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Supporting children in care and all young people to handle social media

31 Dec

Parents and teachers face several challenging when bringing up young people.  Two groups of young people stand out.  The first is children in care.  The second relates to young people who are in danger of being addicted to social media.

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The Department for Education issues new security guidance for schools, academies and colleges

31 Dec

On 5 November 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) published new security guidance for schools, academies and colleges.  Institutions should follow the guidance alongside safeguarding responsibilities and obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).

The government is keen for schools and academies to take the matter of security even more seriously than they did before.  When criticised that it had not been more prescriptive on this subject, the government spokesperson said that schools and academy leaders were best-placed to make decisions on their own security policies.  The guidance encourages schools and academies to form partnerships with the police and local authorities when taking measures to tighten up on security, so that they can share information.

According to the British Educational Suppliers’ Association (BESA), there were 24,323 schools and academies in England in 2019. This included 391 at nursery, 16,769 at primary and 3,448 at secondary level.  There were also 1,044 special schools and academies and 352 Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). However, over the consultation period about security, only 26 schools and academies responded to the DfE.  The DfE said that 51% of respondents did not think that the guidance was enough and only 41% said that it was.

The DfE spokesperson said: “Our assessment is that these responses show that there is no consensus about whether the guidance should be more prescriptive than the consultation draft, or that an enabling document that directs schools and colleges to expert advice is a preferable approach.”

The DfE said it had rewritten the guidance to make it flow better and strengthened advice on the curriculum, police-school partnership arrangements, the value of developing relationships more widely, and testing recovery and business continuity.  The guidance stresses that schools and academies should “regularly test policies and handling plans”.

“Practice drills will identify where improvements can be made and enable you to assess what the wider residual effects of an incident are likely to be. You should consider involving neighbouring schools or colleges, local police, local authorities, academy trusts or other outside agencies in helping evaluate practice drills.”

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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.

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Managing critical incidents: tragedies, threats and disasters

12 Aug

(1)     Preparing for the unexpected

Schools/academies are centres of learning.  However, threats, disasters and tragedies sometimes disrupt the conditions for learning.   Governors, headteachers and staff must deal with mishaps and calamities expeditiously and effectively as and when they arise.  This is possible only if there are critical incident plans in place.   Better still, governors, headteachers and staff should be familiar with the contents of these plans and take swift and appropriate action in line with them as and when needs must.

What does one do if the school/academy is on fire? How will the authorities act if pupils on a school trip are involved in a car, plane, train or boat crash?  What if a pupil suffering from epilepsy has a fit but the school is not aware of her condition or does not know what to do in such an eventuality?   Preparation for these unusual events are crucial for the smooth running of the institution.

The Department for Education (DfE) has provided useful guidance for schools/academies on what to do to plan for such emergencies. A plan must be generic and provide for responding appropriate to the following incidents.

  • Serious injury to a pupil or member of staff as a consequence (for instance) of a transport accident
  • Serious injuries to pupils who are on a school trip on road, sea or air
  • Significant damage to school property (e.g. fire)
  • Criminal activity (e.g. bomb threat)
  • Severe weather resulting, for instance, in flooding
  • Public health incidents such as a flu pandemic
  • The effects of a disaster in the local community – such as the Grenfell Tower inferno that happened in the summer of 2019.

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Promoting children’s welfare: foci on obesity and knives

17 Aug

Schools and academies are responsible for promoting children’s welfare and protecting them from harm.  They do so very well – indeed so much so that Children’s Social Services are relieved when they (the schools/academies) shut down for the summer recess. It is then that the pressure of constant referrals that schools/academies make to Social Workers of children being physically, sexually and emotionally abused or neglected reduces significantly.

Two other areas to which governors, headteachers and staff members should give some attention are children’s love of fast foods, especially their penchant for fast foods – a key cause of obesity – and the increasing incidence of knife crime.

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Safeguarding Children: new DfE advice issued

20 Apr

Keeping Children Safe in Education, statutory guidance from the Department for Education, was issued 5 September 2016.   On 14 December 2017, the government began consultation on

  • revisions to the guidance and the legal duties with which they must comply to keep children safe and
  • new advice on sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges

The consultations, which sought views on a new non-statutory 41-page document that gives schools long-awaited advice on how to deal with peer-on-peer abuse, including sexual assaults and sexual harassment committed by children on other children, closed on 22 February 2018.

Changes in the new version of the document, which takes effect in September 2018, were prompted by a number of factors, such as worries about peer-on-peer abuse, “a coroner’s concerns following the death of a child” and requests from schools for more clarity about exchange visits.

In 2017, The Times Educational Supplement reported that some schools had put pupils who were raped back into the classroom with their alleged attackers.

