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Improving Safeguarding and Wellbeing in International Schools; a strategic approach to using data
  • Health and Safety

This blog is from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates.

By Mike Glanville, former Asst. Chief Constable and Director of Safeguarding Services, MyConcern

There seems little doubt that the management of safeguarding and wellbeing in schools and colleges around the world has become increasingly complex and challenging. This has been magnified since the onset of COVID-19. To manage these complexities the effective use of safeguarding and pastoral data in school settings is a critical issue for senior leaders, child protection practitioners and pastoral managers.
 
Reliable data alongside good technology should not only help to flag up potential problems at an early stage, but should also enable a much deeper and more meaningful understanding of the potential risks and vulnerabilities within the wider school community. 

The Data Challenge

One of the major consequences of COVID-19 and the enforced periods of lockdown in most countries has been the unprecedented increase in the use of technology. This has lead to a rapid rise in screen-time and serious implications for safeguarding and wellbeing. For children and young people, this can have major consequences as it can expose them to additional risks and potentially harmful situations. It is estimated that approximately 83% of children are now spending more time online, making them much more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation, more exposed to violent or harmful content and at greater risk of cyber-bullying.[1]

To put some of this into context, the UK National Crime Agency estimate that around 300,000 individuals in the UK alone, currently present a viable sexual threat to children online. Of course, these dangerous predators are likely to be spending much more time actively targeting vulnerable children during this period. [2]

We also know that levels of mental and emotional ill-health in children globally has increased significantly and has become more acute since the beginning of COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 10-20% of children and young people experience mental illness and in one survey 43% of children said their mental health had become worse during COVID-19.  The other consequence of lockdown has been the lack of access to services and the usual support networks. The closure of schools has meant that children have been cut-off from vital support.[3]

So, given some of these challenges how can schools develop an approach to the management of data that can help them become better equipped to identify potential problems and intervene early? Given the quantity and complexity of information now prevalent in most schools a strategic approach to the management of data is essential.


Four steps for getting the most from your data

1. Understand the Local Context: Understanding your local context will determine the strategic approach you can take.  Your circumstances are likely to be a combination of factors unique to you.  Understanding the particular risks and vulnerabilities that affect your school community is essential, this extends to life outside the school gates.
  
2. Create the Conditions for Effective Reporting: Set out a clear data requirement. Decide what information you need to best tackle issues that have been identified. To support this, staff and the wider school community need to be aware of signs and symptoms and be sensitive to the needs of individuals who may be struggling mental health issues.
  
Giving staff and students the necessary skills and confidence to be able to report potential concerns is an important aspect of the strategy. This approach not only requires individuals to be well-informed but critically, it is also underpinned by an open and supportive culture in the school that values relationships.

3. Record-keeping and Identifying Trends: To support a positive culture of reporting there needs to be efficient information management systems in place that can create timelines, link incidents to student profiles and produce reports which help pastoral managers to interpret the data and identify trends over time.

The ability to consistently categorise concerns is an essential pre-cursor to meaningful data analysis. For example: with bullying it’s not only important for all incidents to be recorded but it’s also helpful if those incidents are broken down into specific types such as bullying between peers or cyber-bullying.

4. Technology and Tools: For those schools that are continuing to use paper records a strategic approach to data management can be very challenging, if not impossible, given the quantity and complexity of safeguarding data that most schools now need to manage. Digital systems not only help to provide in-depth analysis but can ensure users follow a pre-determined workflow which embeds best practice approaches. 

To conclude, ensuring that effective strategies are put in place to encourage and support staff and students to report concerns is essential. However, these must be aligned with good technology and robust systems which enable each school to really ‘make sense’ of their data and respond more effectively to risk and harm.

To hear more from Mike on this subject, watch his 30 minute presentation or read the in-depth article here

[1] https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/children-increased-risk-harm-online-during-global-covid-19-pandemic

[2] UK Safer Internet Report – COVID-19: Expectations and Effects on Children Online – June 2020

[3] https://www.who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/child_adolescent/en/