In this article
The education sector has a duty of care for children, young people or vulnerable adults to ensure that those under their care are protected from harm inside and outside of their institutions. Safeguarding is the term used to describe the measures put in place to ensure the protection of health, wellbeing and human rights of individuals under their care.
These measures include:
- A whole school ethos of safeguarding including strong leadership.
- Policies and procedures including but not limited to:
– Safeguarding / Child Protection policy.
– Behaviour policy.
– Staff Behaviour policy / code of conduct.
– Health and Safety policy.
– Safer Recruitment policy.
- High-quality training that ensures all school staff know what to do.
- Implementing the policies, procedures and training consistently across the school.
- Working in partnership with children, their families and carers and outside agencies.
What is meant by safeguarding in schools?
While everybody working in education should have heard of the term ‘safeguarding’, you might not be sure what safeguarding in schools actually means. Simply put, when a child is in school, the school is responsible for keeping them safe from harm and abuse. The school should create a safe learning environment, identify children who are suffering from or may be at risk of harm and take suitable action.
Everyone in the school who comes into contact with children and their families and carers has a role to play in safeguarding children. In order to fulfil this responsibility effectively, all professionals 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.
To help protect children in their care, schools should have:
- A designated teacher or member of staff responsible for dealing with safeguarding.
- Clear procedures to follow if staff are concerned about a child and for checking staff before they work with children.
- Staff who are trained to identify signs of abuse or other safeguarding issues including what to do if they or someone else is worried about a child.
As part of their safeguarding responsibilities, schools should also be teaching children how to protect themselves. Personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons should explain, for example:
- Risky behaviour(s).
- Suitable and inappropriate physical contact.
- Dealing with peer pressure.
- Safe internet use.
- Bullying and harassment.
The importance of safeguarding in schools
Serious child harm cases reported by councils in England rose by nearly 20% during the first year of the COVID pandemic. There were 536 serious incident reports in England during 2020-21, up 87 (19%) from 449 in 2019/20, and an increase of 41% on the number of incidents recorded five years ago.
The majority of serious incident notifications continued to relate to children living at home in 2020-21. The proportion of notifications relating to children living at home increased from 66% in the first half of 2020-21 to 75% in the second half.
The Department for Education (DfE) have said that: “We know that the pandemic may have exacerbated the challenges many vulnerable children, including those in care and their families, may have faced but the increase in serious incident notifications is of concern. That is why we prioritised vulnerable children throughout the COVID pandemic by keeping schools open to many of them.”
Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the important roles played by schools to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive. During the COVID pandemic lockdowns, child safeguarding concerns often went undetected because of the closure of schools, colleges and some childcare settings.
Effective safeguarding in schools is so important for identifying the warning signs of any abuse or harm to children and alerting the appropriate authorities in order to help victims of harm or abuse as soon as possible. School staff, especially teaching staff, get a unique insight into how children are developing, behaving and interacting with others.
They are more likely to notice signs of abuse, whether these are physical abuse or mental abuse. Teachers can also use their professional skills to teach children about the dangers they face inside and outside of school, how to protect themselves and where and how they can get help.
What is a safeguarding policy in schools?
Effective safeguarding relies on clear and easily understandable policies, systems and procedures. Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure there is an effective safeguarding policy in place together with a staff code of conduct which should include information on staff/student relationships and communications including the use of social media.
All staff including temporary staff and volunteers should be provided with the school’s safeguarding policy and staff code of conduct on induction. The safeguarding policy should describe procedures which are in accordance with government guidance, be updated annually, be signed off by the governing body, and be available publicly either via the school or college website or by other means.
Headteachers should ensure that the policies and procedures adopted by governing bodies, particularly concerning referrals of cases of suspected abuse and neglect, are followed by all staff.
Each school and college should have at least one designated safeguarding lead who will provide support to staff members to carry out their safeguarding duties and who will liaise closely with other services such as children’s social care. There must be a designated safeguarding lead available at all times, so it is good practice to ensure that there are enough staff trained to carry out this role, to provide the cover advised by statutory guidance.
What is safeguarding training in schools?
Designated Safeguarding Leads must have specific training every two years at a minimum.
