Keeping children safe: more changes take effect from September

12 Aug

More changes are to take effect from September 2019 so that schools and academies keep children safer.  At the time of writing, the updated guidance had not been published.  What is extant on keeping children safe in schools, academies and colleges can be found here. The Department for Education has been extremely helpful in that it has brought together everything that you should know about safeguarding children in one on-line document which you can access here.

(1)       What’s new

(a)        On-line safety

Much of the law and guidance has been around for some time.  What is relatively new is the measures trustees, governors and staff in schools and academies should take to protect youngsters from peer-on-peer abuse. In particular, steps are necessary to prevent “up-skirting”. A peer up-skirts when he photographs a girl’s clothing – without her knowing – for sexual gratification.

Adults – especially teaching and support staff in schools/academies – are required to put into action the on-line safety guidance from the DfE.  (See the paragraph above.)

(b)       Peer-on-peer abuse

Peer-on-peer abuse is particularly daunting because, more often than not, both, the victim and the perpetrator are vulnerable, the victim because s/he has suffered abuse at the hands of the perpetrator and the perpetrator because s/he has probably been a victim somewhere else and is venting her/his spleen on the victim.

David Smellie, partner at the law firm Farrer, provided The Times Education Supplement with 10 recommendations for schools/academies to use when dealing with this kind of abuse.  These are as follows.

(1)        Make a prompt referral to statutory agencies.

(2)        Always remember the statutory right of the victim to anonymity.

(3)        Be proactive with police and social services. Propose how you think the school/academy should handle it and seek to get staff on board.

(4)        Remember the role that can be played by local rape and sexual violence crisis centres. Victims will often be very nervous about reporting to or cooperating with the police. These centres have the expertise to be able to offer concrete and confidential advice to victims and there is no risk to victims from seeking that advice.

(5)        When facing either a decision by the police not to investigate (for example, by reason of the victim’s wishes) or where there has been an arrest but with a lengthy investigation in prospect, look to develop a safety plan.

(6)        The default option must not be to move or remove the victim. Remember that if that happens, you will forever undermine the confidence of future victims of sexual violence to report or come forward.

(7)        Any safety plan in these circumstances must involve detailed consultation with the victim and her/his family and with the accused and her/his family. Use advice from children’s services and police to inform the assessment of risk and possible mitigation measures.

(8)        Secure buy-in from statutory agencies to any safety plan. They may not be that keen at first, but it pays to be persistent.

(9)        Supplement advice where necessary with your own expert inputs, for example from the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, and/or adolescent psychologists.

(10)      At all stages, talk and keep talking to the victim, and offer support in whatever way you can.

Evidence that a crime may have been committed includes the following.

  • A pupil may be in possession of unexplained gifts. These (the gifts) may indicate that s/he has been approached by or involved with individuals associated with criminal networks/gangs.
  • A pupil has an increase of unexplained absence from school/academy.
  • The pupil has a change in friendship/relationships with others/groups.
  • The performance of the pupil has declined significantly.
  • The pupil is showing signs of serious self-harm and there has been an unexplained change in her/his wellbeing.
  • The child has signs of assault and/or unexplained injuries

(2)       Working with the agencies

The Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) are to be phased out.  However, the new safeguarding partners and child-death review partner arrangements must be up-and-running by 29 September 2019.  It is a matter for a school/academy to be omniscient (all-knowing) about the new local arrangements with its local authority.

The three local partners are the local authority (LA), the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the Child Police Officer in the area.

(3)       Safer Recruitment

The guidance points out that academies and maintained schools should carry out section 128 checks on their governors.  However, schools and academies are not required to take out enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.

(4)       Link Governor

Every school/academy should have a link governor responsible for overseeing the safeguarding arrangements in the institution.  The Key produced a very helpful job-description for this person which is as follows.

(a)        Keep up to date with statutory guidance relating to safeguarding and child protection and any advice issued by the local safeguarding children board (LSCB) – which will not be in existence for much longer.

(b)        Attend training for safeguarding link governors.

