The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Luke Ramsden

Thoughts for safeguarding leads on returning from lockdown

Safeguarding lead Luke Ramsden reflects on experiences of the return to full schooling and implications for the summer term and new academic year. 

School staff around the country were delighted when we realised that we could all return in person for the last three or four weeks of term. Now that we have enjoyed a well-deserved Easter break, it’s useful to reflect on what we have experienced in that month after the return to school and how that will affect the summer term and beyond.

1. Covid security and attendance

I’m sure many of us were relieved that the expectation on schools to oversee Covid-19 testing on site only lasted for a few weeks. However, it’s likely that all schools will need to factor other continuing covid precautions into their plans, not just for the summer term but for the next academic year. Most scientists agree that there will be new, hopefully smaller, resurgences in Covid-19, particularly as we come into autumn and winter.

For safeguarding and pastoral leads one of the big issues that is likely to arise is the balancing of continuing covid fears and vaccine hesitancy with school attendance. Being able to offer a covid-secure environment in schools is likely to be an important part of reassuring nervous parents and students that it is safe for them to come into school.

2. Blended learning

It is likely that blended learning in one form or another is with us to stay. In the first place many schools will now want – or be asked by parents and carers – to still provide online learning as an option. For instance, if a student breaks a leg and cannot attend school, but is otherwise well, they could attend online. Some schools are even looking at the feasibility of having online lessons if, for instance, snow prevents school from being physically open.

It is also likely that in the 2021/22 academic year, perhaps even just at a local level, resurgences mean that students have to self-isolate if they have suspected Covid-19 or are contacts. The January 2021 version of Keeping Children Safe in Education includes the optimistic line that Covid-related guidance ‘has now been withdrawn as the government expects all settings across the nation to reopen for the new academic year in September, with full availability to all learners'.

Schools would be well advised to keep their coronavirus protocols for online learning and attendance in their policies in case they do face these problems in the new academic year.

3. Balancing catch-up and wellbeing

One of the crucial jobs of the safeguarding lead and the pastoral team will be to work with all the teaching staff to ensure that the importance of catching up academically is balanced with student wellbeing.

Any demands from government for catch-up work and greater efforts to support students have to be balanced with realism

Increasingly mental health experts are describing the process of recovering from Covid-19 as a mass recovery from trauma. Clearly part of that recovery is getting children back into the classroom and getting them back on track given the rightful concerns of the amount that many will have fallen behind. The important thing is for schools to realise that there is a balance to be struck.

Happy students will catch up better with their work, and students who feel they are doing well at their school work will be happier and less stressed – so making time for wellbeing initiatives will be time well spent.

4. Behaviour

When speaking with staff in other schools, I’m hearing again and again that pupils of all ages are having to relearn how to be in school and socialise with each other. For younger learners this even includes getting physically used to school playtime, with school nurses up and down the country dealing with far more bumps and bruises from the playground.

More serious is the psychological adjustment to being back with friends in person as well as school expectations around behaviour after months at home. While schools need to maintain high standards and deal appropriately with bullying, there should also be an understanding that students will make mistakes as they reintegrate into school life.

5. Communication with external agencies

Along with behavioural issues come the growing number of serious issues that are requiring referral to social services, CAMHS or other external agencies. With spiralling demand for their support it is not surprising that schools are facing significant push back, with large numbers of students being referred straight back to school as the thresholds for making a referral become even higher. 

The government is promising extra money for mental health support for students with its Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan. In the meantime, it is very important that safeguarding leads have the confidence to re-refer students if they feel that a situation is worsening or if they feel that the external agency has got it wrong in the first place in not taking on a case. At the same time, schools need to be pragmatic and realise that more and more of the burden for pastoral care is falling on schools, even with quite serious cases.

Anything that can be done to support teachers here will be positive, for instance providing mental health first aid training. There are many free resources out there such as this Psychological First Aid course from Public Health England.

6. Staff wellbeing

While children are at the heart of all that we do, it is important not to forget staff wellbeing at this time. The same anxieties and concerns faced by children also face adults, and in many ways as we return to school it becomes clear that children are rather more flexible and happy with change than grown-ups.

Any demands from government for catch-up work and greater efforts to support students have to be balanced with realism for teachers who have been faced with online schooling, blended learning and also marking and grading school assessments in place of GCSE’s and A-levels this summer.

7. Importance of PSHE

The focus on student wellbeing has been amplified by the justified anger about levels of sexist behaviour and violence that has been evidenced towards girls in schools in recent weeks. All schools should be looking carefully at their PSHE/RSE policies to ensure that what is being taught is appropriate and relevant to the students, and also is being delivered in the right way.

Download Luke's PSHE lesson: Is social media bad for your health?

While Covid-19 has made it harder to bring in external speakers to schools in person there has been an explosion in the range and quality of outstanding PSHE resources available to schools.  It is also very easy now for schools to bring external experts remotely into schools to talk to their students – actually making it easier for schools to access this expertise.

Support for safeguarding leads

Are you a DSL or safeguarding lead looking to build your support network? Our Leading Safeguarding conference takes place in June 2021. Join us for practical and interactive digital modules designed with leading experts and a wealth of downloadable resources, including recordings of every session.

Check out the programme

Further resources

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