In this article
Safeguarding is an essential component of every school and teachers are particularly important as they are in a position to identify concerns early and provide help for children to prevent concerns from escalating. As a teacher you need to understand your responsibilities around safeguarding and the standards that you need to follow.
What is safeguarding?
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined in Keeping Children Safe in Education as “Protecting children from maltreatment, preventing impairment of children’s health or development, ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care, and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes. Children includes everyone under the age of 18.” In the case of special educational needs (SEN), it is up to 25 years of age.
Safeguarding is an important process that all schools must carry out. It will benefit children and young people by ensuring schools are safe places, where a child can feel comfortable to talk about any issues they’re dealing with.
Schools and their staff form part of the wider safeguarding system for children. Schools should work with social care, the police, health services and other services to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm.
Duties to safeguard are required by professional regulators and service regulators and are supported by law.
Some of the most important outcomes in safeguarding children are that:
- All children should be protected from all forms of abuse
- Children should feel safe in their environment and with their carers
- The development and overall wellbeing of children is a priority
- Safeguarding children means stepping in when a child is no longer safe, essentially protecting them from harm
- All children deserve to have the best outcomes possible
The Care Act 2014 lists six key principles of safeguarding. These are intended to form a core set of standards for anyone who has a responsibility for safeguarding. Although these principles have been designed with a focus on vulnerable adults, they should be applied to any type of vulnerable individual, children included.
The principles are as follows:
- Accountability – In the event of a disclosure, if a child or young person entrusts you with information that you know could be indicative of abuse, you must be clear with the individual that you need to report what you have heard.
- Empowerment – It’s important for any person who has been a victim of abuse to feel that they have control over their situation. Support and encouragement are key to effective working with a victim of abuse or neglect.
- Partnership – It is important to work in partnership with your local authority and all services or organisations in your community that might be able to assist in detecting and reporting abuse.
- Prevention – It is sometimes possible to take action before harm has come to an individual. If you know the signs and indicators of abuse, you will understand when something is not quite right and will be better placed to report any concerns for an individual’s wellbeing.
- Proportionality – When a safeguarding incident occurs, you should report your concerns in a manner that is appropriate for the risk presented. For example, if you suspect that a child is in immediate danger, dialling 999 is the recommended response.
- Protection – It is crucial to be an ally for individuals who have experienced or who are at risk of abuse. Supporting and representing these individuals in the appropriate manner can help to protect them from further harm.
What risk factors make someone more likely to experience abuse?
There are many issues that may contribute to child abuse and any child can be at risk of abuse.
However, there are a number of factors that can increase a child’s vulnerability to abuse and neglect; they can be found in the background of parents, in the environmental situation and in attributes of the child or young person themselves, including but not limited to:
- A parent has already abused a child
- A parent has a background of abuse when growing up
- A young, unsupported mother often with low education
- The parents have unrealistic expectations of the child and lack parenting knowledge
- A parent is isolated and has little support
- A parent has a mental illness or is abusing drugs or alcohol
- There is overcrowding in the house
- There is poverty or lack of opportunity to improve the family’s resources
- Family violence is present
- A non-biological adult is living in the house
- The family is experiencing multiple stresses
- The child has a physical or developmental disability
- The child has low self-esteem
- There is unmonitored access to technology
- Poor communication skills
- Children who identify as LGBTQ+
These factors can be significant in alerting teachers to offer support to a child or young person and keep a caring eye out.
The types of abuse children can encounter
Child maltreatment is any action causing potentially significant harm to a child or young person which often occurs within the context of relationships of power and trust. Maltreatment can be initiated by an adult or a child or young person. It can involve physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse, neglect or exploitation.
The five most recognised forms of abuse are defined in the UK Government guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (2016) as follows:
- Physical – This harm is not accidental. Physical abuse is deliberate harm to a child which causes bruises, cuts, burns or broken bones. Any physical abuse can have serious consequences for children as they grow up and can cause long-lasting harm.
- Emotional – This is sometimes called psychological abuse. Emotional abuse is ongoing emotional maltreatment. It can involve deliberately trying to scare or humiliate a child. It can also involve isolating or ignoring a child. Emotional abuse often happens at the same time as neglect or other abuse.
