implemented appropriate technical and organisational measures in such a manner that meet the requirements of the GDPR and can ensure the protection of the rights of the individuals using the technology. This is particularly important where the users of technology are children. In order to assess the security and suitability of a particular technology, schools may wish to consider conducting a data protection impact assessment. This will also assist in demonstrating the schools' accountability in complying with the GDPR.

If schools fail to provide a remote education provision, it leaves them vulnerable to enforcement action, by the Secretary of State. In addition, it is clear that the new legislation, will increase the need to ensure appropriate training, safeguards and reporting lines for both pupils and staff. Failure to do so can compromise pupils and staff, by leaving them vulnerable to harmful content and/or situations online and could increase the chances of misuse, which may heighten the need to take disciplinary action, which can incur significant school time and expense. It is essential that schools are clear on their online safeguarding expectations and the controls they will need to put in place to fulfill this new obligation, which is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

A copy of the updated remote education guidance can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/remote-education-during-coronavirus-covid-19#history

A copy of the safeguarding and remote education guidance can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safeguarding-and-remote-education-during-coronavirus-covid-19

If you would like support and advice, regarding these legislative changes and the need to provide appropriate safeguarding measures for pupils and staff online, please don't hesitate to contact one of our Education specialists.

For more information contact Ruth Rule-Mullen in our Education department via email or phone on 01772 220195. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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