Podcast | Season 2 | Episode 2: Combatting Safeguarding Concerns through Digital Tools
For our second episode of the season we wanted to provide a story of best practice for safeguarding. There were lots of great sessions from last year's show to choose from, but the one which we thought provided topical insight was Sue Bailey's interview by Natasha Lawrence. While many of us (though not all) struggle and muddle through increasingly 'digital only' work lives, the right tools can be the difference between an hour and a day's work. With regard to safeguarding, every hour is precious so having the right tools and the right information is essential. So in this session we look back at Sue and Natasha's conversation to learn how Natasha's tool, MyConcern, has helped Sue and her team.
Key topics covered will include:
- Emerging safeguarding trends in the wake of the pandemic and lockdown
- Best practice for information sharing and record keeping and the use of digital tools
💡 Sue Bailey, Safeguarding Lead, The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership
💡 Natasha Lawrence, Safeguarding Manager, MyConcern
Listen to the full episode below.
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Welcome back to the second episode of the series. I'm Austin, your host and this week, we are looking at the theme of safeguarding. Now the mental and physical health of children across country has rightly been under close scrutiny in recent months, occupying more inches of tabloid press and digital columns both as a rallying cry for those wishing for reopening of schools as soon as possible, but also a tragic reminder of the impacts of a more long term crisis. With a nearly fourfold increase in referrals to psychological therapies, recorded by some NHS trusts the pandemic has pushed many young people to the brink. Last month, sobering figures emerged from the child safeguarding practice review panel, they registered a 27% increase in the number of serious incidences for the first half of 2020.
The picture of increased violence and neglect at home is further darkened when considering the growing concern for Child Safety Online. As children spend more and more of their time using digital technologies for learning and recreation, so to do they widen their exposure to harmful content, cyber bullying, radicalisation and sexual exploitation. Schools have always been at the coalface of child welfare and during the pandemic, this has only increased teachers, school leaders and especially designated safeguarding leads are dealing with a daily influx of crisis and owing to social distancing, and lockdown schools are more often these days at the frontline of monitoring and identifying risks. Last year's show, we were so fortunate to learn from safeguarding practitioners such as Louise Davies from the Academy Transformation Trust, John Needham, over at Oasis Community Learning, Louis Donald from the Stowe Valley Multi Academy Trust and Sue Bailey of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership.
Now it's Sue's story, which immediately came to mind when thinking about how we could help provide some practical insight to schools during this time. Sue is Safeguarding Lead for the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership and Sue recently embraced a really nifty tool called MyConcern, principally to reclaim time and build clarity, which has helped to deal with some of the pressures of the pandemic, Sue was interviewed by Natasha Lawrence, Safeguarding Manager at MyConcern, and we pick up in the interview with Sue painting a picture of her experience during the pandemic.
So I've been looking in particular at domestic violence. So we had some domestic violence training in the early part of lockdown, because our data was telling us then, that this was becoming an issue. So we've had some, we now need to have some more, because again, the data across the 14 schools is showing domestic violence as as one of our chief categories of concern, it's also telling me particularly in our secondary schools, that students wellbeing is top of the list. You know, that's linked to mental health linked to anxiety linked to depression. A lot of that is also linked to the category that you call home issues. So with a lot of families who I know, I've got some quite severe financial pressures. So and that's causing problems at home. So we've got families where we've been furloughed, families where we've lost a job, been made redundant. Sadly, we've had a significant number of families who've suffered a bereavement. So again, that's giving us as family issues. Just just even simple things like families where grandparents have done the childcare, and grandparents aren't able to do that anymore. So who looks at home, the kids after school? You know, do I finish early? Which means my salaries cut my wages are cut, or do I leave them and hope for the best. Again, what what we have noticed, and I've seen some research today that supports this is that we've had an increase in accidents at home, and of course, if our children are up, and they are unattended, you know, they're far more likely to have an accident than if they're in school with us or if they're at home with mum and dad. So clarity enables me to look at those trends and then think what training our DSLs need, enable, you know, to respond to those trends and to respond to to the new groups are coming through, like the groups and are suffering financial difficulties.
