Blended learning: Creating an effective culture of virtual safeguarding

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
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Schools are fully re-open but with self-isolation requirements still in place, remote and blended learning is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Elizabeth Rose considers how we can ensure an effective culture of virtual safeguarding in this new blended world of education


Although we might feel like we are transitioning away from lockdown in many ways, there continues to be lots of occasions where schools need to provide safeguarding and pastoral support remotely, as well as continuing to offer remote education alongside teaching pupils who are back at school. The complexities of keeping children safe and supported in a variety of different environments cannot be underestimated and can feel overwhelming.

In this article I have considered some cornerstones of good practice to help to establish your “virtual culture of safeguarding” when taking a blended approach to learning and pastoral care.


Thinking about settings

When I visit schools, I can ascertain a lot about the culture of safeguarding straight away by looking at the security of the school site, the procedures in place to welcome me as a visitor and the visible structures in place to promote safeguarding and wellbeing – displays, information leaflets, or staff wearing identification lanyards for example.

When developing your “virtual culture”, it is important to think about these safeguarding signifiers, as they can be crucial in helping children to feel like they remain part of safe school structures and can help to minimize opportunity for any staff misconduct. Think about the settings that your pupils will operate in remotely and how to make it clear that they are safe. For example:

Your school website: Make sure that safeguarding information and details of how to contact a member of staff for help are visible and prominent. Have a look at your website with fresh eyes and consider how a child might navigate it if they are learning remotely. Include signposting to sources of information and support and make sure you have simple ways for children to contact you for help if necessary.

Your online learning environment: If children will be joining live lessons, start each lesson with a standard slide that contains a reminder about safeguarding information or the contact details of who to speak to if they need help. If children will be accessing pre-recorded material, think about adding safeguarding information at the beginning or end of each recording.

Your social media accounts: Think about a child’s experience of your school social media accounts. What will they find if they search for the school when trying to seek help or support? It is a good idea to consider who runs your school social media accounts. Do they have the appropriate training to identify safeguarding issues raised implicitly by parents when they are commenting or sharing information? Do they know what to do if a child posts something of concern outside of school time? Take proactive steps to make this as safe as possible.

Ways to communicate: Again, think about the safeguarding and wellbeing connotations of anything that is sent home to children or to parents. Including clear messages about how to seek help or support for wellbeing or mental health will make safeguarding an everyday part of a child’s school experience – whether they are at home or at school.

Don’t forget that the best source of information for how to effectively support children is the children themselves. Ask them what worked well when they were learning at home, what they would have liked to see more of and find out where they would have gone to seek help if they had needed it. This will help to inform your targeted approach going forward.


Establishing a virtual culture of safeguarding with all staff

Under usual circumstances it would be less common for children and staff to communicate via email or online. It has become very normal to do this and now we are operating in a scenario where staff should be both working “normally” with children in the classroom but also needing to contact (and teach) other children online.

This must be taken into account when thinking about safer working practice and open discussions and straightforward guidance will protect both children and staff.

  • Tell staff about any updates to your safeguarding policy and any relevant updates to the Covid-19 government guidance (DfE, 2021).
  • Regularly remind staff of the appropriate channels for contacting children and what not to do. This is doubly beneficial as you will be keeping staff safe but also making it more difficult for perpetrators of harm to take advantage of boundaries being blurred.
  • Think carefully about “recording for safeguarding reasons”. If all of your live lessons are being recorded for safeguarding reasons, think about why that is necessary. What is different between teaching live in a classroom and teaching live online? Are the risks different or more significant? If you believe they are, then it is important to have additional measures (training, two members of staff in a lesson, guidance) and not to only rely on recording.
  • If you are recording lessons then you must consider your data retention schedule and your privacy policy. Lessons should be stored centrally on school devices and should be deleted when they are no longer required. This should be reflected in your policies.
  • Do not forget your governors. Keep them updated with what you are doing to keep children safe.


Pastoral care for children who are not attending on-site

Current government Covid guidance (DfE, 2021) states that you should continue to provide pastoral care to children who are self-isolating, shielding or vulnerable. To help to manage this while concurrently operating with children on-site consider:

  • Developing a short “Learning at Home” leaflet or email to provide key information and reassurance to pupils and parents, with contact details for curriculum and pastoral support. Share this as soon as children start self-isolation.
  • Have a short wellbeing survey that you can send to pupils after a set number of days at home to provide an easy way of sharing any difficulties they are having. Setting this up in advance means that you are organised for bubble closures or individuals needing to self-isolate.
  • Continue your on-going check-ins with pupils who are learning at home. Speak to the parents and to the child and record the contact and details of the conversation.
  • Think about how to include children in PSHE lessons, especially those around online safety. If you are not using live lessons for children who are learning at home, consider how you can involve them meaningfully in your PSHE curriculum.

Finally, consider how you will create opportunities for all children to have some social time. We have seen from a number of reports that children’s wellbeing has suffered during the lockdowns (see for example, Children’s Commissioner, 2020) and many children have reported that their lack of social contact has been very difficult or stressful.

Children will feel extremely isolated if they are the only child in their class or tutor group that is shielding, for example, so it is important to think about how you can virtually include them in social activities, tutor time or before and after-school clubs.

With some careful planning these things can be done virtually and can help to maintain a sense of community and belonging for these children.


Coming back into school

As we know, children can be very unnerved by transitions and it is more likely to provoke more feelings of uncertainty if a child has been at home and their friends have been together in school.

Implementing a simple support plan can help children to settle back in after a period of absence, promote good attendance, and help them to feel welcomed.

Give them information about what things will be like in school when they come back, assign a key member of staff to check in with them periodically and tell the child who this is. Phone home at the end of their first week to check in with parents or carers. Having a plan in place in advance and resources prepared to support this helps to free up your time to manage urgent issues or disclosures (SecEd, 2021).


A final thought

Although it is challenging to balance and manage the needs of children working both inside and outside of school, it is possible to make it easier with clear systems and processes. By preparing in advance of issues occurring, we can prevent concerns from arising through effective support and interventions – protecting children when necessary.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Read her previous articles via https://bit.ly/3d0pQj5. Visit www.sosafeguarding.co.uk or follow her @sosafeguarding


Further information & references

  • DfE: Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020, last updated January 2021: http://bit.ly/2bI2Zsm
  • DfE, Schools coronavirus operational guidance, last updated March 16, 2021: http://bit.ly/3tturAM
  • Children’s Commissioner: Stress among children in England during the coronavirus lockdown, September 2020: https://bit.ly/3tx4e4e


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