28 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 to remain at home for reasons relating to Coronavirus and are of compulsory school age or under that age if it is advantageous to educate them. With the introduction of the Government's new tiered approach to localised lockdowns and the potential for a 'circuit-break' lockdown on the horizon, there is an urgency now, as much as ever, to ensure appropriate protections and safeguards for pupils and staff online. One significant question we expect in the education sector will be how this requirement interacts with the statutory obligations under 'Keeping Children Safe in Education' (KCSIE).
The new legislation
The Secretary of State has given a temporary continuity direction requiring schools to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to the need to self-isolate or a local lockdown. This will come into effect from Thursday 22 October 2020 and applies to publicly funded schools; including academies and independent schools, who rely wholly on public funding to pay for their pupils' education. If schools fail to provide a remote education provision, it leaves them vulnerable to enforcement action by the Secretary of State.
Interaction with KCSIE
This requirement highlights the need to ensure staff are adequately trained in online safeguarding and utilise robust safeguarding practices. Failure to do so can result in reputational risk for many schools, and potentially give rise to personal risk for staff resulting in referrals to the Teachers Regulation Agency for safeguarding related misconduct alongside internal disciplinary procedures. As part of this, there is a clear need to ensure compliance with 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 and safe practice of staff. Essentially, education providers need to ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place and that staff are trained in online safety in a manner which is integrated and aligned with overarching safeguarding requirements. Failure to comply can leave providers vulnerable to further enforcement action, so they need to ensure that safeguarding training issued to staff is sufficient to make them aware of the risk factors posed by online education, be able to communicate these risks clearly to their pupils, and to mitigate against any potential risk.
The Government stresses the need to communicate remotely through channels approved by the school, in approved hours, using school email accounts, school devices and not sharing any personal information to mitigate risk. In addition, the guidance warns of the dangers of providing virtual lessons and the need to be aware of the environment staff are in when teaching and backgrounds children may be able to see during these lessons. It also indicates it is essential to have and communicate clear reporting routes so that children, teachers, parents and carers can raise any safeguarding concerns.
In summary, education providers need to ensure appropriate training, safeguards and reporting lines for both pupils and staff. Failure to do so can compromise pupils and staff, leaving them vulnerable to harmful content or situations, increase the chances of misuse and may heighten the need to take disciplinary action. Many schools will be aware of the significant reputational impact of a breach of safeguarding online and the time and expense incurred in dealing with such matters. It is imperative to get safeguarding right from the outset and be clear with pupils and staff about your expectations. All relevant policies and procedures should be updated and shared with staff, appropriate training given, procedures and expectations shared with parents, and risk assessments and risk management procedures completed.
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
Our specialist Education Team at Forbes are experienced in providing support and advice regarding these legislative changes and the need to provide appropriate safeguarding measures for pupils and staff online.