A school’s legal duty of care to its students is at the forefront of everything they do.
To ensure that duty of care obligations are met, systems and procedures are put in place to ensure each student within the school’s care is safe and accounted for.
But, as with anything in the current era; new technologies emerge and learning styles broaden, approaches to maintaining and improving duty of care are shifting and evolving.
So, let's look at what duty of care looks like in 2021…
What is duty of care?
Schools are required by law to ensure that reasonable care is being provided to all students.
Duty of care is a commitment made by all school staff to protect their students from any foreseeable risks while on school property or under supervision.
This duty of care is far reaching, extending to the likes of learning needs, student safety, welfare, supervision, travel and inclusivity.
Duty of care and online learning
“As students enter this new world of online learning, never has online safety been so important.”
- Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner.
The recent (and rapid) shift to online learning in 2020 had a lot of schools scrambling to re-assess the way they ensure that student needs were still being met and that reasonable care was being given.
Just because the physical classroom was empty, did not mean that students weren’t under a staff member’s supervision or instruction – so how did schools maintain their duty of care?
With classrooms empty, the focus of student wellbeing shifted from physical to mental. The isolation that comes with remote learning can lead to students feeling anxious, stressed or left behind. It is important to understand that schools still have a duty of care over their student’s mental wellbeing, and having solid procedures in place is a great way to ensure the standard of care is maintained.
One of the best ways to ensure students feel seen and heard is to constantly reiterate that teachers are easily contactable and other support services at your school are still available.
Consider switching to online platforms for counselling services, clubs and meetings such as ‘homework support’. Providing opportunities for students to collaborate with each other, rather than constantly learning independently is also a seemingly simple step that can have a big impact on a struggling student.
Continuing to provide Learning Support during online learning situations is also essential to support the mental wellbeing and minimise stress levels of students with additional learning needs. For more ideas on how to achieve this, check out our blog on providing learning support online.
In an open letter to school principals and teachers about online safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian e-Safety Commissioner provided an abundance of resources for schools, students, and parents on creating safe online learning environments.
Using technology to enhance duty of care
The software and technology used within schools are constantly evolving, so the way that schools track and maintain their duty of care is also constantly improving. One area that has seen recent focus is the way that school staff track and record student whereabouts.
Students lead increasingly busy school lives, with classes, extra curricular commitments, study periods, learning support, careers and counselling meetings just to name (quite) a few. So how do you stay aware of student whereabouts when they could be anywhere?
- A great way to track students who aren't in class without creating more work for your staff is by providing self-registration portals at commonly visited locations, such as sickbay, IT Support or study rooms. This provides an opportunity for students to say “this is where I am.”
- Predetermined/ scheduled meetings and events, such as music lessons, learning support meetings, councillor visits etc, can also be booked into student calendars ahead of time. Registration portals at these meeting locations will allow students to check in and out on arrival and departure, giving teachers peace of mind that students have made it to and from their appointment.
- Whether a student has checked themselves into somewhere random or are at a scheduled meeting or lesson, classroom teachers will need quick access to this information at critical times, such as rollcall. Integrating this technology with your rollcall system and highlighting student check-ins or scheduled events on their rolls, gives teachers full transparency and visibility over student movement.
- Also giving staff visibility over student eDiaries is a great way to gain an overview of a student’s schedule, workload, extra curricular commitments and more, allowing staff to track not only their location, but their workload and therefore their wellbeing too.
- For school events that occur outside of standard timetabled classes, such as a co-curricular activity, off-campus excursion or school musical dress rehearsal, ensure your staff have a facility that allows them to create and mark ‘custom’ rollcalls, providing a mechanism to capture additional attendance while participating in events around your school, no matter where or what the occasion.
Data privacy, security and access
With all this new technology making duty of care easier, it is important to remember that your school is also responsible for keeping this tech safe. Schools have a responsibility to students (and the wider community) to protect their data and keep their accounts secure.
In general, the school’s responsibility to provide safe learning technology can be divided into three categories: privacy, security and access.
With the rise of new learning technologies, lots of student data is being collected and stored by third party platforms, which can raise privacy concerns.
All student data is sensitive data, so each school must take steps to safeguard student information. Ensure that any third-party software or web application deployed is thoroughly checked and cleared for use before connecting it to your current system or allowing students to sign up.
Secondly, ensure your school’s security policies encompass not only your physical school’s safety, but also the safety of your digital and online environments as well.
Any school-sanctioned software or technology implemented inside or outside the classroom should have clear policies in place - to help create a safe digital environment for learning.
These policies should cover prevention plans and school standards for anything from external cyber-attacks, to cyber bullying.
Finally, you wouldn’t let strangers wander through your school gate and around your campus without proper authorisation, so be sure to take the same amount of care when restricting access to your school’s data.
A big part of data security is limiting who has access to your database. Think about who needs access, and to what specific areas, then reflect this in your policies – which should outline network and system access, using role-based permission levels.
For a deeper dive into who owns a school management system and who should have access, check out our blog.
Duty of care is something that will always evolve as new technologies, learning styles and risks arise. Staying on top and utilising the latest technologies can help you provide quality care to your students and create a safe learning environment for your whole community.