It's important for me to clarify that when Sue speaks of clarity, we are here referring to MyConcern's multi establishment reporting platform, which is currently helping the safeguarding community build insight, identify trends and track their progress. Now lightening staff workload is so so important in helping to tackle the rising tide of child safety issues facing schools, adopting digital tools and practices is an amazingly secure and price effective way to do this. What's more, the sector has more than proven over the last year that the hurdle of going digital is not as big as many of us might have feared. Earlier in the interview, Sue gave a picture of what safeguarding information practices look like before the use of MyConcern, and I think this might be a familiar image with some of our listeners.
You adopted one of our safeguarding products, and quite early on. So you've been using MyConcern for a little while now. Let's think before that, what safeguarding systems did you have in place before MyConcern?
Well, if I'm honest, they were quite inconsistent and depended on the school and the authority. So different authorities had different systems. But nearly all of those were paper based. So we had hardback books, which we used to spend hours, drawing columns in to put in all of our referrals. In some authorities, we had wonderful green forms, on which we recorded our concerns, or in a newsroom authority, we had a purple form. But fundamentally, it was paper based and it was then filed, hopefully somewhere for other people to have access. So a little bit inconsistent, not very efficient, and not very easy to obtain one picture of what was happening to a child.
Sadly, sometimes staff was so busy, they forgot to sign they forgot to date, it didn't have the information that we wanted. Sometimes it would have given initials or a child's name, such as John rather than full details. It was rarely in a logical order, so you could have to, you might have to sift through it to find out what happened first. Sometimes different bits were in different parts of school. So if it was on the special needs register, we might have information in our special needs department, there might be Child Protection information in a separate file, the tutor might have some information, Head of Year, Progress Leader, or there be information in an academic file that might have come through from primary school. So our information wasn't in one place, and it wasn't very easy to access.
Thank you. Can you recall any specific challenges that you were experiencing during that time?
Yes, I can remember pulling together some case records for a child that was going for the section 47 assessment. We had a very short period of time to get this work together. And it was just a nightmare, because it was all over the place. It wasn't in order. Some of it wasn't signed, some of it wasn't dated. So that then became irrelevant. We found information that we should have access to we should have known about that had gone into a file that had been stored in a cupboard that we didn't know existed. It took an awful long time to get it ready to go for assessment in terms of sifting through putting it in order checking who had said what and where, what other evidence we might have to back up. So we might have five students statements or students accounts of what had happened, but it was all over the place. So for me, that was almost the straw that broke the camel's back, I knew then we needed a way of recording our information. The other issue was I had to do that in school. I couldn't sit at home and do it as I can with MyConcern and it had to be done in school because the information was in school, and in a variety of places in school. So I think it was that case and finally made me think we need to look for something else. This isn't good enough.
There are so many occasions where good notation and the tools to achieve it are crucial to effectively working together and delivering at pace. I can think of so many instances in my own life where disjointed access to muddied information has resulted in unnecessary work. But in the case of safeguarding, this delay has real and lasting impacts. There are plenty more benefits to going digital and for the final snippet from Sue and Natasha's compensation. We listen to what immediate benefits MyConcern has brought Sue and her team.
Key benefits for me, I could access it from anywhere. You know, I've had many sleepless nights when I've got home and certainly thought in the old days, I've not recorded this sort of circumstance file. You know, and actually if something happens tonight, I should have done I can do it from home. I'm not saying to, you know, to staff that you should work from home of the evening, but it does give you that opportunity if there is something that you've not recorded, or you said, you know, it's really important, I get this down in writing, I can do that from home. I can also look from home, what else is happening in my school, so I can keep an eye on other people's reports. Again, I can do that from home without going and say, show me what you've written. That ability to work from anywhere is fantastic. For me, particularly the moment you know, if I suddenly looked at in isolation, I would I have managed, you know, with not being able to go into school to record information. I like the way it's there in chronological order. It records who's written it, what time it was written, it will link to siblings, it will link to the children, if I ask it to, I also like the way I can copy a social worker in on a case if I need to, so that that way, you know, I haven't then got to think, oh, I need to email the social worker, or the police officer with this information.
