Coronavirus presents a number of concerns for schools, not least the question as to what schools should be telling the students.
Younger students have already been heard to ask if everyone is going to die. And I have even heard cases of children being bullied because they have a cold.
We cannot ignore the subject in schools - social media and the press aren’t ignoring it, so we need to speak up.
Schools and coronavirus
Schools and teachers can get slightly nervous about giving the wrong advice and there seems to be so much fake news about that we need to be careful.
Check your school policy, speak with your local medical team and read the advice given out by the World Health Organisation.
One of my biggest concerns, though, is safeguarding.
Coronavirus is going to cause absence – in some circumstances, the whole pupil population will be told to stay at home.
Here are two key questions I have – but I fear they are the tip of the iceberg and we will have more granula questions in the coming weeks.
1. How do you mark down that absence?
Some counties have sent out advice for schools, stating that schools should be recording students who have been self-isolated by a medical professional with a ‘Y’ and not expecting staff to do home visits ('Y' is for exceptional circumstances, see page 13 in the government guidelines).
The problem here is that the advice seems inconsistent in each county. It also does not cover students who are choosing to self-isolate for fear of contamination.
We need more guidance on the recording of absence, and how we verify children are self-isolating for medical reasons.
2. How do we ensure children are safe at home?
My biggest safeguarding concern is the possibility that some students may be kept at home, when home isn’t really the best place for them.
Who will check on the child? I am confident that all Designated Safeguarding Leads have children who are running through their mind right now, who they would be concerned about. For example, students who may have been seeing the school counsellor and now………who is going to support them? And for those we keep safe in the day, are social services going to step in?
Things to consider
So what can we do? Can we prepare for this?
This is such a challenging idea, as we have no idea when or if this could be a possibility. But I do think we can do these five things:
- Ensure we have structured work set daily
We need to ensure that work is accessible for all students, even those without appropriate IT. Work can be used as a distraction or escape if they are stuck in their room.
- Keep in contact
Safeguarding teams need to agree a rota of contact with students of concern, which should mean students contacting them, and them contacting students. Students can also be given support contact details like Childline and the Samaritans.
- Staff training
Staff still need to think about safeguarding even if they are only contacting students via emails, but clear guidance needs to be given by the safeguarding team on what staff do with any concerns. On-line referral systems like CPOMS and MyConcern come into their element with situations like these.
- Be mindful of data protection
Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they have access to students information and contact details of outside agencies, even if they are not in schools. Data protection, though, needs to be considered. If we are expecting the safeguarding team to phone from home, how are we protecting their number and reimbursing them?
- Keep communication lines open between staff
Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they are still communicating and sharing with each other and their line managers. Isolation can make matters worse for staff and for the child and is not good safeguarding practice.