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All about Safeguarding in Further Education

Further Education (FE) providers are responsible for the safeguarding of their learners, which extends beyond the physical FE environment, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their learners in both their physical and their mental health.

The number and range of safeguarding challenges that FE providers and their employees encounter have become more complex, leading to the legal duties and responsibilities becoming more rigorous.

In May 2022, the Department for Education (DfE) introduced the new draft of the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE) guidance, which took effect in September 2022. Regulated providers in the FE and Training sector must follow this guidance to ensure compliance with the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

What is Further Education?

The UK boasts a diverse and wide-ranging Further Education sector that provides opportunities for school leavers, young adults and mature students. On GOV.UK it states that Further Education (FE) includes any study after secondary education that isn’t part of Higher Education (HE), that is that it doesn’t form part of an undergraduate or graduate degree. Most colleges are referred to as general FE colleges, but there are a number of different types of institutions involved in providing post-compulsory education.

Types of providers involved in delivering FE include:

  • Art, Design & Performing Art Colleges.
  • Employer Providers.
  • FE Colleges.
  • Independent Training Providers.
  • Institutes for Adult Learning.
  • Local Authority Adult Community Education Providers.
  • National Specialist Colleges.
  • Sixth Form Colleges.
  • Specialist Designated Colleges.
  • Third Sector Adult Community Education Providers.

Anyone aged 16 and over can participate in Further Education, although some providers also offer courses for 14- and 15-year-olds. The law now requires all young people in England to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday.

In the 2021/22 academic year, adult participation in government-funded Further Education and Skills including apprenticeships, increased by 4.8% to 1,719,600 compared to 1,640,300 in the same period in 2020/21; these figures do not include learners in the FE sector under the age of 19 years. Between 16 and 18 years old, it is compulsory for children to stay in full-time education, start an apprenticeship or traineeship or spend 20 hours or more per week working or volunteering while in part-time education or training. 81.2% of 16- to 18-year-olds were participating in FE at the end of 2021.

Of the 1,719,600 adult learners participating in FE, females accounted for 61.0% (1,048,840); those declaring a learner learning difficulty and/or disability (LLDD) accounted for 17.5% (291,010).

Government figures show that in the 2021/22 academic year, learners aged 19–24 accounted for 26.0% (447,840), those aged 25–49 accounted for 57.6% (990,040) and those aged 50 and over accounted for 16.4% (281,370).

Further education provider talking with learner

What is safeguarding in Further Education?

The safety and wellbeing of adults and children is important as they come into contact with the services that Further Education provides.

It is vital that every vulnerable child and adult in Further Education is kept safe. Safeguarding in FE is the process of creating an environment for all learners and staff that actively prevents harm, harassment, bullying, abuse and neglect. Understanding the importance of safeguarding is a duty that all funded FE organisations must adhere to.

Any signs of learners being at risk whether on the programme or not is now of concern and there must be designated staff to create an effective reporting channel. Additionally, all FE providers have to comply with the Prevent duty to ensure propensities to terrorist or other adverse behaviour of any description is addressed.

Whose responsibility is it for safeguarding in Further Education?

Staff, management, governors and proprietors in Further Education have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under the Children Act 2004 in the same way that school staff do. This includes all learners aged between 14 and 18. FE colleges also have a duty to protect vulnerable adults over 18 years who study on their premises and who have similar legislative protection under the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022.

Statutory guidance on safeguarding responsibilities for schools and colleges is provided in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE) 2022, which states “Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility.

Everyone who comes into contact with children and their families has a role to play. In order to fulfil this responsibility effectively, all practitioners should make sure their approach is child centred. This means that they should consider, at all times, what is in the best interests of the child”.

Every FE provider should have a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) who provides support to staff to carry out their safeguarding duties, who will liaise closely with other services such as local authority children’s social care and who will be the most appropriate person to advise on the response to safeguarding concerns.

What are the risk factors?

Due to the complex landscape within the FE sector, the safeguarding risk factors are vastly different between organisations. Each FE provider must carry out their own risk assessment to identify and mitigate risk factors for their individual organisation. There are, however, some common issues that pose a risk to the safety and wellbeing of learners in FE.

