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Podcast: returning to school post-lockdown

Last updated: 15 Jun 2020 Topics: Podcast

How has coronavirus affected the education sector, teachers and pupils?

Some children and young people are starting to go back to school and teachers are preparing to welcome pupils back after a three-month hiatus. But what’s happened in the past few months? How have schools adjusted to the new ‘normal’ and what will change now that these pupils have begun to return?

We invited Kay Joel, NSPCC’s Senior Education Consultant to talk about the current situation and provide an insight into the enquiries the NSPCC’s Library and Information service has received from people who work with children. The episode explores:

  • managing safeguarding concerns
  • supporting and communicating safely with pupils and families remotely
  • changes to multi-agency approaches
  • updating safeguarding policies and procedures
  • resources and advice available for the education sector.

We’ll be releasing new episodes for our special coronavirus mini-series until the end of June covering how the education, social care and health sectors have adapted and adjusted their services during this difficult time.

About Kay Joel

Kay Joel is a Senior Education Consultant at the NSPCC who works closely with schools to provide consultancy and has over 25 years of experience as a qualified teacher in primary and special education. Her current role includes undertaking safeguarding policy audits and visiting schools to verify safeguarding practices.

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Podcast transcript

Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.

Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning Podcast. Over the next few weeks, we're releasing a compilation of episodes on topics related to how professionals from education, social care and health have adapted and adjusted their services in order to safeguard children and young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second episode in this series focuses on education. I had a chat with one of my colleagues, Kay Joel. Kay was a teacher for many years and she's now the NSPCC's Senior Education Consultant. We discussed the safeguarding concerns schools and academies might be having and how these have been addressed. And in next week’s podcast I’ll be talking to Shirley Dunn, who is a teacher, about how her school has worked to keep their pupils safe in recent months.

We also talked about the enquiries the NSPCC has been receiving in recent weeks and what resources and information we've been publishing in response to these. In addition, how the NSPCC's Knowledge and Information Service regularly publish school briefings which are brilliant for keeping up-to-date with what schools and academies need to be doing. And links for all of these resources can be found on this podcast webpage and on the main NSPCC Learning website.

We recorded this episode on the second of June when some primary school pupils in England had returned to school. I began by asking Kay what she thought education’s main safeguarding concerns were going to be for those pupils that have been learning remotely and who are continuing to learn from home.

I think the main concerns will be where schools are already aware of those pupils who have ongoing safeguarding concerns. So I think they'll thinking about how they can carry on supporting those pupils even if they're not seeing them and staying in touch with them remotely. Obviously, it's difficult to think about every single scenario but for some children, their home circumstances are not going to be as safe as schools might like them to be. So I think communication seems to be the key in keeping in touch regularly with children and their families, making sure that the children know how to get in touch with people in school. I think there will be concerns around online behaviours - maybe some concerns about online bullying or peer-on-peer abuse - that's being instigated online or remotely.

For schools, it's really difficult where they're so used to seeing pupils every day. And that's what we often say, is that schools are the safest place the pupils can be because they're there every day and the staff know them, so I think it's been a real challenge for schools. And I think it means that staff who have a safeguarding responsibility are probably giving even more of their time to dealing with safeguarding concerns. Also I think making sure that the procedures for making referrals and for getting in touch with other agencies are all going to be different at the moment. So really reliant on email contact, phone calls and other ways of keeping in touch.

Schools are often the hub for things to happen so often other agencies will come into school and there'll be meetings that way so it's how to facilitate virtual meetings. In terms of safeguarding staff, making referrals - if they need to make referrals to other agencies - just to be aware that there might be slight changes at the moment in the way that agencies can be contacted. Making sure that all your contact details are up-to-date, that you know how different agencies are working.

So if there have been some changes around covering from Children's Social Care, that you know what they are and you know who to contact and how to follow things up. And also, schools may have to make some adjustments to their safeguarding staff in schools. If the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) isn't around, who's the deputy? Or if you're working in a school where there isn't a DSL because they're not able to be in school because they're isolating or they're not well, then what are the deputising arrangements there? And schools can share safeguarding leads if they need to although I imagine that's quite rare but they will need to do that and they are able to do that I should say.