Everyone working with children whether teaching, non-teaching, volunteers and other staff, should have safeguarding training at induction and once every three years at a minimum. It is good practice to refresh training annually to comply with statutory guidance which stipulates that annual updates are necessary.
School governors need to understand their responsibilities about safeguarding and have an overview of what occurs in their school.
At least one member of any interview panel must have completed a Safer Recruitment course. Senior staff and governors should complete this course too.
What is contextual safeguarding in schools?
Contextual safeguarding is an approach to safeguarding that involves understanding and responding to children or young people’s experiences of harm outside of their families. It recognises the relationships young people form with their communities, schools and online circles that can lead to abuse, harm or exploitation.
As many parents have little or no influence on these relationships outside of the family home, it is the duty of those with safeguarding responsibilities, such as workers in the education sector, to recognise the need to intervene where necessary.
Schools and educational settings need to consider the location and culture of their school or college and assess the risks that children and young people may be exposed to, both inside and outside of the school or college community.
A contextual safeguarding approach would recognise that children and young people may risk experiencing significant harm in extra-familial contexts, and seek to include these contexts within their prevention, identification, assessment and intervention safeguarding activities. It may be necessary for schools to consider interventions to change the systems or social conditions of the environments in which the harm or abuse has occurred.
Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSE) contains information on Contextual Safeguarding in Paragraph 52, stating that:
What is effective safeguarding in schools?
In schools graded by Ofsted as outstanding, safeguarding permeates all aspects of school life.
Key features of outstanding practice include:
- High-quality leadership and management that makes safeguarding a priority across all aspects of a school’s work.
- Stringent vetting procedures in place for staff and other adults.
- Rigorous safeguarding policies and procedures in place, written in plain English, compliant with statutory requirements and updated regularly, in particular, clear and coherent safeguarding policies.
- Child protection arrangements that are accessible to everyone, so that children and families, as well as adults in the school, know who they can talk to if they are worried.
- Excellent communication systems with up-to-date information that can be accessed and shared by those who need it.
- A high-priority given to training in safeguarding, generally going beyond basic requirements, extending expertise widely and building internal capacity.
- Robust arrangements for site security, understood and applied by staff and pupils.
- A curriculum that is flexible, relevant and engages pupils’ interest, that is used to promote safeguarding, not least though teaching pupils how to stay safe, how to protect themselves from harm and how to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety.
- Courteous and responsible behaviour by the pupils, enabling everyone to feel secure and well-protected.
- Well thought out and workable day-to-day arrangements to protect and promote pupils’ health and safety.
- Rigorous monitoring of absence, with timely and appropriate follow-up, to ensure that pupils attend regularly.
- Risk assessment taken seriously and used to good effect in promoting safety.
What might this look like in practice? Here are some examples:
- The school caretaker has a valuable role to play in ensuring that issues to do with site security or health and safety are reported and addressed.
- The ICT department or those responsible for ICT have a role to play in ensuring that all children are educated in the safe use of ICT and the internet whether at home or in school. This may involve educating parents on the core issues.
- Headteachers and senior team have a key duty to ensure that appropriate policies exist and are communicated and implemented to all in a systematic and meticulous way.
- All staff irrespective of their roles have the responsibility to make sure they have read all the relevant safeguarding policies and procedures and know what is expected of them and that they take action where necessary. Schools should think seriously about induction of new staff. Setting the benchmark of expectation from the outset helps create a safe culture. Induction should include staff being given copies of all relevant safeguarding policies and being guided through the school’s safeguarding procedures.
- Monitoring and tracking systems should exist that are regularly reviewed by appropriate staff. These systems should pull together and monitor data relating to pupil exclusions, attendance, incidents of poor behaviour, bullying, detentions, complaints, referrals to and/or concerns discussed with outside agencies, and in particular vulnerable children and those known to social care.
What is a multi-agency system in safeguarding in schools?
Schools and colleges and their staff form part of the wider safeguarding system for children. Schools and colleges work with social care, the police, health services and other services to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. This multi-agency system is usually co-ordinated by a local authority Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).
When a school or college reports a concern to the MASH team, they make assessment of the risk to the child and make a decision on what to do to best protect that child. To make an informed decision the MASH team shares and gathers information from partner agencies, children and their families. The most appropriate intervention is agreed in response to the child or young person’s identified needs.
