While most States are still finalising plans for Term 2, it is clear that school is going to look very different in light of COVID-19. Many schools will be moving online and utilising remote learning environments.
Guidance from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and other digital organisations have been that the combination of remote learning and increased online activity by students is likely to create increased child safety risks. Whilst regulators are expected to announce some flexibility or accommodation in relation to curriculum learning areas, child safety and risk management obligations will not change. Parents have a duty to maintain a safe physical environment, while schools will be required to maintain a safe online environment.
This article covers our key tips for schools to facilitate a child safe remote learning environment and mitigate risks to students.
What will Term 2 look like for each State?
This section provides a summary of the guidance provided by each State regarding Term 2. Please note that this is continuously changing and the information provided is relevant as at 10am on the date of this article. Schools should refer to the relevant government department for the most up to date information.
Schools should also keep in mind that other requirements may also apply, such as requirements in most states that camps, excursions, assemblies, sports and other activities be postponed or cancelled.
|State||Start Date||Remote Learning|
|ACT||28 April 2020 (TBC)||Schools have been pupil free since 24 March 2020 (except students who need to attend) to allow schools to prepare for remote learning. Guidance for Term 2 has not yet been released. |
|NSW||28 April 2020 (TBC)||Guidance for Term 2 has not yet been released. However, it is expected to be similar to guidance towards the end of Term 1 which is that parents are encouraged to keep their children at home if possible but schools remain open for students who need to attend. |
|NT||20 April 2020||NT Government has indicated that schools should be prepared to move to flexible learning for Term 2, with schools beginning holidays early in Term 1 to allow them to prepare for the change. |
|QLD||20 April 2020||Guidance for Term 2 has not yet been released. However, it has been indicated that schools may move to home-based learning.|
|SA||27 April 2020 (TBC)||To date, schools are expected to remain open but parents may keep their children at home. Schools were given four student free days before Easter to prepare for online and flexible teaching options. |
|TAS||28 April 2020||Students to learn from home where possible but schools to remain open for students who cannot learn at home. Schools will close if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at that school. |
|VIC||15 April 2020||All students who can learn from home must learn from home. All staff members who can work from home must work from home. Staff who are medically vulnerable or live with medically vulnerable people must not work on-site. Minimum teacher to student ratio of 1:8 and a maximum of 10 students in a room. |
|WA||28 April 2020 (TBC)||Guidance for Term 2 has not yet been released. However, at the end of Term 1, guidance was that students were encouraged to learn from home if possible. |
Key child safety risks
Moving to remote learning will lead to both an exacerbation of existing child safety risks and create new hazards. Schools need to be mindful that their child safety obligations continue to comply, including their duty of care, reporting requirements and compliance obligations.
Some of the key risks include:
- Staff members grappling with maintaining professional boundaries with students while engaging with them directly online, in circumstances where this has often been prohibited or discouraged in the past;
- Students experiencing heightened levels of stress, isolation and anxiety as a result of social distancing requirements and the impact on their studies;
- Students suffering abuse or being exposed to violence at home;
- Student-on-student abuse including cyberbullying, image based sexual abuse and other types of inappropriate online behaviour both on school platforms and social media;
- Online abuse as students explore new forms of social media and online networks;
- Outsiders gaining access to online classrooms or materials;
- Students accessing the online environment to a much greater extent without parents, who are working, being available to minimise or monitor activity;
- Breaches of student privacy and confidentiality;
- Students becoming disengaged from studies; and
- Discrimination risks as schools need to continue to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, learning disabilities or other vulnerabilities.
To ensure schools maintain a child safe remote learning environment, we recommend that schools keep in mind the following top tips.
- Understand your risks
Most schools will be utilising online platforms that are new and unfamiliar. It is important that schools undertake a thorough risk analysis of both the platforms and moving to remote learning to understand their unique risk profile. This will also allow schools to prioritise action during a busy time. Conduct Privacy Impact Assessments of technology, and understand how information is captured, stored, secured (or not) and used. Ensure that educators know how to “lock” rooms, how to avoid students setting up “side” rooms or rooms within rooms, and which platforms are school-endorsed.
- Set clear expectations of behaviour
Schools must set clear expectations of behaviour with staff members, students and parents. This should be through either amending existing Codes of Conduct or providing tailored codes for remote learning.
- Continue child safety training
It remains important, if not more important, for schools to be educating staff members on child safety. This should be tailored to remote learning environments, including expectations of behaviour, noticing red flags, guidance on privacy settings and locks on school platforms and recapping reporting requirements.
- Provide training or information to students
Along with training for staff members, schools should be considering training for students on staying safe online. For older students, this should include use of social media, apps and online games and guide them through privacy and safety features. For younger students, consider inviting parents in to the training as well to ensure a cohesive approach to child safety.
- Run regular Child Safety Officer meetings
With the majority of school staff are also working from home, there is a risk that information regarding red flags and child safety concerns will fail to be shared. Child Safety Officers will play a critical role in being a contact point to discuss any concerns. We recommend schools set up recurring Child Safety Officer meetings and provide clear communication to staff members regarding who the officers are and their contact details. Advise staff and students about reporting channels, especially if the usual phone or email will not be answered.
- Monitor online activity
Ensure you as a school are able to monitor and record activity on any platform you are using. Schools need to be aware that any inappropriate behaviour that occurs through the use of school online platforms could be a breach of their duty of care. Similar to monitoring students while on the school premise, schools should be monitoring online behaviour including emails, messages and other online communication. Staff members should be reporting any inappropriate content.
- Comply with reporting requirements
Regulatory authorities have reminded schools that their reporting requirements will continue to comply. In fact, many organisations have reported an increase in domestic violence due to social and financial pressures. It is important that schools remind staff members of their reporting obligations, particularly those with strict timeframes such as reportable conduct schemes. Ensure the ongoing availability of school counsellors too.
- Provide guidance to parents
Schools will have much less oversight of students while they work from home. Schools must work in partnership with parents to create a child safe environment. Consider providing guidance to parents on how they can interact with the school and the risks they should be aware of. Manage parent expectations about the nature and extent of online learning, and their involvement in any virtual classrooms and brief them well in advance. Government guidance notes schools cannot rely too heavily on parents to assist with learning or to monitor any online activity. They will be likely working too and potentially caring for other family members as well. Make sure the parents know who they can contact with any queries or concerns, and that usual grievance procedures can still be followed. They should also be made aware of requirements for a safe physical environment.
- Keep updated on governmental guidance
Guidance for State and Federal governments is being constantly updated as the situation and medical advice changes. Schools need to be kept up to date on these changes. Consider assigning a staff member to provide a summary of any relevant updates on a regular basis.
- Evaluate, learn and improve
Moving to a remote learning environment across the whole school will be a very new and unprecedented act for most schools and the education sector. It is important that schools review and evaluate their platforms, practices and procedures. Where there are gaps, see this as an opportunity to learn and improve to best ensure you are creating a child safe environment. Schools in the non-government sector can use this crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate why they are the schools of choice for so many in Australia.
For further information or guidance on how to respond effectively to COVID-19, please do not hesitate to contact us.