You've mentioned it a little bit in your previous answer about how schools can keep in touch with their pupils. What other ways do you know of that schools have been making sure that they've had regular contact with their pupils and their pupils’ families if needed?

Yeah I think schools have been very upfront about communicating via their website on what's actually happening and keeping pupils and families in touch with that. Especially at the time we're recording this, some children are going back to school, some haven't yet gone back to school and it's very varied across the country. So keeping pupils and their families up-to-date on what the plans are. Those usual kinds of ways and for some children and some families, more personal contact. So making sure that perhaps there's at least like a weekly phone call home from a class teacher or a form tutor or somebody in a pastoral responsibility.

Also making sure that pupils and their families know who to contact in school if they've got a question or they're worried about something. Again I think that has an impact for how available safeguarding staff are going to need to be at the present time. And it's almost that they’re needing to be in so many different places virtually as well at the moment.

It's really important that schools are aware of where they haven't got engagement from pupils and their families, so that if somebody seems to sort of drop off with contact or attendance, whether that's virtual attendance or in-person attendance, that could be a sign that something's not quite right in the family. There could be all sorts of reasons why things like that happen here. We often talk about how these times are completely unprecedented, so there's all sorts of unprecedented things going on in families. I'm not saying that every time there's a change that it signifies abuse but it's a concern. So keeping in touch, noticing if things change or things are not as they might normally be. Although the word ‘normal’ is quite a difficult one to think about isn't it?

Absolutely and like you said it's unprecedented. Teachers and school staff having to navigate something that's never been navigated before.

I think schools generally as organisations are very flexible. I'm sure that in all of the run up to the first of June, I think schools were working really hard, not just on risk assessments and keeping children safe in terms of social distancing and other measures. But also, really thinking about how are they going to be that welcoming, safe, nurturing place that they've always been as well as keeping the social distancing and other measures in place. And I think that's been a real challenge. I know that schools will probably be looking at how they can keep doing that as more and more pupils return.

Yes. We talked about what's happening online for some students and how they can maybe be keeping in touch with friendship groups online now they can't see each other physically. So can we explore that a little bit more? The social side of things for children and young people and what schools can be doing or are doing to encourage their pupils to stay in touch with each other but safely?

I suppose it's using their knowledge of friendship groups and peer groups. And I think everyone needs the chance to talk and share their experiences to say, “oh you know, this is what's happening here or this is what's happened to me or this is what's going on”. So they need that unstructured way of communicating but also maybe some structured discussions and conversations that are facilitated in a way that you might facilitate a tutor time or a PSHE session. But I think that's obviously much harder to do remotely.

Perhaps using different activities-- creative activities for example, to keep children in touch but also having a sort of end goal in mind, so that everyone's contributing to some kind of collaborative piece of work or a collaborative activity, is a good structured way of keeping them in touch and doing it safely through a school mechanism.

I think also contact virtually should be through a school platform or a recognised school way of doing that and not really using personal mobiles and personal accounts because then it's much harder to keep track of what's actually going on. Also making sure that children know how to report anything that's worrying them. So if they are being bullied online or the peers are making comments that are not helpful or negative, they know how to report that back and who to report that to in school.

Could we talk about some of the enquiries that we have been receiving about how to keep children and young people safe during the pandemic?

Yeah, initially there were a lot of enquiries about remote classrooms and setting up remote learning and how do you do that safely. But I think as time's evolved, schools have really got their heads around using platforms safely. And really that goes back to having a really strong code of conduct that includes online behaviours. And I'm thinking particularly about staff and how staff keep themselves safe. So only using recognised school platforms, not using their own personal contact details, making sure that if they're going to appear on screen and do any live teaching that the background that you're using is kind of appropriate and you haven't got people wondering about behind you and you're dressed appropriately and all of those things.