- Neglect – This is the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic needs and is the most common form of child abuse. A child might be left hungry or dirty, or without proper clothing, shelter, supervision or healthcare. This can put children and young people in danger and it can also have long-term effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.
- Sexual – The age of consent is 16 years old. Below that age, the law states a young person cannot consent to sexual acts. Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution, and can include online activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.
- Bullying – This can be defined as deliberately hurtful behaviour. It is usually repeated over a period of time, and occurs when it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves. It can take many forms, but the three main types are physical, verbal and emotional. The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. Bullying can cause significant distress to children so much so it affects their health and development.
What safeguarding issues do teachers need to be aware of?
Threats to child welfare and the child safeguarding issues teachers need to be aware of include:
- Child sexual exploitation – This involves situations, contexts or relationships in which a person under 18 is given something, such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money, in return for performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.
- Peer-on-peer abuse – This is a term used to describe children abusing other children. Peer-on-peer child abuse can include bullying, including online bullying and bullying because of someone’s race, religion, sexuality, disability or trans status, and abuse by a girlfriend, boyfriend or partner.
- Child criminal exploitation – This is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated, groomed, exploited and coerced into committing crimes. A child or young person might be recruited into a gang because of where they live or because of who their family is. They might join because they don’t see another option or because they feel like they need protection. Children and young people may become involved in gangs for many reasons. Organised criminal gangs groom children and young people because they are less suspicious and are given lighter sentences than adults.
- Modern slavery and trafficking – This is defined as recruiting, moving, receiving and harbouring children for the purpose of exploitation.
- Missing children and young people – This is a child of compulsory school age who is not on a school roll, nor being educated otherwise, for example privately or in alternative provision, and who has been out of any educational provision for a substantial period of time, usually four weeks or more.
- Radicalisation – This is the process through which a person comes to support or be involved in extremist ideologies. It can result in a person becoming drawn into terrorism and is in itself a form of harm.
- Online exploitation – Children can become victims of abuse on the internet through online games, social networking sites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which they can access through devices including tablets, mobile phones and games consoles. It is illegal for anyone to have, share or make sexual images or videos of people under 18; legally this includes personal images or videos made by under 18s and shared with each other, sometimes called sexting.
- Neglect – This is the persistent failure to meet a child/young person’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child/young person’s development. Where there is domestic abuse and violence towards a carer, the needs of the child may be neglected.
Neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
– Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, including exclusion from home or abandonment
– Protect a child/young person from physical and emotional harm or danger
– Ensure adequate supervision, including the use of inadequate caregivers
– Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment also including neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child/young person’s basic emotional needs
- Domestic violence and abuse – This is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people in a personal or family relationship. Domestic abuse can seriously harm children and young people. Witnessing domestic abuse is child abuse, and teenagers can suffer domestic abuse in their relationships.
- Fabricated or induced illness – This is a rare form of child abuse. It occurs when a parent or carer exaggerates or deliberately causes symptoms of illness in a child, and can cause significant harm both physically and emotionally.
- Female genital mutilation – This is when a female’s genitals are deliberately altered or removed for non-medical reasons. It is also known as female circumcision or cutting, but has many other names. A child who has faced or is worried about FGM, might not realise that what’s happening is wrong. Girls living in communities that practise FGM are most at risk. It can happen in the UK or abroad.
The roles and responsibilities of a teacher in regard to safeguarding adults
Child safeguarding is the responsibility of all who work with children and young people and families regardless of whether or not they come into direct contact with children. However, teachers are quite often best placed to notice changes in pupil behaviour and spot other common signs that indicate a child may be suffering from abuse.
