The current structure of remote education has been challenging for schools to say the least.
From new pressures on staff and parents, to students having to adjust to a whole new way of learning, this period of school closures has enabled many schools to find new ways of educating their students and reinvent the classic teacher-student relationship – not to mention stress test their tech or try out a whole new e-learning approach.
One particularly big challenge has been that of safeguarding – ensuring children are protected during the home learning process. Not only can it be more difficult to ensure the usual codes of conduct are followed outside of the school setting – but the use of technology also throws up the potential for new issues to arise.
We’ve put together this list of safeguarding measures all schools should be taking during this period of remote learning.
Top Safeguarding Tips for Home Learning
Live Streaming Lessons
Live streaming lessons via a live webcam chat or lesson broadcasting platforms like Zoom or Blackboard, will probably be one of the most common and convenient way teachers can lead lessons with their students and maintain that real-time teacher-class connection.
However, live streaming brings about various safety concerns, both for students and teachers. Just recently, the National Education Union (NEU) urged teachers against live streaming lessons due to the possibilities of teachers’ identities and privacy being put at risk.
Additionally, some parents and carers may not be comfortable with the idea of their child participating in live webcam interactions with teachers.
The way schools can engage in these online teaching practices, whilst putting to bed the concerns of teachers and parents, is by implementing adequate safeguarding measures.
1. Get consent from parents
If schools haven’t already done this on closure, they should gain explicit consent from parents that its okay for their child to participate in home learning. Parents should be given a full outline of what this means – for example, being on live webcam during lessons, or being contacted 1:1 by their teacher.
2. No 1:1s; groups only
Live-streamed lessons should only be conducted in groups and full classes. 1:1 tutoring is not advised as it can present a whole host of other child protection issues.
If a child requires 1:1 tuition, it should be done with a parent or carer in the same room, and explicit permission of the parent must be obtained beforehand.
3. Suitable clothing must be worn by everyone
Staff and children must wear suitable clothing, as should anyone else in the household.
4. Computers must be in shared/communal spaces
Any computers used for live-streamed lessons should be in appropriate areas; for example, the living room or family kitchen, not in bedrooms. Where possible they should also be conducted against a neutral background.
5. Live lessons should be recorded
Live-streamed classes should be recorded and backed up elsewhere, so that if any issues were to arise, the video can be reviewed. This is also helpful for students who were not able to attend the lesson in real-time, or for those that wish to revisit the information later.
6. Language and interactions must remain professional
Language used between students and teachers must be professional and appropriate. This includes any family members in the background, so parents need to play an active part in this.
The Use of Online Learning Software
Thanks to a huge rise in edtech, there are now countless platforms and learning software that teachers can use to lead lessons, distribute learning materials and give out assignments.
However, even these tools bring their own safeguarding rules and challenges. By sharing these with all teachers and parents ahead of time, everyone will benefit.
1. Learning software must fulfil specific security and privacy measures
Data Controllers need to reassure themselves that any teaching/learning software and/or platforms are suitable and raise no privacy issues, or use cases against the provider’s terms and conditions (for example, no business use of consumer products).
2. Ensure learning software is age-appropriate
Always make sure the platform you are using is suitable for the children’s age group, both in terms of content and usability. Sometimes it may be appropriate to have different learning platforms for different age groups.
3. Don’t allow the use of personal accounts
All students and teachers should be given a school account for logging into any online platforms – the use of teachers’ personal accounts is highly discouraged.
Related: 15+ Home Learning Resources to Use During School Closures
Contacting Children at Home
While schools are closed staff might need to contact children individually, for example to give feedback on homework. Schools should set out clearly to teachers when it is and isn’t appropriate to contact children at home, as well as letting parents and students know likewise when they can contact teachers.
1. Staff should follow the usual code of conduct
Remind staff of your code of conduct and make it clear how you expect them to behave.
Make sure staff know what safeguarding measures to take if they are having a one-to-one conversation with a child.
2. Where possible, use parent/carer email addresses to communicate with children
Use parents’ or carers’ email addresses or phone numbers to communicate with children, unless this poses a safeguarding risk. Use school accounts to communicate via email or online platforms – never teachers’ personal accounts.
3. Protect teachers’ and families’ personal details
Make sure any phone calls are made from a blocked number so teacher’s personal contact details are not visible.
If staff members are accessing families’ contact details at home, ensure they comply with the Data Protection Act 2018.
Reporting any issues
Should any concerns arise about a student’s (or teacher’s) safety, all staff must be aware of the correct procedure to follow.
Remind all your staff of your safeguarding and child protection policy and procedures.
Check that everyone is able to contact your nominated child protection lead and deputy if they have any concerns about a child. This may be because:
- a staff member sees or hears something worrying during an online lesson
- a child discloses abuse during a phone call or via email.
Your nominated child protection lead should keep a note of any contact numbers they may need while the school is closed, for example children’s social care and the local police.
Mental Health & Well-Being
Due to the current unnatural teaching and learning structure, mental health is a huge focus right now, both for students and teachers.
Students may feel worried about the impact of coronavirus, social distancing or self-isolation. Those who already have mental health difficulties such as anxiety might be finding things particularly tough.
Meanwhile, teachers may feel overwhelmed and under pressure from the new responsibilities they currently face, such as overcoming technological challenges and creating new resources for platforms completely new to them.
Schools as a whole and educational leaders need to take the mental well-being of students and teachers seriously, providing help and resources where possible to ensure everyone feels supported.
For example, they could:
- Tell children and young people where they can go if they are worried about anything or need to talk to someone while school is closed (e.g. a virtual counsellor’s ‘office’ run via email or a secure instant chat on the school website; phone helplines such as Childline etc.)
- Provide safe ways for students to contact one another between lessons, such as a school intranet or moderated forum.
- Offer a place for teachers to support and connect with one another. This could be a regular Zoom call each week, a daily ‘virtual staffroom’ voice call meeting or an internal school forum, through which they could share their struggles and provide advice and guidance.
Related: How to Support your Mental Health When Working From Home
We also need to remember that not every family is able to afford the required technology and even if they do, there may not be enough to go round the siblings. Families living in poor housing conditions may have no broadband. The gap between the have’s and the have-not’s will be noticeable with remote learning. It would be useful to consult with parents about what would be most useful and whether ‘live’ online learning would be welcomed.
It is likely that children will be using the internet more than ever in this period of school closures, so safer internet measures are particularly important.