I like the functions where I can look at across the school, the number of referrals we've made, the outcomes of those referrals, and then I can start to think, you know, if we've made 20, and only 2 have been picked up, what's going wrong, you know. Are our expectations unrealistic? Have we not got the message about thresholds? Do I need to do some training, I can always look, also look at the type of language stuff you're using to make sure it's, it's suitable and it's a sort of language that you might as a police officer, you know, be quite happy with it to go to court.
So for me, it just gives me a much bigger window on what's happening in my school or across the partnership, in terms of safeguarding, and in terms of keeping those children safe. I suppose the biggest thing about it is, I've got that jigsaw all in one place. So I haven't got one piece in somebody's filing cabinet, cupboard, another piece somewhere else, and another bit with somebody else. It's all in one place. Sometimes when you read the file through, then you know that Penny drops and you think you know what, this isn't quite right. So those benefits for me.
What advice would you give to others looking for an electronic safeguarding solution?
So me, I can't I can't really see how anybody survives on paper now. You know, I think it has to be electronic, we're moving into that, that digital world, it needs to be electronic. I know there are other products out there. I know very little about them, as I can only speak of this one and for me, it's just it's made it so much easier. It's easier to record, it's more accessible, it gives me a better insight into what's happening and it's at my fingertips when I need it. I haven't got to go hunting for it all over school.
We've worked really hard over the years to make sure that any, any member of staff who has a concern about a child comes and tells a DSL face to face. So we've discouraged emails, you know, so in some ways, so staff have found that quite hard. But we still say, you know, I want to know face to face, but I also want it on MyConcern. The only thing and it goes back to Governor's and and senior leaders being able to analyse the data that's on there. You know, there's been one or two reports recently that stress the importance of that. So I follow Andrew Hall, the safeguarding consultant, I'm part of his group. He's just done a really interesting piece on a school that has an inadequate Ofsted, because the safeguarding, and one of the factors in there, and that wasn't the only one though, there were several, but one of the factors was that senior leaders weren't able to analyse the data. They didn't really know what was going on and for me, MyConcern enables me to do that. I would feel very, very confident showing MyConcern to any Ofsted inspector and showing what our data is and what it's telling me and then what I'm doing about it. So this is so for me, that's a key learning point.
It's almost staying ahead of the game, isn't it? You know, when you suddenly see you've got that rise in self-harm incidents in Year 8. It's thinking okay, let's get in there quickly. So I haven't quite yet learned how to drill down as far as I can go with the data. But I had a really good session with Andrew Newman and he showed me how I can use it to look at ethnicity, gender, all sorts of different things that again, will really enable me to analyse what's happening. I can also look and I found this quite fascinating, which members of staff are reporting concerns and which members of staff are not so we had an incident, well an issue really in one of our schools where a Year 4 class has had lots and lots of concerns throughout the year, as he moved up into Year 5 different teacher, almost no concerns. Now, we knew that the children haven't changed the concerns was still there. Sadly, the teacher just wasn't seeing them hadn't had the training wasn't really sure. So we could use MyConcern to say, hang on a minute. Let's just look and let's help you. Let's give you some more training. So you can put these concerns on, you know, to the system, and we've got them.
There are lots of ways in which schools are helping to keep children safe during this pandemic and we'd love to hear from you the listener, especially about the successes and pitfalls you've experienced over the past year, but also what trends are you observing and what predictions you might have for when we finally emerge from the pandemic. You can get in touch by heading over to our website, that's www.schoolsandacademiesshow.co.uk where you can also find out about our latest speakers. A few highlights since our last podcast include the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, MP, and the CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, Becky Francis, there's plenty more on the website, so please do check it out. That's all for now, folks so until the next episode, keep safe and see you soon.