Every member of teaching staff working with children has a responsibility to:
- Help keep children and young people safe and well
- Be vigilant for signs that children and young people may need support, are at risk, or are suffering from harm and/or neglect
- Immediately contact the designated safeguarding lead when they have concerns or hear allegations
- Contribute to taking action or supporting children and young people following identifications of concerns
- Ensure their work is carried out in ways that prevent harm to children and young people and maintain the safety and wellbeing of all involved
- Attend their school’s briefings and training and record this on a suitable Continuing Professional Development Record (CPD)
- Liaise and co-operate with other establishments and agencies where appropriate
- Monitor and evaluate practice regularly
- Comply with the school’s safeguarding policies and procedures
The safeguarding issues teachers may come across
Understanding what abuse and neglect might look like and how to recognise warning signs is an important aspect of safeguarding. Signs of abuse can range from injury to changes in the way a child acts.
Some examples teachers might encounter may include, but are not limited to:
- Child-on-child abuse – This can occur in many forms, such as sexual assault or acts of violence, and you need to take the relevant steps to deal with it.
- Serious violence – The signs might include an increased absence from school, a change in friendships with older individuals and groups, a significant decline in performance, unexplained injuries and more.
- Bullying – This isn’t always confined to the classroom. It can happen in playgrounds or even anonymously online which can have damaging effects on a child.
- Cyberbullying can include:
– Sending threatening or abusive text messages
– Creating and sharing embarrassing images or videos
– Trolling, which is sending menacing or upsetting messages online
– Excluding children from online games, activities or friendship groups
– Setting up hate sites or groups about a particular child
– Encouraging self-harm
– Voting for or against someone in an abusive poll
– Creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass a young person or cause trouble using their name
– Sending explicit messages, also known as sexting
– Pressuring children into sending sexual images or engaging in sexual conversations
- Self-harm and self-neglect – Signs of self-harm might not always be visible but changes in mood and behaviour might be a sign of depression.
- Grooming – In some cases, older children might behave in a way which can be considered normal to mask underlying problems. It is your responsibility to look out for such signs, including noticing secretive behaviour, being upset, withdrawn or distressed, going missing for periods of time and more.
- County lines – This is the police term used to describe gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns across the UK using dedicated mobile phone lines. These organised crime networks exploit children and young people to store, move, sell and deliver their drugs, often making them travel across counties.
Signs might include:
– Having a friendship or relationship with someone who appears older or controlling
– Unexplained absences from school
– Loss of interest in school and decline in performance
– Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
– Increasingly disruptive or aggressive and violent behaviour
– Sudden changes in lifestyle, unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
– Significant changes in emotional wellbeing
- Neglect – There are many signs that may indicate that a child is being neglected. Children and young people who are neglected might have poor appearance and hygiene, health and development problems, or be living in an unsuitable home environment, such as having no heating. If your common sense and instincts tell you that something is wrong then you should take action. A child who is neglected will often suffer from other forms of abuse as well, such as physical, sexual or emotional, although this isn’t always the case. Neglect is dangerous and can have a debilitating and long-term effect on a child’s physical wellbeing, and on their mental, emotional and behavioural development.
Where should teachers go with a safeguarding concern?
Some concerns may be minor in nature but provide an opportunity for early intervention, for example advice to prevent a problem from escalating. If you witness or suspect that there is a risk of immediate harm to a person in your care, you must act straight away to protect their safety.
Where it is believed that a child is suffering from or is at risk of harm, teachers should follow the procedures set out in the school’s safeguarding policy and procedures and their local authority’s guidelines. A teacher who is concerned about a child’s safety and wellbeing must report it as a possible safeguarding issue to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or safeguarding officer. This concern may result from something that you have seen, been told or heard.
The school’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or safeguarding officer will contact the local authority Referral Team to discuss the concern and get advice about next steps. In an emergency the teacher, DSL or safeguarding officer should contact the police.
The designated safeguarding lead will normally be someone who has been given special responsibility and training in dealing with staff concerns.
The role includes:
- Making sure appropriate systems for raising concerns are in place and that all staff can access them
- Making sure staff can see all concerns are taken seriously, even if they are later seen to be unfounded
- Investigating concerns promptly and include a full and objective assessment
- Taking action to deal with the concern and record and monitor this action
- Keeping the staff member who raised the concern up to date with what is happening
- Having processes in place to support staff raising concerns
- Having a role in highlighting learning and may facilitate or be part of learning events
You should also keep an accurate record of your concerns and action that you have taken, and you should always inform the designated safeguarding lead of your actions.
