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Safeguarding in schools is extremely important. Throughout the literature, policy and profession, it is consistently repeated that safeguarding is everybody’s business. This means that all professionals who work with children and young people are responsible for protecting and promoting their health and wellbeing and ensuring that they are not at risk of harm.
In particular, school staff have an essential role to play in safeguarding. They are in a unique position to build and develop relationships with students and to notice the indicators of abuse. Teachers and other school staff are also central components within the multi-disciplinary team around the child. Throughout this article, we will cover key areas and resources, as well as referring to statutory guidance pertaining to safeguarding in the UK. We will discuss the legal duties of schools, including the teachers’ responsibilities, the governors’ and the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). It will also highlight the various types of significant harm that schools need to consider when implementing safeguarding policies and procedures, such as Prevent Duty, self-harm, and child sexual exploitation, amongst others. Finally, we will also highlight the importance of online safety, with reference to the internet safety safeguarding procedures that schools must implement.
What is Safeguarding?
Basically, safeguarding in schools is concerned with making sure children and young people are protected from being abused, neglected or exploited. We often assume that the term safeguarding is a matter of child protection, but it is actually a much wider and more complex issue. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, child protection concerns the protection of pupils at risk of abuse, but safeguarding applies to all pupils within the school. This means that all schools have a responsibility to ensure that they protect the best interest of each student from significant harm. This includes protection from abuse, harm to health or development, provision of care that meets their needs, and securing the best possible outcomes.
Safeguarding in Schools
Under the Education Act 2002, schools have a statutory responsibility for ‘safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people’. As a result, educational providers have a responsibility to adhere to the statutory guidance that serves as a cornerstone of child protection and educational practices.
In schools, safeguarding involves protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of students. Their main safeguarding responsibilities include:
- The provision of a safe environment in which children and young people feel heard.
- Creating positive relationships with students premised on mutual trust and understanding.
- Be aware of the indicators and symptoms.
- Ensure vigilance in recognising changes in behaviour or mood.
- Supporting the Designated Safeguarding Lead.
- The hiring and safe recruitment of staff.
- Ensuring all staff have received the relevant training.
- Teaching about staying safer online and in the real world.
- Reporting concerns regarding abuse.
Teacher Safeguarding Responsibilities
As previously mentioned, safeguarding procedures cover a relatively broad definition of harm, and teachers and the rest of the school team should always know the importance of implementing safeguarding procedures. As a result, it is a legal requirement for teachers to undertake training regarding safeguarding, and the topic is covered as part of QTS qualifications.
This encompasses a number of different types of harm, with some key issues to look out for including:
Prevent Duty and Radicalisation
The government introduced Prevent Duty as part of the CONTEST strategy, and it aims to prevent people from becoming radicalised or engaging in terrorism. It is premised upon the fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance. Within the documentation, they define extremism as being vocal or active opposition to these. As well as educating students regarding these values, teachers and schools are legally required to take due regard to prevent people from becoming radicalised and to report anyone they have concerns about.
Child Sexual Exploitation
A form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse, Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse, in which children and young people under the age of 18 are exploited for sexual purposes. They may be given things such as money, possessions, drugs and alcohol to coerce them. In some cases of CSE, the young person may not be able to comprehend the nature of the abusive relationship and may see themselves as being in a relationship with the older adult. As a result, schools need to be aware of the indicators of CSE and the appropriate actions to take. As part of the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum, schools are also responsible for educating children and young people about grooming, consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
Forced marriage is ultimately a violation of a person’s human rights. In that, everyone has the right to choose who they marry or whether to want to at all. Moreover, forcing a child or young person under the age of 18 is a form of child abuse, with the individual being placed at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Any form of forced marriage is illegal in the UK and this also includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry. Indicators that a pupil is at risk of forced marriage could include long periods of absences, evidence of self-harm, being subject to unreasonable restrictions, and the individual going missing or running away, amongst others.
The term honour-based violence is defined as being some form of ‘cultural justification for violence and abuse’. It is often associated with harm that is done in a misguided attempt to protect someone or a group’s ‘honour’. The term is relatively broad and internationally recognised. Although, in recent years it is used less frequently as it is increasingly recognised that there can be no honour in violence.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Also known as female circumcision or cutting, FGM refers to any procedure in which female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, and this encompasses several different operations. In the UK, any form of FGM is always illegal and it is a form of abuse. It is also a criminal offence to take a woman or a girl overseas for this purpose. FGM is traumatic for the individual; it is often conducted without anaesthetic and can have long-lasting impacts on their physical and mental health. As part of safeguarding in schools, it is compulsory to teach FGM as part of RSE, and school staff members have a responsibility to report any concerns regarding their pupils.
Grooming is a form of abuse and manipulation and it refers to the process of an adult befriending or establishing a relationship with a child or young person to abuse them, often for sexual purposes. Whilst it is often considered to be an online issue, grooming can also occur within the real world. Since 2018, grooming has been included in the RSE curriculum. This means that teachers are responsible for ensuring that students are aware of the signs and dangers of it. Teachers should also have undergone specific training so that they can recognise indicators that a pupil is being groomed.
Children and young people are online today more than ever before, and e-safety refers to the safe and responsible use of technology. Regarding this, schools have a dual responsibility to protect children when online at school, as well as ensuring pupils are equipped with e-safety skills and knowledge. Internet safety procedures will be discussed more in-depth later. However, within this the school needs to encourage students not to share personal information, only use age-appropriate sites, and report any inappropriate behaviour or bullying. Schools are also responsible for the manner in which they manage online safety in schools.