Some of the most key risk factors include:

  • Safe recruitment is a vital part of creating a safe and positive environment and making a commitment to keep learners safe from harm. FE organisations who do not practise safe recruitment processes or who do not fully implement safe recruitment procedures, including DBS checks, risk allowing unsuitable, and even dangerous, individuals to work with children and vulnerable adults. Although safe recruitment does not entirely eliminate risk, it helps to identify and deter or reject individuals who are deemed to be of risk of doing harm.
  • Lack of or poor implementation of policies and procedures. These ensure that staff know what to do if they are concerned about anything happening in a learner’s life, whether or not it is happening within the organisation. Codes of conduct create a culture of zero tolerance of, for example, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, violence, bullying or harassment. Safety and wellbeing are put at risk when learners and staff do not recognise and understand standards of acceptable behaviour, and staff are unaware of how to raise any concerns that they may have about learners’ safety and wellbeing.
  • Lack of safeguarding training and preventative education. These are intended to help staff inform themselves so that they are better able to identify the signs and indicators of abuse and neglect. The risk is that these signs are not always easy to notice without professional safeguarding training. Preventative education for learners helps to empower them to keep safe from sexual, domestic and all other types of abuse and neglect. The risk is that any learners are unable to recognise abusive behaviour or identify who poses a threat to them and they may not know how and where to seek help. Preventative education can help protect them and prevent abuse.
  • A distinct increase in referrals to child and adolescent mental health services with over 190,000 between April and June 2021. Learners who may be suffering from poor mental health may not only pose a risk to others, but also may be at increased risk themselves. An NHS report “Mental Health of Children and Young People in England” (2017) summarised the key findings in relation to the mental health of children and young people aged 5 to 19 years old. It grouped mental health disorders into four broad types:
    – Emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.
    – Behavioural disorders.
    – Hyperactivity disorders such as ADHD.
    – Less common disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders and tic disorders.
  • Personal relationships – Over 50% of 16- to 19-year-old Further Education learners have experienced some form of violence when dating or in a relationship. Dating and relationship violence is defined as threats, emotional abuse, coercion, controlling behaviours, physical violence, and coerced, non-consensual or abusive sexual activities perpetrated by a current or former casual or steady partner. Many of these relationships are formed between FE attendees.

Other common risk factors include but are not limited to:

  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse, especially if unstable or chaotic substance misuse. This may be by the learner themselves, or by people in their home environment.
  • Housing or financial problems.
  • Lack of support network / isolation.
  • Physical/learning disability (adult/child).
  • Victimisation from abuse/neglect.
  • Poor attendance or exclusions.
  • History of being significantly harmed through neglect as a child.
  • Disordered/inappropriate relationships.
  • Perceptive distortions about the use of violence and appropriate sexual behaviour.
  • Rejecting or being antagonistic to professional support.
safeguarding in further education risk factor drug abuse

The types of abuse people in Further Education could experience

Learners may experience abuse and neglect at any age and it may have a profound impact not only on their immediate safety and wellbeing but also on their long-term development and health. The signs of abuse and neglect can be difficult to detect. Evidence of any one indicator from the following should not be taken on its own as proof that abuse is occurring. However, it should alert FE professionals to make further assessments and to consider other associated factors.

Physical abuse – Abusive injuries tend to involve softer tissue and be in areas that are harder to damage through slips, trips, falls and other accidents. There may also be signs that injuries are being untreated, or at least that there is a delay in seeking treatment.

Types of physical abuse include:

  • Hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, biting, pushing.
  • Rough handling.
  • Scalding and burning.
  • Physical punishments.
  • Inappropriate or unlawful use of restraint.
  • Physical harm caused by a parent or carer fabricating the symptoms of, or inducing, illness.

Sexual abuse – This may take place either in person or online or offline. It may be perpetrated by family or non-family members, males or females, older adults or by other young people.

It may include, but is not limited to:

  • Non-penetrative acts such as kissing, masturbation, rubbing or inappropriate touching.
  • Penetrative acts.
  • Sexual photography.
  • Upskirting – This is a highly intrusive practice, which typically involves someone taking a picture under another person’s clothing without their knowledge, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks, with or without underwear. It is illegal under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019.
  • Forced use of pornography or witnessing of sexual acts.
  • Grooming in preparation for sexual abuse.
  • Sexting – This is sending sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos via phone, computer, or any digital device. A photo shared between two people can quickly become a viral phenomenon.