But I think as time has gone on there's been a lot of questions about policies. So DfE (Department for Education) in England issued guidance for updating safeguarding child protection policies and procedures. So we had quite a few enquiries about that. I think the good news on that is that it doesn't require a complete policy rewrite. It's about making some changes or putting things in an annex saying how the school's going to respond during this time.

Especially as children return to school and there might be some anxieties around returning to school. I think there'll be a lot of children who'll be really happy to come back to school because they'll see their friends and it will be some kind of routine for them but there will be some who feel anxious. There'll be parents that feel anxious and that anxiety can be brought into school as well. So what can schools be doing to support children's mental health?

The school day is probably going to look very different to how we're used to. And I think it's going to be less formal and perhaps more opportunities to-- I don't want to sort of sound like a therapist but it's about processing what's been going. You know for some children they may not have had that much contact with their friends, so they will want to talk and they will want to spend time talking and playing together as safely as they can. And I think that's really important.

My middle son went back yesterday. He's in Year One. First of all, he described his school day to me which is a rarity [crosstalk] but actually it was completely different for him. So they now sit in pods. They sit with a different group of children but it was more discursive yesterday. So he was over the moon because he didn't have to do any reading or writing but they talked in the pods. They got to know each other because they were sitting with children that are perhaps outside of their normal friendship groups. I think they did a nature scavenger hunt so they were outside a lot. And he kind of skipped out of school and he was telling me about his school day. It sounded completely different but he loved it. It was great.

And I think that schools are brilliant at taking on board the mood of what's going on at the moment and environment and adjusting to that. And it's a really good, positive example for me about how schools are really, as always, stepping up to the plate, donning their many hats, pastoral, teaching and just making sure that our children, our young people feel safe and secure and supported.

Yeah. I think for some children, this time may have been a chance for them to develop some confidence. There are always children, I think I was like this myself at school, you don't really want to speak in front of lots of people but you might feel a bit more confident doing it if your class is a much smaller size. And it's a chance for children's different strengths and attributes to be able to shine really.

In terms of supporting, a lot of children and some parents may feel anxious about the amount of school that's been missed and can we catch up? And I think schools are very realistic to say, look we're not going to be able to cram in all the weeks that we've missed in these next few weeks and at the moment anyway, they're not seeing children every day. So I think it is going to feel different. I think it's necessary for it to be different at the moment. But also from an academic point of view, it brings some structure and it brings routine and just re-establishes some of those good work habits really.

We've discussed some of the enquiries that the NSPCC are receiving and the Knowledge and Information Service in particular has been creating lots of resources that have been on the NSPCC Learning website. So as soon as you go on, you'll see a banner which will direct you to that. So what else is the NSPCC doing to help schools navigate safeguarding children and young people?

The news stories and the content that's on the website are being updated regularly. There's guidance on how to update your safeguarding policies and procedures. Again, I just wanted to emphasise that that doesn't involve a complete rewrite. It's just about adding some pertinent information about the current circumstances. And of course, everything's changing all the time, so just keeping that under review. There's advice for governors and also safer recruitment because I think that's really important that schools continue to follow safety recruitment processes. Particularly if they're recruiting more volunteers at the present time and not feeling that they can shortcut any of those systems. So making sure that if you have new staff or new volunteers that you've got a proper induction sorted out for them once they've started. But making sure that obviously all the safer recruitment checks are in place as well. And I think because it's an ongoing, evolving situation that we're in, that we'll be updating stuff regularly, making sure that we're reflecting what's currently going on.

I'm sure we will. Absolutely. And all the resources we've made sure are all accessible, aren't they? And they're for different settings aren't they as well which is great. So we're trying to cover all bases.

Yes, to cover it right through early years right through to the other end of the school range.

Okay. Thank you very much as ever for your brilliant advice. And thank you to schools as well because we know they've been operating under really tricky circumstances. Like we say, as ever, they've been amazing. Thanks Kay.

Okay. All right. Thanks, Ali.


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