In recent years, bullying has also been recognised as a type of child abuse. This means that schools must take appropriate action to protect the welfare of students, which includes providing an environment where they are not at risk of harm from bullies. Bullying is defined by the Department of Education as being ‘behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally’. If a child or young person is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, bullying incidents should be reported to the local authority.
Self-Harm and Self-Neglect
Self-harm refers to behaviours that an individual does that intentionally injures or damages their body. This includes a wide range of behaviours including cutting, burning, hitting and hair pulling, amongst others. Self-neglect refers to an inability or unwillingness to attend personal needs. People may engage in self-harm or self-neglect as a response to their emotional state, and it may indicate wider issues such as depression or anxiety. It is important that these are handled sensitively. Schools must have a procedure in place, which should include a specific policy regarding how and when parents should be contacted.
In Working Together to Safeguard Children, neglect is defined as being a ‘failure to meet a child’s basic, persistent, physical and/or psychological needs’. It is the most common form of child abuse; making up half of all child protection plans. A 2012 study by the NSPCC reported that almost 1 in 9 (9%) of 18- to 24-year-olds reported being severely neglected by their parents or guardians. Many of the signs of neglect are visible, and schools are well-placed to spot potential indicators.
There are many types of child abuse, including the forms of significant harm which we have already discussed above. Child abuse is an umbrella term that includes four main types: neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Although the true prevalence of child abuse in the UK is unknown, the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicated that at least one in five adults had experienced some form of child abuse before the age of 16. Schools have a responsibility to report any concerns regarding child protection, and teachers should be fully aware of the relevant safeguarding procedures.
It is also important that teachers ensure that their own behaviour is conducted in line with safeguarding legislation. This involves:
- Not sharing personal information such as contact details or social media with students.
- Being clear with parents and students regarding the appropriate methods of communication.
- Working in a transparent manner that is premised on accountability.
- Avoiding any conduct that would be deemed inappropriate.
- Maintaining professional boundaries throughout their relationships with pupils.
- Listening to students and being vigilant regarding the potential indicators of abuse.
Governor Safeguarding Responsibilities
As we have previously mentioned, safeguarding is everyone’s business. This means that governors are also responsible for ensuring the protection and promotion of each individual student’s health and wellbeing, which includes the following duties:
Attendance, or lack of, can be a key indicator of abuse and/or neglect, and governors should monitor the attendance of all pupils. It is important that schools get an explanation for any long periods of absence and investigate those which are unexplained.
Recruitment of Staff
Since the implementation of the Education Act 2002, all members of staff in a school setting must possess a full and comprehensive criminal background check. This was previously called a CRB, but it is now a DBS check from the Disclosure and Barring Service.
School security includes the effective handling and management of security for all pupils and staff, as well as security of the premises and equipment. Furthermore, it should also take health and safety into consideration. Ultimately, it is a broad concept, with several strict rules that schools must adhere to. However, the government feels that head teachers and leadership teams are ‘best placed’ to determine the level of security necessary for their school.
Governors and leadership teams are also responsible for creating and maintaining the school’s safeguarding policy. This should cover all aspects of safeguarding, including appropriate procedures, and contact information for the Designated Safeguarding Lead. They should also conduct regular evaluations of the school’s safeguarding procedures, including the production of an annual report.
The governing body is also responsible for ensuring that all members of staff have received the statutory safeguarding training. This also includes school-specific training when recruiting new members of staff.
Designated Safeguarding Lead Responsibilities
The role of the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) was set out in the Children’s Act 2004. In which, it states that organisations must have a ‘named person’ who is responsible for safeguarding within the school. This is usually a senior member of staff with authority to implement changes, and they have often received a higher level of safeguarding training, in comparison with other members of the school team.
A DSL’s key responsibilities include:
- Raising staff awareness.
- Ensuring that staff members are aware of the indicators and symptoms of abuse.
- Referring and reporting safeguarding concerns.
- Monitoring children under child protection plans.
- Maintaining accurate records.
- Liaising with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).
- Acting as a source of support and information for all staff.
Internet Safety Safeguarding Procedures
Being online is now a central part of our daily activities. Although this digital revolution has resulted in an increased number of positive opportunities, it has also meant that children and young people are exposed to new types of risk.
As part of safeguarding, schools are obligated to promote online safety through the implementation of a whole-school approach. As previously mentioned, safeguarding pertaining to internet safety falls mainly into two categories. Namely, making sure school computer systems and networks are safe and teaching pupils the importance of staying safe online. Within the ‘Teaching Online Safety in School’ guidance document (June 2019), the Department of Education state that this ‘allows them to enjoy the positives of the internet without being exposed to any inappropriate content or cyberbullying’.
Top e-safety tips and procedures include:
- The need to encourage students to be cautious but not fearful.
- Ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to recognise online dangers, such as cyberbullying and grooming.
- Senior leadership teams must take ownership of internet safety within the school.
- All records and personal information should be stored in adherence to the GDPR.
- Schools should implement policies and procedures concerning internet safety.
- It is imperative that the school’s computers and networks have appropriate levels of filtering and monitoring.
- Students should understand the dangers of speaking to strangers when online gaming.
- Teachers should be equipped with the skills to recognise and mitigate potential online issues.
- Advise students regarding their use of social media and live streaming.
- Supporting parents and carers in maintaining e-safety at home.
- Evaluating, reviewing and updating e-safety provision, procedures and policies.
Safeguarding in schools is primarily concerned with the provision of a safe environment and making sure children and young people know where to turn to for help. Schools are in a unique position to spot safeguarding issues, and staff members are legally obligated to report any concerns. This guide has broken down the numerous safeguarding concerns that schools need to be aware of, as well as the different responsibilities of teachers, the governing body, and the Designated Safety Lead. We have also included some tips and tricks regarding e-safety.