Safeguarding when teaching remotely

Mar 25, 2020

Miles Berry

Your pupils come first. Helping them to stay positive, engaged and healthy is important. Providing some stability and continuity matters, particularly for the more vulnerable. Allowing them to continue to learn is important too, and facilitating remote teaching, online learning or ‘virtual school’ can help a lot with this. It’s also good at providing an opportunity for pupils to maintain suitably distanced social contact with their peers, although many older pupils will have their own means for doing this. None of this should come at the expense of your own health (mental and physical) and well-being.

As a broad principle, behave, and expect your pupils to behave, in online space just as you and they would in school. If you’re not sure what to do, start by asking What would I do if this happened in school? Thus:

  • The school’s duty to safeguard and promote pupils’ well-being remains. If you have any concerns about any pupil’s wellbeing you must refer this to your designated safeguarding lead.
  • The school’s safeguarding, anti-bullying, behaviour management and other policies still apply, albeit with some necessary reinterpretation. If you’re not sure how to reinterpret the policy for the changed context, seek guidance. Similarly, your school’s acceptable use policy will still apply to the use of school provided systems and services.
  • Use the school’s provided systems for learning and teaching, even if they’re not as good as other tools that might be available: you can assume that someone in your school, LA, RBC or MAT will have done due diligence that these systems comply with legislation and regulatory requirements, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have the time or expertise to do this for other tools that you’d like to use.
  • Aim to work with a group of pupils rather than 1:1. If 1:1 work is absolutely unavoidable, it’s even more important that you’re using a school provided system, and try to keep a record of the session. Good practice would be to involve a colleague alongside you working with your pupil.
  • Your language, and pupils’ language, should at all times be appropriate for a professional and school context.
  • If someone’s online behaviour becomes disruptive, distracting or otherwise inappropriate, ask them to leave the shared space, and follow your school’s policy about who to tell: set high expectations of behaviour and discourse and expect your pupils to rise to these.
  • Be aware that not all pupils will have access to computers or internet access at home, sometimes out of deeply held beliefs. As in class, do all you can to ensure that all pupils can equitably participate in learning activities. Schools might consider using Pupil Premium funding to provide equipment and connectivity to pupils who otherwise would not be able to participate in online learning.

Be conscious of the additional demands placed on you and your pupils by online learning - try to avoid too much ‘screen time’, however purposeful, in one sitting. Look to provide lots of offline, real world activities and asynchronous (any time) online content: please don’t attempt to deliver anything close to a full school timetable by synchronous (real time) video or audio conference, but rather use these (if you’re allowed) for checking in and keeping pupils motivated and positive.

As well as sharing learning resources and online activities with pupils, many teachers are now making use of video tools to teach remotely. Please don’t use video unless your school allows this, follow any guidelines or rules they have, and don’t feel obliged to use video if you have any concerns about this.

Asynchronous (anytime) video - recording screencasts

There are many advantages to recording video (or audio) rather than engaging in live video or audio sessions. You have a lot more control over the final presented form of the content, and can take your time to get things how you want them. Pupils can watch or listen to this content in their own time, and at their own pace - it’s easy to wind back or fast forward if needed.

This need not be technically sophisticated - you can record an engaging introduction to a topic as a ‘selfie’ on your phone (but please, please make sure you do this in ‘landscape mode’ - we are all suffering quite enough at the moment). It’s also easy to make a slidecast recording using PowerPoint or other presentation software, and then export this as a video to share with your pupils.

You can also use a screen recorder to capture other material, which could include writing on screen if you have a tablet and stylus.

Think twice before using a webcam with this: the research data suggests this does little to improve retention. Do take care with copyright of the materials you include in your presentation: there are exemptions and licences for educational re-use but these only apply when material is made available via secure online platforms, which doesn’t include YouTube!

Participating in video / audio conferences

Most teachers see audio only conferencing as having fewer safeguarding risks than video conferencing. With video conferencing, sharing slides and other materials on your screen may be much more effective (and is likely to be safer) than sharing live webcams. If you do share your screen, check carefully that there is no confidential information or other inappropriate content visible.

Only use video if this is allowed by the school - in many schools it is not. Never insist that your pupils use video. It’s best to use a plain background, or the virtual or blurred background tools available in some video conference applications.

Using the school’s system, make a recording of any video or audio lessons, so that pupils who weren’t able to join in real time can review these later, and for your own protection in case of accusations; make sure everyone is aware that a recording is being made and to whom it will be available. Don’t record these sessions using your own tools, and expect pupils to respect one another’s privacy by not running their own recording software, but do be aware that pupils might still take screenshots, run audio recorders or run their own screen-recorders during these sessions, even if instructed not to. In a classroom context this invasion of privacy would be blatant and swiftly dealt with, but you are unlikely to notice if this happens online: take great care.

Aim to work from a quiet space where family members or others with whom you live are unlikely to walk by or interrupt. If you need to switch off the camera or mute the microphone, do! Similarly, if possible, your pupils should access online learning from shared parts of the house: it’s best to avoid video conferencing with pupils in their bedrooms!

Be wary of using web-based systems for confidential matters, particularly when these are not provided through the school. If the matter is confidential then the telephone, or email, are probably the best option. You should keep a note of telephone calls if the discussion touches on sensitive matters.

Broader issues

Over the weeks ahead, your pupils may have to cope with many difficult issues in their home lives, including self-isolation, quarantine or lock down, and possibly bereavement. The routine offered by the school timetable, their teachers and their peer group can offer some continuity and stability, and a place to turn for support. Academic issues are likely to be a lower priority than maintaining mental and physical well-being, so you might typically set somewhat lower expectations for how much work pupils will be able to complete. Take time to reassure pupils and allay any worries they may have.

Whilst schools are required to have filtering and monitoring systems in place for internet access, there’s no such requirement for home internet access. Many pupils are likely to be spending longer periods online, and not all will be well-supervised during this time. It would be sensible to reinforce some key online safety messages, and perhaps encourage pupils’ parents to make use of internet filtering available through their internet service providers.

Remind pupils to keep their passwords private. You’d be wise to use two factor authentication for your own accounts if this is available.

GDPR: school provided systems should already be compliant with the requirements of the GDPR; other systems may not be. GDPR provides particular protection for young people’s personal data, and US COPPA regulations generally prohibit US based firms from storing personal data on under 13s. The terms and conditions for web-based services still apply: please be careful that neither you nor your school do anything which might be seen as encouraging or allowing pupils to break or ignore these.

There’s further good advice from London’s regional broadband consortium, London Grid for Learning.

Originally written for Roeha mpton secondary PGCE students continuing to support students remotely. I am not a lawyer; you should follow your school’s policy.