Safeguarding during coronavirus: school governors and trustees

Last updated: 20 Apr 2021 Topics: News Type: COVID
Introduction
School governor working from home looking outside the window concerned

Schools across the UK have had to adapt to new ways of working during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As restrictions continue to change, safeguarding and child protection are as important as ever.

Governors and academy trustees have a key role to play in making sure their school is continuing to put robust safeguarding and child protection procedures in place.

This involves:

  • acting as a ‘critical friend’ to the school’s leadership team and talking through decisions
  • checking how the school is safeguarding children and young people during the pandemic
  • approving policy changes at short notice
  • asking safeguarding leads about any challenges they are facing
  • finding out what support the school needs to be able to keep children safe.

This page will take you through the things you need to consider to help ensure your school, college or academy is keeping children safe during this time, including:

  • safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures
  • staff absence
  • recruitment
  • children’s safety and wellbeing.

Training for school governors

Our online training covers safeguarding and child protection policies, procedures, principles and practice for school governors. 

See the course

 

Policies and procedures

Policies and procedures

Updating safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

It’s best practice for your school to update or add an addendum to your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the current situation (Department for Education (DfE), 2021a).

Any changes to policies and procedures need to be agreed by the board of governors or trustees. But it may be necessary for the chair to act on the board’s behalf to approve changes and make urgent decisions (DfE, 2020; Department of Education, 2019; Welsh Government, 2013).

If this is the case the chair should, as much as possible, work with the governor or trustee responsible for safeguarding and child protection to review any changes to the policies and procedures.

Notes of discussions and decisions, including minutes from video meetings and emails, should be properly recorded (Welsh Government, 2021).

Also check that the nominated child protection lead has shared any new updates to safeguarding policies and procedures and ensured all staff, volunteers, parents, carers and children know how to raise any concerns or who to speak to about any issues.

> Read our five steps for updating safeguarding and child protection policies during the pandemic

Monitoring safeguarding and child protection

This is a busy time for everyone involved in running a school.  It’s best practice to make sure any decisions you make during the pandemic are proportionate, pragmatic and sensitive to the needs of the school and the local community (Department for Education (DfE), 2021b; Welsh Government, 2021). The welfare of children and young people is of paramount importance.

You should make sure safeguarding and child protection continues to be a key part of all your meetings and decision making, and monitor how policies and procedures are working in practice. Talk to the headteacher and nominated child protection lead about this - what challenges are they facing? How can these be overcome?

Check that there are robust safeguarding processes in place in your school. Does everyone know how child protection and welfare information should be shared and how to report a concern?

It’s especially important that schools are working closely with other agencies, such as children’s social care. This will help ensure any concerns about a child’s wellbeing are acted on quickly and families get the support they need.

Ask your nominated child protection lead about multi-agency working and check it’s happening effectively. Make sure they’re continuing to share concerns with children’s social care and any other relevant agencies.

Staffing

Staffing

Staff absence

Check what contingencies your school, college or academy has put in place to cover staff absence, for example if an employee falls ill or needs to self-isolate, is caring for a family member or partner or is bereaved.

Consider who will cover for the nominated child protection lead if they are not able to work. Are there other members of staff who are also trained to deputise? It’s important that there is always someone available who can take the child protection lead role.

You should also find out who will take over pastoral care responsibilities if staff are unable to work because of sickness or caring responsibilities.

Safe recruitment

Governors have a key role to play in ensuring that staff and volunteers in schools are suitable to work with children and young people, whether they are working online or face-to-face. If new staff are being recruited or new volunteers are joining the workforce, you need to ensure that safer recruitment practices are being followed.

Make sure there is a proper induction process for all new starters, which includes full safeguarding and child protection training.

> Read more about safer recruitment during coronavirus

> Take our safer recruitment in education online training

> Find out more about our child protection in schools online training

Mental health and wellbeing

This is a challenging time for everybody, especially those working in schools. Regularly check on the wellbeing of school staff and volunteers – including your leadership team. This might involve signposting them to support or just being available for them to talk to.

