7 Ways Digital Insights can help Improve Pastoral Care in Schools
Deputy Heads, Safeguarding Leads and School Counsellors share some of their top tips for improving safeguarding and pastoral care in their schools. Using insights provided by their safeguarding records, these schools are taking pro-active actions to constantly improve the pastoral care for their pupils.
1. Record everything – the ‘small’ details will join up the pieces of the puzzle
Seemingly small details may seem insignificant but when joined together in one digital chronology, it’s possible for the safeguarding lead to see that there is a bigger issue. If all staff throughout your school aren’t reporting their concerns into one central platform, it can be incredibly hard to see the wider picture.
“It’s the little pieces of the jigsaw. We encourage staff to notice the little things and record anything they want, because it’s these observations that make up the full picture. We’ve had numerous examples over the years where different staff have picked up on different things which has told the Head of Year that something’s going on. We aim to identify the small issues before they become a bigger problem or a crisis point is reached.” Says Luke Ramsden, Senior Deputy Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) at St Benedict’s school.
Mark Rimmer, Assistant Deputy Head and Designated Senior Person (DSP) at Ruthin School agrees; “Before adopting MyConcern, we were using paper to record and report safeguarding concerns. This presented record-keeping difficulties and made it difficult to connect the dots between concerns to develop a holistic view of each pupil. MyConcern has helped us to easily build up a picture of each pupil in order for us to put in place interventions to protect and support them.”
2. Use data to spot patterns and trends enabling proactive action
The information that you hold about the wider pastoral picture in your school can be used in different ways. When your school has a positive safeguarding culture and takes care to record all levels of concern, it becomes possible for Senior Pastoral leads to spot patterns in the data that can help them to act proactively. For example, you may notice that bullying concerns increase at a certain point in the year or are higher among a particular cohort of pupils. Empowered with this information you can decide where to focus your resources. St Benedict’s has used these insights to take pre-emptive actions such as introducing new or additional support groups or counselling sessions.
Jerry Lewis, Principal Deputy Head of Bede’s Senior School agrees; “For the Pastoral Team at the School, the system [MyConcern] enables us to identify trends, spot patterns, and put systems into place to alleviate problems we might otherwise miss - before they become pressing. This kind of utility has informed everything from our PSHE programme to the ways we communicate with parents.”
3. Securely share the right information with those who need it and build support networks
A digital system that allows you to share information, such as the details of a specific concern, should enable you to keep all of the relevant staff informed when it is right to do so. For example, by sharing certain details the Designated Safeguarding Lead is able to build a support team around specific pupils by including their year group tutor, counsellor, or other relevant members of staff. For example, a sports teacher may need to be aware if a pupil is self-harming, in order to make changing room or kit allowances to protect the pupil from peer speculation. Trusted external agencies or support workers can also be brought into the team if needed.
“The fact that we can create a team around the child with this system is invaluable, everyone then knows what has been, and needs to be, done which is most reassuring.” Says Alex Balls, Deputy Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead, Reed’s School.
“By Adopting MyConcern we can maintain the confidentiality of pupil information while ensuring that those staff who need information can have easy access to it.” (Jerry Lewis, Principal Deputy Head, St Bede’s Senior School)
4. Share data with governors and other stakeholders … and support funding requests
Collating statistics and data for governors or for inspections takes time. By recording digitally, the time-consuming data collation work is completed for you and the need to rely on other departments or individuals is reduced or even removed. This makes the reporting process quicker for the designated lead and provides more opportunities for data analysis rather than admin.
Weymouth College reports that their Governors have been highly satisfied with the calibre of the End of Year Reports presented to them, Sue Dafter, Head of Student Services at the college says “MyConcern allows all staff to report safeguarding concerns quickly, easily and securely. We have used it to inform the Annual Report for Governors and to aid the Local Authority Safeguarding Audit. Personally, it has saved me a lot of time.”
Sue Bailey (DSL) from the Arthur Terry Learning Trust agrees “It comes down to Governors and senior leaders being able to study the data. MyConcern enables me to analyse the data and I would feel very comfortable showing it to any inspector, to explain what our data is, what it is showing and what I am doing about it.”
In addition, the quality of the data that you are able to present can also be used to quantify issues and justify requests for specific funding:
“If we can say ‘there are this many students having “these types” of issues, this is why we need a full-time counsellor’ that message can be easily understood. Governors might not be on the ground in school, but having quantifiable reports to share is very useful. Recently, we were able to demonstrate that there had been a significant rise in anxiety issues during the lockdown and could quantify the increase to explain why we needed training support for other members of staff. We were able to handle the spike in anxiety and mental health concerns as our students returned to school with the help provided by those additional staff that had received mentoring training so our students have received the support they need.” – Luke Ramsden, Senior Deputy Head and DSL at St Benedict’s school.