Child sexual exploitation This can happen in person or online. An abuser will gain a child’s trust or control them through violence or blackmail before moving on to sexually abusing them. They may be assaulted and sexually abused by one person or multiple perpetrators. The sexual assaults and abuse can be violent, humiliating and degrading. Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and sometimes mistaken for normal teenage behaviour.

Emotional abuse – Some level of emotional abuse may be present in all types of abuse or neglect, though it may also appear alone. Emotional abuse can include overprotection, intimidation, coercion, harassment, humiliation, threats of harm or abandonment, or conveying feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. Emotional abuse may also be perpetrated by other young people through serious bullying and cyberbullying.

Bullying – Young people say bullying is among their top concerns. Bullying is behaviour, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts or undermines another individual or group, physically or emotionally. One person or a group can bully others. There is often a power imbalance that makes it hard for the victim to defend themselves.

Neglect – This is the most common form of abuse in children and very young or vulnerable adults. Neglect is a persistent failure to meet basic needs, either physical or emotional or both, and it leads to serious harm to the health or development of a child or vulnerable adult.

Domestic abuse – The National Union of Students (NUS) reports that 1 in 7 students have experienced domestic abuse. It includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse, as well as honour-based violence and forced marriage.

Honour-based violence This is the term used to refer to a collection of practices used predominantly to control the behaviour of women and girls within families or other social groups in order to protect supposed cultural and religious beliefs, values and social norms in the name of honour.

Forced marriage – This is where one or both people do not or, in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, cannot consent to the marriage. Most cases of forced marriage involve girls and young women, although victims can be of any age and can be male. It is a criminal offence in England, Wales and Scotland to force someone to marry and this includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) – This is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there is no medical reason for this to be done. It is illegal in the UK and is child abuse. Girls are more at risk of FGM being carried out during the summer holidays, as this allows more time for them to heal before they return to education.

Prevent, radicalisation and extremism – Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a duty on specified authorities including FE providers to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. In FE, compliance with the duty is monitored by Ofsted. FE institutions should ensure that staff exemplify British values in their management, teaching and through general behaviours in institutions and that the Further Education curriculum and pastoral care are also used to promote British values to learners. They should also undertake appropriate training for governors, board members, leaders and staff and ensure that clear policies and robust procedures are in place including a clear Prevent referral process with a single point of contact which is known to all staff and learners. This will usually be the same as the existing safeguarding process.

Potential indicators which could suggest a child or young person is at risk of radicalisation and extremism may include:

  • Sudden increase in vulnerability due to social, emotional, cultural or economic factors.
  • Argumentative and unwilling to listen to other people’s points of view.
  • Susceptible to conspiracy theories and feelings of persecution.
  • Withdrawal from social activities and peer group.
  • Changes in friendship groups and appearance.
  • New-found sense of cultural identity or conversion to a new religion.
  • Searching for, sharing or uploading extremist material online.

GroomingThis is the manipulative behaviours that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught. Grooming can take place online or in person. Grooming can take many different forms and is usually employed by a family member or someone else in the victim’s circle of trust, such as a coach, teacher, youth group leader or others who naturally have some interaction with the victim.

Child criminal exploitation and county lines This is when criminals befriend children and vulnerable young people, either online or offline, and then manipulate them into drug dealing. The county lines refer to mobile phones that are used to control a young person who is delivering drugs, often to towns outside their home county.

Online abuse Often known as cyberbullying, is when someone bullies others using electronic means. This might involve social media and messaging services on the internet that are accessed on a mobile phone, tablet or gaming platform. 

It can consist of:

  • Threats and intimidation.
  • Harassment and stalking.
  • Defamation.
  • Rejection and exclusion.
  • Identify theft, hacking into social media accounts and impersonation.
  • Publicly posting or sending on personal information about another person.
  • Manipulation.

Verbal abuse – This may include aggressive behaviours, derogatory remarks, or inappropriate use of language related to a protected characteristic.

Peer-on-peer abuseUnder the new KCSiE guidance, this is now known as child-on-child abuse to ensure the commonality of language used in safeguarding. Children can abuse other children and it can happen both inside and outside of educational settings and online. All staff should understand the importance of challenging inappropriate behaviours between children that are actually abusive in nature and should be able to recognise the indicators and signs of child-on-child abuse and know how to identify it and respond to reports in line with their safeguarding policy.