Children’s safety and wellbeing

Children’s safety and wellbeing

Vulnerable children

Your school should be aware of any children who may be more vulnerable during the pandemic. Talk to your nominated child protection lead to find out if there are any children they are particularly concerned about. What support is in place for them?

For example, children who are self-isolating won't be attending school in person and might need extra support. Find out how teachers are keeping in touch with those who are learning from home. Ask your nominated child protection lead what actions they are taking to check they are safe. Is the level of contact with each child appropriate? Do teachers know how to spot and respond to child protection concerns when working remotely?

> Find out more about safeguarding and remote teaching

> Make sure staff can recognise and respond to child protection concerns by taking our online child protection training

Heightened risks

Check your school has taken into account any new or heightened risks that children may be exposed to during the pandemic.

For example, online safety may be a concern. Check that your school has a robust online safety policy. This should reflect any communication that happens online, for example pupil-teacher communication with children who are self-isolating. It should include any additional risks that may occur as children’s online behaviour changes.

Check there is guidance about appropriate contact between teaching staff and children who are not currently in school. Make sure there are processes in place to respond to any concerns about a member of staff’s behaviour.

> Read more about undertaking remote teaching safely

> Learn more about online safety in schools

You should also consider risks and challenges that families might face during this time and how this will affect children. This might include:

Ask how the school is becoming alert and responding to these and what governors and trustees can do to help.

Mental health and wellbeing

This is a difficult and potentially distressing time for children and young people. You should ensure that your school has processes in place to support children’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly those who usually receive counselling or other mental health support.

> Learn more about looking after children’s mental health during the pandemic

We’re sharing a series of briefings highlighting what children are talking to Childline about in relation to coronavirus. The briefings will help you understand how children’s mental health and wellbeing is being affected, what their main concerns are and what support they might need.

> Read the briefings

Make sure everyone is aware of the confidential advice and support that Childline can offer children and young people. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also get support online.

Curriculum

Ask your school how they are adapting the curriculum to cover relevant topics at this time. This could include online safety and lessons around emotional wellbeing and coping with stress and anxiety.

> Learn more about having difficult conversations with children

> Find out how to promote mental health and wellbeing in children and young people

> View our online safety teaching resources

> See our guidance and resources for teaching children about healthy relationships

> Take a look at our online safeguarding programme for primary school children

References and resources

References and resources

References

Department for Education (DfE) (2021a) Guidance for full opening: schools. [Accessed 16/04/2021].

Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Governance handbook: for academies, multi-academy trusts and maintained schools (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department of Education (2019) ‘Every school a good school’: the governor’s role: a guide for governors. [Accessed 16/04/2020].

Welsh Government (2021) Information for school governing bodies: coronavirus. [Accessed 16/04/2021].

Welsh Government (2013) Training for chairs of governors in Wales: guidance for local authorities and governing bodies of maintained schools (PDF). Cardiff: Welsh Government.

Useful resources

We have a range of resources to help governors keep children safe.

Safeguarding and child protection in schools

Explore a range of resources, lesson plans, training, services and tools to help you keep children safe in your educational institution. 

> See our full range of resources for schools

Safeguarding in Education Update

Sign up to our free monthly newsletter, keeping you up-to-date with the latest safeguarding information for schools and educational institutions.

> Subscribe now

Protecting children from abuse in schools: roles and responsibilities

Understand more about what is expected of a governor in recognising, responding to and preventing child abuse in schools.

> Learn more about governors’ role in child protection

Helping school governors keep children safe

Our Strategic Knowledge Transfer Manager at the NSPCC shares her own experiences to help school governors understand their role in keeping children safe and become more confident in tackling safeguarding matters.

> Read our blog

Training for school governors on child protection

An online training course to help school governors better their understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities and role.

> Learn more about the course

Safeguarding Education Self-Assessment Tool (ESAT)

Use our free tool to audit your school’s child protection arrangements and ensure your organisation meets best practices.

> Find out more about the tool