(c)        Ensure the governing board has suitable and up-to-date policies for:

  • child protection;
  • staff code of conduct/staff behavior; and
  • handling allegations against staff and volunteers

(d)        Ensure the school/academy has appropriate safeguarding responses to children who go missing from education, to help identify the risk of abuse and neglect and help prevent further incidents

(e)        Ensure the school/academy has appropriate online filters and monitoring systems in place.

(f)        Report back to the full governing board about safeguarding issues and developments.

(g)        Encourage other members of the board to develop their understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities.

(h)        Make sure the school/academy has appointed a designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and appropriate deputies.

(i)         Make sure the school/academy has appointed a designated teacher to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children, and that this person has appropriate training.

(j)         Meet regularly with the DSL to ensure that the school’s/academy’s policy and procedures are effective, and all staff, governors and volunteers have had the appropriate level of training.

(k)        Make sure the DSL has sufficient time, resources and training to carry out her/his role effectively.

(l)         Ensure the curriculum covers safeguarding, including online safety.

(m)      Monitor the single central record (SCR) alongside the DSL to ensure the school/academy carries out the appropriate recruitment checks on staff and trustees, though checks carried out on maintained school governors and local authority governors in an academy trust don’t need to be recorded on the SCR – though it is good practice to do so.

When a safeguarding event occurs at the school/academy, the governing board should be apprised of it.  Members – especially the link governor for safeguarding – should ask the following questions.

  • What type of incident occurred, such as online bullying or an incident with a staff member?
  • Were policies and procedures followed?
  • Did any external organisation/s need to get involved?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Was this an isolated incident or is there a pattern?
  • What was the school/academy doing in this area before this incident happened? Were the safeguarding procedures compliant? Could the school/academy have done anything to prevent it from happening? (If it was an online safety issue for example, question how well the school/academy was teaching children about staying safe online.)
  • Does the school/academy have a risk assessment that accounted for this?
  • Has this brought the school/academy into disrepute in any way?
  • Are parents aware of the incident and does the school/academy need to do any consultation or outreach work to make sure the children are safe?
  • What lessons have we learnt? What can we do to prevent this happening again?
  • Has appropriate action in a timely way been taken by the DSL and involved staff members?

Governors should not ask for specific details about the case which would be a breach of data protection legislation and confidentiality.  Also, governors don’t need information about individual referrals in order to carry out their monitoring role.

(5)       Questions that the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) must ask

If the DSL is to carry out her/his responsibilities well, s/he should address the following issues.

(a)        Do pupils feel protected and safe? How do you know?

(b)        Are there effective safeguarding, pupil behaviours and staff behaviour policies that are well understood by everyone?

(c)        Are staff and other adults clear about procedures where they’re concerned about the safety of children, including what to do when children go missing from school?

(d)        Do staff receive training on protecting children?

(e)        How do you make sure written records are made in a timely way, stored securely and shared appropriately?

(f)        Are safeguarding risks known to trustees, governors and staff and shared with external agencies where appropriate?

(g)        Do all staff have a copy of and understand the written procedures for managing allegations of harm to a child?

(h)        Are safer recruitment procedures in place?

(i)         Is the physical environment safe?

(j)         How are discrimination and peer-on-peer abuse tackled in school/academy?

(k)        What online safety measures are in place?

(l)         How is the Prevent duty implemented?

(m)      Can you do everything that you need to do in your role? What can’t you do? What can the school/academy do to help you?

(6)       Commentary

It is unsurprising that the government and Ofsted pay such close attention to the safeguarding arrangements that schools and academies have in place given the surfeit of sexual exploitation, extremism, radicalisation and the dangers of mobile technology.

Lord Michael Bichard, the former Permanent Secretary for Education, who led the public enquiry into the murders of 10-year-old Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in Soham, Cambridgeshire in 2004, highlighted four important matters for schools and academies to remember when address The Key.

  • Be vigilant
  • Believe it could happen in one’s school/academy.
  • Revise policy and practice into safeguarding children regularly.
  • Ensure that everyone plays her/his part.
  • Never believe it is someone else’s responsibility rather that one’s own.

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