Coronavirus: transitioning back to school

Last updated: 03 Mar 2021 Topics: News Type: COVID
Introduction
Teenager smiling in her school uniform

Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are gradually being lifted across the UK, beginning with schools welcoming back children who they might not have seen face-to-face since before Christmas.

But things are not yet back to normal and schools still have a lot to consider. Many schools are operating a phased return and social distancing measures will continue for everyone. Remote teaching will still be in place for children who are unable to attend school in person, for example if they need to self-isolate.

Staff might be working with different groups of children than they’re used to, and some may be unable to work in school because they are shielding or self-isolating. Some people might have caring responsibilities and others may have been bereaved during the pandemic.

As children return to school, it’s important to ensure that they are kept safe and that everybody, including parents, carers and staff feel supported.

We’ve pulled together some resources to help you support children and young people at this time.

This page will take you through:

  • safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures
  • recognising and responding to concerns
  • the impact of coronavirus on children’s mental health
  • supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Listen to our podcast episodes about how schools have adapted to the coronavirus pandemic.

We explore how schools can manage safeguarding concerns, support children and young people and adjust to the new ‘normal’ as children return to school.

> Podcast: returning to school post-lockdown

> Podcast: safeguarding advice for tutors

Safeguarding and child protection

Safeguarding and child protection

Policies and procedures

You should continue to review and adapt your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures as things change during the coronavirus pandemic.

Your policies and procedures should reflect any changes that need to be made depending on how you are operating. For example, if teachers in school are working with children they don’t know very well, they will need to be informed of any support needs or child protection issues that affect the children in their care. You should have a contingency plan in case your nominated child protection lead becomes unavailable. Who will take the lead on child protection if they can’t be on site?

Any changes to your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures should be approved by your school governors.

You should review your plans for managing any outbreaks or changes in coronavirus restrictions to make sure children are always safe and supported.

It’s good practice to share any changes you make to your policies and procedures with parents and carers.

> Follow our five steps to updating your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

> Read our briefing on safeguarding and child protection guidance for schools during coronavirus

> Check out our safeguarding guidance briefing for early years and childcare

> Find out what school governors should know about safeguarding during coronavirus

Recognising and responding to concerns

As more children return to school in person, your staff might notice more child protection concerns. You might also find out about problems that children and families have been having over the last few months.

Make sure everyone knows what to do if they have concerns about a child’s welfare. This is a good time to refresh everyone’s memory about your procedures for responding to concerns.

Make sure your nominated child protection lead and any deputies have enough time and capacity to respond appropriately to all concerns that have been raised. Nominated child protection leads should check they have up-to-date contact details for other agencies and know whether referral procedures have changed during the pandemic.

> Learn more about child protection roles and responsibilities in schools

> Read more about recognising and responding to concerns

> Browse our child protection training courses for schools

Contact the NSPCC helpline for expert advice on 0808 800 500 or by emailing help@nspcc.co.uk.

Children not in school

It might take time for all children to be back in school every day. If you are using a mixture of home- and in-school learning, your policies need to reflect this. Think about how you will keep in touch with those you aren’t seeing on a daily basis and how you can make sure they are safe and well.

> Find out more about undertaking remote teaching safely

Recruitment

You might be thinking about filling vacancies and recruiting new staff or volunteers. Make sure you continue to follow safer recruitment practices to help ensure everyone working with children and young people is suitable.

> Read more about recruiting safely during the pandemic

> Take our safer recruitment in education elearning course

Supporting children's mental health

Supporting children's mental health

Impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Everyone will have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in different ways. Although children and families have been told to stay at home before, some children might have found it difficult to spend more time inside over the past few months. Some might have experienced a bereavement and some parents may have lost their jobs. Children might also have been unable to access support they usually receive from professionals such as mental health services or counsellors.

> Find out what children have been talking to Childline about during the pandemic

Feelings about going back to school

Children might have different feelings about returning to school. Some might be anxious for a range of reasons, while others may be excited.

Children who have previously experienced bullying at school may be worried about seeing their peers again. Some children may have experienced online bullying or problems with peer relationships while they were learning at home.

Some children may be feeling anxious about catching up on school work or worried that they’ve fallen behind during the pandemic.

Providing support

Make time to talk to children about all the changes that are happening at the moment. Ask them how they feel and if there is anything in particular that’s making them uncomfortable about being in school. It might be possible to make small changes to make things easier.

Consider how your school can provide support to children with mental health issues or those who may be struggling at this time. Think about how you will identify children who may need extra support as they return to school.

Make sure children know who in school they can talk to if they are worried about anything. Remind them that they can talk to Childline about any worries or problems they might be having.

Make sure that you have up-to-date contact information for local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and check whether referral processes have changed.

> Read more about recognising and responding to children’s mental health issues

> Learn more about promoting wellbeing

> Find out more about supporting children’s mental health during coronavirus

> See Childline’s page for children worried about coronavirus

> See our resources for promoting healthy relationships

Outside of school

Make sure you continue to keep in touch with children who are not attending school, for example those year groups who have not yet returned or children who are self-isolating. Think about ways you can support their mental health and wellbeing.

> Take a look at our resources for supporting children during the pandemic