Hate and mate crimes – Hate crime is any criminal offence committed against a person or property that is motivated by an offender’s hostility or prejudice towards someone because of their actual or presumed race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or individual characteristics that makes someone appear different. Mate crime is a form of disability hate crime. It is where someone pretends to be friends with a person who is vulnerable, such as someone who has learning disabilities but then goes on to take advantage, exploit or abuse them. Mate crime is sometimes hard to identify because the offender is deemed a friend, carer or family member and is using the relationship for exploitation. The vulnerable person is often unaware of the person’s motives.

Homelessness 1 in 10 students face homelessness due to a lack of affordable accommodation. Homeless learners or those living in bad housing may display hunger, tiredness, absenteeism and poor hygiene, all of which will impact their ability to learn and place them at a disadvantage. Education settings may also come across cases where 16- and 17-year-old learners may be living independently from their parents or guardians.

Modern slavery – This encompasses human trafficking and slavery, servitude, debt bondage and forced or compulsory labour. It can be challenging to identify a potential victim of modern slavery. Potential victims may be reluctant to come forward or not recognise themselves as victims. Victims of any form of modern slavery may have suffered acts of physical and/or psychological cruelty, abuse, neglect, exploitation and degradation. As a result of the abuse and neglect that victims have experienced, they may develop poor physical or mental health.

Financial or material abuse – This might include the theft of money or possessions, fraud, scamming, preventing a person from accessing their own money, benefits or assets, and someone moving into a person’s home and living rent free without agreement or under duress (cuckooing).

Eating disorders – The term eating disorder refers to a potentially life-threatening condition that is characterised by disturbances in eating, emotional and psychological distress, and physical symptoms.

While there are some obvious signs of eating disorders, there are also other signs that could indicate an eating disorder, including but not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating in lessons.
  • A change in attitude towards work.
  • Appear tired or lethargic or seem faint or light-headed.
  • Withdrawn in lessons, and reluctant to get involved in discussions.
  • Always ‘working’ or ‘busy’ at lunch, rather than eating.
  • Particularly anxious about getting anything wrong, or not living up to expectations.
  • Increasingly sensitive, touchy and emotional.

Self-harm – This is usually an expression of personal distress. It becomes more common after the age of 16 but is still prevalent among younger teenagers and children. Take all evidence or mention of self-harm or suicidal thoughts seriously, listen carefully and keep detailed notes. Self-harm may raise additional concerns that action is needed to safeguard the child or young person from significant harm and abuse. If there are immediate medical concerns for the welfare of the child or young person, medical attention must be obtained.

Organisational/institutional abuse This is the mistreatment of people brought about by poor or inadequate care or support, or systematic poor practice that affects the whole institution’s setting. Some forms the abuse might take include inappropriate use of power or control, and poor professional practices as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices in an organisation.

Teenager in further education suffering from cyberbullying

Reporting and recording concerns

If FE staff have concerns about a learner’s welfare, they should act on them immediately by following their organisation’s safeguarding policy and speaking to their Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL).

If a learner is in immediate danger, then contact the emergency services immediately using 999 and then report the incident to the DSL. The DSL is responsible for making sure that safeguarding concerns are recorded and that records are kept securely according to the organisation’s safeguarding policies and procedures.

Why is it important to have safeguarding training?

Working with children and young people can be incredibly rewarding, but it also comes with a good deal of responsibility. One of the most important aspects of this responsibility is your obligation to keep those who are in your care safe from harm.

Safeguarding training gives a thorough overview of the different ways in which particular individuals might be vulnerable. It covers the tell-tale signs of abuse and neglect, enabling you to actively monitor the young people in your care, being consciously aware of their wellbeing.

Safeguarding training empowers FE staff by giving them the skills and knowledge they need in order to recognise the right courses of action to take and to appropriately report abuse and neglect.

Final thoughts

All children and adults can be vulnerable in an FE setting. Vulnerability can fluctuate depending on age, developmental stage and personal circumstances, for example children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities who may be more susceptible to harm and/or abuse.

Further Education settings should ensure their staff and learners, particularly vulnerable learners, receive appropriate and targeted support and information about safeguarding to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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