As schools begin to gradually re-open, it is essential that all staff are prepared for potentially sensitive conversations that may take place. With pupils having spent a long time at home and out of school, many teachers have expressed concern about the needs of pupils once they return.

It is important that staff feel prepared and confident to support their pupils. We have put together some advice for having supportive conversations based on our guidance from the Safer Schools App.

Updated policies and procedures

All staff must have read and understood any new policies and procedures. It is vital that they understand how to support pupils who have been affected by the pandemic, the referral process and what support exists for their own health and wellbeing.

Follow these steps to having supportive conversations.

Opening a conversation

It is important that staff know how to confidently approach a delicate conversation with a pupil. Try to ask broad questions and allow the pupil to open up. Some of the suggested phrases below offer ways of initiating a conversation with an open question.

Suggested Phrases

  • It’s nice to have you back at school, I was hoping we could have a chat to make sure everything’s going OK for you?
  • Can you help me understand how things were for you at home?
    • What did you like about being at home during the lockdown?
    • Who else was at home?
    • What did you not like about being at home during the lockdown?

2. Exploring risks and issues

Once the conversation has been initiated, by either you or the pupil, it is important that you gently explore in more detail. Allowing them to explain and explore their feelings or experiences is key, without asking leading questions. The suggested phrases below provide you with some prompts for exploring risks and issues further.

Suggested Phrases

  • Can you tell me more about X?
  • How long have you felt like this?
  • How have you been coping?
  • Is there anything I can do to support you?
  • What would you like to be different?

The Power of silence

Sometimes when talking to young people about sensitive issues there can be a lot of silence, although this silence can feel awkward, it is important. It allows you and the young person to think, be present and consider what you will say. Offering supportive statements and encouraging the young person to take their time can greatly improve the quality of your conversation.

3. Outcome and closing

Supporting a young person to open up is difficult, but it is also essential that you know how to bring the conversation to an end. It can be exhausting and overwhelming for pupils and staff to engage in lengthy conversations related to safeguarding issues. Staff need to close the conversation with clarity, signpost to appropriate support and make referrals (if necessary). The suggestions below will provide you with a guide on how to do this.

  • Use affirmative statements
    • What you’re going through is difficult, but with the right support and some time, things can change for you. I’m here to support you however I can.
  • Signpost to support
    • If you need more support with how you feel, you can speak to the school counsellor.
  • Explain what happens next
    • I will speak to Mr/Miss/Mrs X about this. They are in charge of safeguarding in our school and will know how to support you further.

Young people may make a disclosure about risk or potential abuse. In these instances, it is important you remember to follow your establishments procedures.

It is considered best practice to:

  • Let them know they’ve done the right thing
  • Be clear about the limits of confidentiality
  • Remind them that it’s not their fault and that you believe what they’ve said
  • Follow your organisation’s safeguarding procedures on reporting and recording information and escalate any concerns as appropriate

You should not:

  • Attempt to deal with the situation yourself
  • Make assumptions or minimise what a young person tells you
  • Take any action that might undermine any future investigation or disciplinary procedure

For more information on handling disclosures, download our Safer Schools App.

Once the conversation has ended, make sure to follow your schools’ procedures, whether that involves making a record of the conversation or making a referral to the appropriate person. If you think a child is at risk of immediate harm, please contact the police by calling 999.

If you need further support speak to your Safeguarding Lead.

Download our guide to having a safeguarding conversation.

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