In the majority of local authorities, the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is the single point of contact for all professionals to report safeguarding concerns.
The range of organisations that make up a MASH can include but is not limited to:
Schools and colleges can request a consultation with a MASH social worker to enable them to talk through concerns and consider if a MASH contact is appropriate.
What is safeguarding in schools legislation?
Statutory guidance for schools and colleges, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSE), defines safeguarding as:
- Protecting children from maltreatment.
- Preventing impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development.
- Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
- Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.
This is statutory guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) and is issued under:
Schools and colleges in England must have regard to this guidance when carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. For the purposes of this guidance children includes everyone under the age of 18.
The Teachers’ Standards 2012 state that teachers (which includes headteachers) should safeguard children’s wellbeing and maintain public trust in the teaching profession as part of their professional duties.
It is a crime to have a sexual relationship with a child aged under 16, and it is also an offence for an adult to have a sexual relationship with a young person under 18 years if the adult is in a “position of trust”, such as a teacher, with that young person. This covers relationships between school or college staff and students. It applies as long as the young person is under 18 years, even if they are over the age of legal consent.
The governing body of a school or college has a duty to ensure that the school or college meets its statutory responsibilities and to ensure that the children and young people attending the school or college are safe. This applies to all school settings including maintained schools, academies and free schools.
Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 places a duty on the governing body of schools, and regulations under section 157 about safeguarding pupils in independent schools (which include academies).
Requires academy trusts, to have arrangements in place to ensure they:
- Carry out their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
- Have regard to the statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State in considering what arrangements they need to make for the purpose of that section.
What is safeguarding in primary schools?
Primary schools can help protect pupils by creating a safe environment through robust safeguarding practices and by ensuring that all staff and volunteers involved with the primary school do not pose a risk to children.
Primary schools teach children about staying safe, and making sure they feel confident to approach a member of staff if they have a worry or problem.
What is safeguarding in secondary schools?
Safeguarding issues which arise in secondary schools are often different in nature to those experienced in primary schools, as a result of the increasing maturity of the young people involved. During secondary schooling, children and young people are maturing, acting more independently and taking on increased responsibilities. This may mean they encounter more risky situations, in addition to those which arise from neglect or abuse within their family.
Children and young people at secondary school level will be more involved in their own safeguarding so it is important to ask:
- Do children and young people in your school know who they can talk to about their worries and concerns?
- Is there a range of ways they can get help?
- Do children and young people have a voice and participate in the school’s safeguarding and support processes?
Research suggests that at secondary school age, maltreatment can be masked by ‘difficult’ behaviour and the young person treated as a problem rather than vulnerable. Risk and neglect may also not be addressed because there is an assumption that young people can cope more easily than younger children. These findings indicate the importance of understanding young people’s own perspectives on their difficulties and what may make it hard for them to seek help.
When young people feel secure and safe in school, they flourish both academically and emotionally. Vulnerable young people can benefit from a combination of strong structural safeguarding support from professionals alongside peer-centred interventions as appropriate for the school context. This is why including safeguarding issues into the curriculum is important so that the whole school community including the students are involved in safeguarding each other.
What are schools and colleges’ roles in safeguarding for children?
Schools and colleges and their staff form part of the wider safeguarding system for children where agencies are expected to work together to ensure children and young people are safeguarded and their welfare protected.
Their role is to:
- Identify children at risk of abuse, neglect or harm.
- Keep schools and colleges secure.
- Educate children and young people to be aware of and to avoid unsafe people or situations outside of school, including on their journey to and from school.
- Prevent radicalisation.
- Tackle bullying.
- Ensure that no member of staff poses a risk to children and young people.
- Prevent self-harm and self-neglect.
- Report concerns.
Teachers and other school and college staff are an important connection that children and young people have with the outside world and are often the people that they respect and will speak to first. A school or college is not just where children and young people are educated, it is where they develop and eventually become adults, and it should be a safe space where they are able to discuss any problems they may have, without fear of judgement.
By keeping a close eye on children and young people in your care, you can help with any situations that may come up and make a real difference in the child or young person’s life.