5. Identify staff training and support requirements
The ability to track trends over time is not just essential for putting measures in place to support your students, it will also help to highlight where training and support may be needed. For example, if across your group of schools you know that you have a roughly consistent volume of reports for a particular category of concern, but there are no reports of that kind from a particular school, it leads to the question of why? It may be that there is a training need so that staff are better equipped to spot certain signs and indicators. Similarly, if the majority of teachers are recording concerns, but one or two aren’t, this again may indicate a need for support or training. Perhaps they need a refresher on what to look out for, perhaps they don’t have the confidence to report their concerns or are unsure of the processes that are involved. Whatever the reason, having visibility of the data can empower the designated lead or senior person responsible to take appropriate action as Sue Bailey explains:
“It allows me to look at school-level at which staff members are reporting concerns and which aren't. For example, I was able to notice, in one of our schools, where a year 4 class had a certain number of concerns logged across the year, but when they moved up to year 5 suddenly there were almost no concerns raised. We knew that the children hadn't changed! Those concerns were still there. We were able to give that teacher more training and confidence so that they could log concerns as they arose.” – Sue Bailey, Designated Safeguarding Lead, Arthur Terry Learning Trust
It can also be possible to identify times when staff need support in the short term too. For instance, “We’ve been looking at behaviour concerns and where we can support our cover teachers. Due to Covid, we have a lot more cover teachers than usual, so we’re trying to work out where we (the SLT) should be dropping into lessons to support them. Behaviour data shows us that Wednesday, periods three and four, are when students can have trouble staying focused in class, or certainly that has been the case this term. We now have a learning walk around cover teacher lessons scheduled during these times, to support our cover teachers. So, not only can we determine long-term patterns, but we can also very quickly look at short term issues too” – Luke Ramsden, Senior Deputy Head and DSL at St Benedict’s School
6. Pinpoint where school premises could be adapted to improve safeguarding
Thinking about your physical premises and its impact on students may not be something that immediately comes to mind when talking about digital record keeping. However, an understanding of the school layout and how it impacts pupil safety is an important aspect of contextual safeguarding. Having oversight of where on school grounds incidents occur also helps to inform ways in which the overall student experience can be improved.
A sometimes overlooked feature of MyConcern is the location tag function, this allows schools to create their own list of locations such as ‘gym’ or ‘upper 6th common room’ etc. The flags can be as specific as needed and can be linked to any concerns that are logged. Recording this type of information in a digital system means that patterns can be identified and preventative actions are taken as Luke Ramsden explains; “We have started to change certain systems to deal with flashpoints of bullying. We identified that these flashpoints were happening in a boy’s toilet that was in the centre of the school, so we remodelled and now there are a series of separate cubicles with their own washbasin and all those flashpoints stopped. Similarly, we noticed during lunch that there were flashpoints occurring just out of eyesight of the staff on duty. We changed where our staff would patrol so they could spot these areas of tension. These small changes dramatically reduced the number of issues we tend to face… we have a clear picture of what, when and where these sorts of issues are happening which helps us put in place the strategies to prevent these issues going forward.”
7. Improve efficiencies and free up staff time
One of the most common benefits attributed to all forms of technology is the ability to ‘do things better and faster’. But what does this mean in the context of safeguarding? For those schools still reliant on paper or even computerized records that have been adapted for recording concerns but weren’t specifically designed for such a purpose such as word or excel, the challenge of bringing all of the data together still exists. Files can be saved in ‘the wrong place’, be accidentally (or deliberately) deleted when they shouldn’t be and the process of bringing the information together, of creating a wider view of all the ‘jigsaw pieces’ can still be very time consuming for the designated lead.
Having a system that has been specifically designed for recording safeguarding, child protection and pastoral concerns cuts out a lot of the basic admin work, gives peace of mind that all of the pertinent details have been captured and frees up time for analysis, for interventions and for pastoral care. Admin time for teaching staff can also be reduced, the Welsh Primary school Ysgol Bro Lleu also found they could make significant reductions in staff time too “the ‘Report a Concern’ wizard in MyConcern has reduced the amount of time taken to log concerns by 75% from 20 minutes to 5 minutes, further time savings can be gained from the Headteacher’s immediate electronic access to details of concerns as they are created. This has at least halved the duration of face-to-face meetings”. Indeed, time-saving is one of the most common benefits reported by all different types and sizes of school:
"MyConcern has saved me HOURS and given me confidence that our recording systems are much more robust. I can’t recommend it highly enough!” Amanda Windibank, Assistant Head (Pastoral), Notre Dame
Mark Rimmer, Assistant Deputy Head and DSP Ruthin School sums it up well “We are now able to store all our safeguarding records in one secure place. We are confident that we now have a system that is easy for all staff to use, and we’re able to easily build a team around each pupil. We estimate that MyConcern has actually saved us £1000 in just one year in terms of staff!”
"MyConcern gives me peace of mind that all the information I need to protect students has been accurately recorded and I can access this securely at any time. It has definitely saved me hours and hours of my time!” – Alka Maher, School Counsellor, ACS International School Doha