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Survival guide – the threats and opportunities for schools

This is a piece written in collaboration with global strategic communications firm SEC Newgate, co-authored by Alexandra McCready and Anthony Hughes (Associate Director, Communications at SEC Newgate). 

Advice on overseas pupils and Covid-19

British private schools, which previously admitted large numbers of students from overseas (particularly for Chinas middle classes) are facing a growing problem because of the pandemic. Not only have travel restrictions presented a physical barrier to students, but negative press regarding the UKs handling of the pandemic, alongside a perception of hostile attitudes towards the Asian community, have also formed more general barriers to international admissions. Schools therefore ought to take into consideration how to best address these barriers and, regain some of the lost confidence. Schools need to work towards:

  • Sustaining, and improving, online education for international students
  • Having a clear, strong policy on collection arrangements for international students so that they feel safe to travel to the UK
  • Ensuring quarantine conditions are well thought out and do not compromise the learning of overseas students
  • Addressing cases of hostile attitudes towards Asian (and any other) community –together with stricter enforcement of anti-bullying policies and education.


Navigating educations new normal

The transition back to school following the pandemic is a significant one, with children, parents and teachers alike facing new issues and anxieties. This is compounded by the need for schools to address learning gaps, which may well be more pronounced in certain classes, groups or ages of children. This includes:

  • Growing importance of online safeguarding and cyber security with the rise of online teaching and technology tools since the start of the pandemic.
  • It is likely that schools will continue to embed new technologies that have been used during the course of the pandemic. However, with this, comes a whole new set of online safety and cyber security risks. Both staff and students need to receive proper training to ensure they are properly protected.
  • Addressing education recovery:
    • Schools should carry out an assessment to understand which children are experiencing the largest education gap and therefore require more intensive support or newly adapted paces of learning.

It is also important that schools handle this process delicately and sensitively, so they do not appear to be singling out particular children.

    • Education recovery may require additional learning hours, after-school programmes, or carefully developed accelerated courses.
    • Students may also need more tailored support in smaller groups – this could be achieved through paraprofessional tutoring support (for example, graduates).
  • Addressing, and providing support for new mental health concerns – ensuring student and staff wellbeing:
    • Many teachers and students will be experiencing anxiety about returning to a shared environment after a long period of time.
    • It will be important to address other issues that have cropped up as a result of lockdown, for example, domestic abuse.
  • Considering a flexible approach to schooling:
    • For many, the pandemic has presented an opportunity for schools to reimagine elements of their curriculums and educational infrastructure.
    • However, it is important to understand that some parents and children may still have anxiety about Covid, so it is vital for the school to ensure families are supported during the transition, so those students do not fall behind in learning.
  • Ensuring a safe environment for all:
    • While masks are no longer a legal requirement, children should be encouraged to carry out regular and thorough handwashing.
    • Children should be allowed to continue to wear masks if they wish, and not to be stigmatised for doing so.
    • Maintain a high standard of sanitation and cleaning and ensure proper ventilation of all indoor areas.
  • Schools need to have in place an outbreak management response procedure
    • Outbreaks (for example, several cases confirmed within 14 days) can be detrimental to learning of larger cohorts of students, therefore responses need to be implemented as rapidly as possible to contain any cases of infection.
  • Ensure regular communication with, and involvement of, parents
    • The state of the pandemic recovery is still uncertain, so it is important that parents are kept well informed. Schools should expect that parents will be concerned about various issues, in particular, if their child has fallen behind throughout lockdown. It is therefore important that schools remain as transparent as possible.
    • It is also expected that parents will feel the need to be more involved in their childrens learning, especially if they have taken on home-schooling duties throughout lockdowns.  Schools should be prepared to welcome this kind of involvement, as far as is appropriate.


Ensuring cyber security – dealing with data breaches and ransomware

The pandemic drove much of our physical lives online and saw a huge increase in the use of technology in many areas. With this change came a massive jump in cyber security risks. The responsibility for cyber security and online safeguarding extends from board members to teachers, parents and students alike. The growing sophistication of cyber-attacks, coupled with the need to safeguard sensitive details about children, requires multi-level training, awareness and implementation. Schools must also recognise the need for these procedures to be preventative, as opposed to waiting for the attack, as any response is likely to be too late. Given the reputational repercussions that data breaches can have, it is important that schools put cyber security at the top of their agenda going forward. In particular:

  • Ensuring GDPR compliance.
  • Awareness of ransomware – both the risks, as well as how to prevent and manage an attack.
  • Engaging professionals who can manage the IT infrastructure in-house - given how increasingly important IT is for schools in the current environment, schools should have in-house IT experts who are able to monitor IT, carry out software updates and protect against cyber-attacks.
  • Implementing measures to minimise damage from a cyber-attack. It is imperative to have a robust cyber security plan. These protect and prevent plans ought to include:
      • Security protocols, including two factor authentication and encryption to prevent unauthorised entries.
      • Training of staff, to protect against any human error that contributes to these crimes, for example, clicking random links from unknown senders.
      • Training children in online safety and handling their own security.
  • Monitoring childrens use of their devices is in line with school policies.
  • Implementing an incident response plan and instructing a crisis team
      • A crisis team can help with a security and reputation audit to protect against any potential risks, as well as assisting in taking immediate action to remedy any breaches that do occur.
  • Ensuring there is a robust backup plan in place so that students and teachers do not lose critical information that can cost time, money and even grades.
  • Putting in place a plan for the school to continue its operations effectively if IT systems go down.


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