28 October, 2020
The Department for Education's changes to the Statutory Guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education came into force on 1 September 2020. A number of changes have been made, but the key changes relate to supply staff, online safety and mental health. The ongoing situation regarding Coronavirus has had an obvious influence, not solely in relation to the direct reference to it, but in consideration of online safety given the necessity for a considerable amount of leaning to move to online platforms.
KCSIE now contains a new introductory paragraph referring to Coronavirus guidance, and provisions relating to online learning and safety to ensure children are safe working from home. The introductory paragraph states that "The department issued non-statutory interim guidance on safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers during the coronavirus outbreak. This guidance has now been withdrawn as the government expects all settings across the nation to reopen for the new academic year in September, with full availability to all learners. Requirements for local interventions in educational settings will continue to be reviewed."
So essentially the Department's Guidance is withdrawn and operational provisions relating to coronavirus will be dealt with on a local level.
Para 92 and Annex C of the Guidance deal with online safety. They have been updated and additional links have been provided giving guidance and information. Reference is made to advice providers can access where children are required to be educated at home and links to information on remote education, virtual lessons and live streaming have been added. The Guidance stresses Governing bodies and Proprietors should ensure appropriate filters and monitoring is in place to keep children safe on-line. This is, unfortunately, a pressing area of concern for education providers given the likelihood that a number of pupils may be off at any given time isolating necessitating access to online learning platforms.
Greater emphasis has been placed on protecting children's mental welfare as part of the safeguarding process. The Guidance now states that schools and colleges have an important role to play in supporting mental health and well-being and that staff should consider when mental health may become a safeguarding concern. Settings should have clear systems and processes in place to identify needs in this area and DSLs should familiarise themselves with guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools. Annex B also provides that DSLs should work closely with senior mental health leads.
Concerns about staff are extended to include supply staff, reflecting changes that schools hold responsibility to fully explore concerns about supply staff irrespective of the fact that they are not the employer. Schools can not just cease to use the teacher. Processes should be developed to manage these situations akin to disciplinary procedures and schools should advise supply agencies of its process for managing allegations. Schools are also required to work with agencies to investigate when someone who has worked at the school has "behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicated they may not be suitable to work with children."
The potential for children to be exploited when missing from education is further emphasised. This is referenced in relation to staff being aware of the unauthorised absence and children missing from education procedure. But also bear in mind the potential for children off school isolating to give rise to safeguarding concerns. The Guidance revises and improves the wording surrounding Domestic Abuse and stresses the impact on children who are exposed to it or suffer it. Again, this could be a heightened issue during any lockdown or isolation period.
Finally, Honour Based Violence has been better termed as Honour Based Abuse to reinforce the fact that non-violent forms of abuse exist and The Voyeurism (Offences) Act came into force in April 2019 resulting in 'up-skirting' being referenced in the Guidance.
In summary, the safeguarding responsibilities on education providers has expanded further once again encompassing obligations in relation to mental health and clarifying requirements in relation to supply staff. The complex practical arrangements surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic has created multifaceted difficulties for providers seeking to ensure pupils are safeguarded, whether that be as a result of spending long periods in the home during lockdown creating difficulties for providers assessing any indicators of concern, or providing safe but effective online learning platforms for pupils. Significant advice and guidance is, however, available and should providers have any concerns our specialised Education Team can offer advice to ensure that any approach taken complies with the Guidance and ensures the best level of protection for all pupils.