Vigilance is key: Five things for safeguarding leads to consider

Written by: Hannah Glossop | Published:
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Safeguarding and pastoral leads will be on high alert as all pupils return to school, playing a key role in supporting colleagues to be vigilant and watch for the signs of distress. Hannah Glossop offers five pieces of advice


Schools are fully re-opening once again, with all pupils now where most of them want – and need – to be.

It will be a long time before things return fully back to normal and one particular legacy of the pandemic is the potential long-term damage to the mental health and wellbeing of children.

It is important that we keep a watchful eye on our pupils as they settle back into school. While the lockdown has disrupted learning and life for so many, most will hopefully bounce back quickly.

For others, it has been a time of severe stress and sometimes trauma. They may have been trapped in an unhappy home that has been wracked by joblessness, economic pressure and illness, or they may have lost a family member to Covid. Neglect, abuse and other issues have also risen during the national lockdowns. Whatever the reason behind their stress we need to be ready to support them.

As an assistant head and designated safeguarding lead in a large all-through school I saw the stress and trauma that some of our young people endured during the first lockdown. Our catchment covered a very disadvantaged area of north London and many families were badly affected by Covid.

We knew that many of our pupils were having a tough time as a result of this and we learned quickly. When pupils returned after the first lockdown from the summer onwards our safeguarding team held one-to-one interviews. We heard some harrowing stories and learned how to spot signs of trouble in children and young people who were less expansive about what they were going through. It enabled us to identify children who were badly affected by their experiences and bring in care and support to help them.

The return to school from March 8 has given us all an opportunity to put into action the approaches that were tried and tested during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Here are five things for designated safeguarding leads and their teams to consider:


Safeguarding process

Do your staff know the correct procedure for referring safeguarding concerns? These systems vary from school to school. Some will use safeguarding software. For others it will be a physical form submitted in-person and in others it will be via email. Do not presume that everyone is confident with the protocol.

Whatever the system, make it clear to all staff exactly what it is and how to follow it. If there have been changes in how the safeguarding team should be contacted, then spell those out. Does the child protection policy need updating so that it is clear for all staff? Consider what reminders need to be given and ensure that all staff who have joined the school since January have had their mandatory safeguarding induction.


Watch for the signs

For those students who have not been attending your vulnerable/key worker provision during the third lockdown, your staff could be the first professionals they have seen face-to-face since before Christmas. Ensure your colleagues are aware of the signs of safeguarding concerns, such as:

  • Significant changes in weight.
  • Signs of physical abuse.
  • Reluctance to go home.
  • Signs of financial hardship and/or neglect.
  • Erratic attendance/punctuality/engagement.
  • Signs of mental health concerns.

A key question to ask is: How are your staff being encouraged to look out for these signs and refer any concerns to the safeguarding team?


Bereavement

Many students – and staff – will have suffered bereavements over the last year. Perhaps you have lost a member of your own school community. How will your students be supported with their grief as they return to school?

Check what support and agencies you can draw on. Your school may have a counselling service or buy into a service that can provide this support. You might want to think of running a bereavement group. For many students, the full impact of their experiences may not hit them until later. We need to watch out for these students.


Attendance

What are your school’s plans to follow up with students who do not arrive back to school on their return date? How will you ensure that these students are safe? Which students need to be referred to the local authority? And how will you know if any students in alternative provision have returned? Attendance was one of the key issues raised in the recbent SecEd podcast episode focused on supporting vulnerable learners post-March 8 (SecEd, 2021).


Pastoral support

Remember that students will have had a range of experiences during lockdown. Some may have faced abuse, whereas others may have thrived at home and feel anxious about being back in school. How will safeguarding and pastoral support address this and create space for students to share their concerns with a trusted adult?

One idea could be to put together a pastoral programme, led by form teachers and tutors, which will give children and young people the opportunity to talk about their struggles during lockdown.


Further information & resources

SecEd Podcast: Vulnerable Learners & Covid-19, February 2021: https://bit.ly/37KZn74


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