Speaking up on behalf of children in your care is an everyday part of your role. Just as raising genuine concerns represents good practice, doing nothing and failing to report concerns is unacceptable. If an incident occurs or is suspected teachers should take personal responsibility for reporting the allegation and not assume that somebody else will take action or share information that might be critical in keeping children safe.
What legislation do teachers have to follow in regard to safeguarding?
Laws and guidance that set out the safeguarding responsibilities of teachers include:
The Department for Education (DfE) provides the key safeguarding guidance for schools and colleges: Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE 2022). It sets out the legal duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people under the age of 18 in schools and colleges. As of September 2022, the guidance also provides detailed information on how schools and colleges should respond to sexual violence and harassment between children.
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. Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) contains information on Contextual Safeguarding in Paragraph 52, stating that: “All staff should be aware of the range of risk factors which increase the likelihood of involvement in serious violence, such as being male, having been frequently absent or permanently excluded from school, having experienced child maltreatment and having been involved in offending, such as theft or robbery. Advice for schools and colleges is provided in the Home Office’s Preventing youth violence and gang involvement and its Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines guidance.”
The safeguarding duty of schools and colleges is set out in section 175 of the Education Act 2002, the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014, and the Non-Maintained Special Schools (England) Regulations 2015.
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 Education and Inspections Act 2006 places a duty on governing bodies of maintained schools to promote the wellbeing of pupils at the school, including protection from harm and neglect.
Safeguarding must also take into consideration the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.
Working Together to Safeguard Children July 2018 is a government guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
The importance of teaching children how to be safe online
Teaching internet safety to children is more important than ever. One in three young people have experienced cyberbullying and, according to UNICEF, one in five have even skipped school because of bullying online.
Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet, through social media, online gaming or mobile phones. Children and young people may be the victims of online grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse. They also may be exposed to sexting, online misrepresentation and cyberbullying. Sexting is where people share sexual images via text message or through messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. It is illegal for anyone to post an indecent or nude picture online of someone under 18. Online misrepresentation, popularly known as catfishing, is when someone pretends to be someone else to befriend people online. Often, people use pictures of people that are younger than themselves or of the opposite sex on social media accounts and chat rooms. These relationships can become romantic and sometimes lead to emotional or sexual abuse.
As part of mandatory Relationship, Health and Sex Education (RHSE) in primary and secondary schools, pupils should be taught about online safety in an age-appropriate way.
This includes being taught:
- What positive, healthy and respectful online relationships look like
- The effects of their online actions on others
- How to recognise and display respectful behaviour online
- How to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely
- Where to go for help and support when they have concerns
Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) safeguarding guidance explains that schools and colleges should have an appropriate filtering and monitoring systems in place to block harmful or inappropriate material on school IT systems. Teaching Online Safety in Schools guidance helps schools to integrate learning about online safety within the curriculum.
Why is safeguarding training important?
It is important that we all understand safeguarding, and know what to do should safeguarding concerns arise.
Safeguarding induction and training is essential for all staff appropriate to their role, including:
- Information on types of harm, abuse and neglect
- How to spot abuse
- How to respond to concerns
- Who to report concerns to
All teachers should attend all relevant training and development provided by their school and be aware of all their responsibilities in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020. An example of appropriate safeguarding training includes Safeguarding Children Level 2, designed for teachers who are working with children and teaches the skills needed to safeguard vulnerable children that are at higher risk of abuse.
Managers should evaluate changes in understanding and confidence before and after training, assessing this:
- Immediately after the training
- In regular long-term evaluations, for example as part of supervision sessions
- Annually, for example as part of the performance management/appraisal process
Line managers should provide feedback through supervision and appraisals, acknowledging how teaching staff have learned from their experience of identifying, reporting and managing safeguarding concerns.
How often should teachers renew their safeguarding training?
Headteachers and designated safeguarding leads should assess teachers’ safeguarding knowledge annually, and run refresher training if needed. To help teachers increase their confidence in managing safeguarding concerns, they should at a minimum refresh their safeguarding training at least every 2 years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).