Deighton Pierce Glynn, Solicitors, wrote to ex-Education Secretary Justine Greening in September 2017, accusing her of being in breach of her duties under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination against girls in school.

In November 2017, financially supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), they threatened judicial review proceedings if the DfE did not act quickly to protect students from peer-on-peer abuse.

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Green Paper on mental health provision in schools and academies

31 Dec

I        Proposals

On 4 December 2017, the government published a Green Paper and an open consultation around “transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”.[1] Jointly issued by the Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, the Green Paper sets out plans which could have implications for how schools deal with mental ill-health amongst children and young people. The Paper proposes that every school/academy appoint an individual as a “designated lead in mental health”, with a national training programme fully in place by 2025. This individual will take the lead to help young people with mental health issues, provide support and advice to them and staff, and teach students about the warning signs associated with poor mental health.

The mental health lead will also have the power to make referrals to “specialist services” for the victims of mental ill-health.

The proposals recommend that each school mental health lead be linked to wider support teams, forming a bridge between the school/academy/college and the NHS which will mean that every school/academic and college will find it much easier to contact and work with mental health services.

As part of the initiative, the government wants to carry out further research around

  • the impact of the internet, particularly social media, on mental health;
  • how families can provide support to those suffering with mental health issues; and
  • how mental health problems can be avoided in the future.

Further work will also be carried out to see how mental health for 16-25 year olds can be improved.

In the Executive Summary, the government trumpeted what it had already achieved.  It mentioned the following.

“We have:

(i)         legislated for parity of esteem between physical and mental health;

(ii)        promised to ensure that an additional 70,000 children and young people per year will obtain support from mental health services by 2020/21;

(iii)       improved services for eating disorders, with an additional £30 million of investment, established 70 new or enhanced Community Eating Disorder Teams, and set the first-ever waiting times for eating disorders and psychosis;

(iv)       funded eight areas to test different crisis approaches for children and young people’s mental health and tested New Care Models for Mental Health; and

(v)        published cross-agency Local Transformation Plans for children and young people’s mental health for every area of the country.”

In the second chapter of the Green Paper added: “We have made our commitment clear through significant investment in services for children and young people, including:

  1. legislating for parity of esteem between physical and mental health in 2012;
  2. investing record levels in mental health services, totalling £11.6 billion in 2016/17;
  3. making an additional £1.4 billion available for children’s and young people’s mental health between 2015/16 – 2019/20 to enable an additional 70,000 children per year to be seen by children’s and young people’s mental health services by 2020/21; and
  4. committing to recruit 1,700 more therapists and supervisors, and train 3,400 existing staff to deliver evidence based treatments.”

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On-line Safeguarding

31 Dec

I        Preamble

Safeguarding arrangements in every school/academy have to be strong, robust and stand up to scrutiny.  Ofsted inspectors put considerable store on them when they visit.  Should the arrangements fail to pass muster, the school/academy is placed in special measures.

Safeguarding covers a raft of issues – child protection against physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect – taking prime importance.  Altogether, safeguarding pupils in a school/academy is profoundly important.

The Metropolitan Police (MP), like all the other 42 police forces in the country, is struggling to come to grips with the growing menace of the sexual harassment of children online.  Jon Severs, commissioning editor of The Times Educational Supplement, was given access to two of the MP’s teams – the Predatory Offenders Unit and the Sexual Exploitation Team – to show how serious the problem was.   His accounts were published in the TES on 13 October 2017.

The victims of online abuse are getting younger. Some are only eight years old.   However, sexual abuse is not new.  It has been around for centuries.   Most abuse takes place within families.   What has happened is that it has grown exponentially through the world-wide web, applications and social media.

Adults in families would not have had experience of this when they were children.  They are more familiar with “stranger danger” – protecting their children in the way they were protected two or three decades earlier with their parents telling them to take care when they were outside in parks and on the roads.

Today, children are vulnerable in schools/academies from fellow peers.  The government has just published guidance on how they how best to deal with peer-on-peer sexual harassment and violence.

Children are also vulnerable in their bedrooms, where they should be safe.  When youngsters go online, they open their doors to the world of predators.  Some of the latter are young people too – under the age of 18.   These youngsters are oblivious to the dangers and have little information and understanding of them.

The police state that the problem is not technology but human behaviour.   Technology, like water or fire, is a bad master but can be a good servant.

A school’s job is not to combat and take on the evils of society, but outside children’s homes, teachers have the biggest impact on young people.   In my experience, parents are their children’s prime influencers till children reach the age of seven.  From seven to 13, teachers exert stronger influence in their lives.  From 13 to 18, it is fellow pupils and both, teachers and parents, are often perceived by the young people as “inferior”.

Media reports are peppered with stories of girls being sexually abused.  However, boys are also victims.  The misuse of technology has created an abhorrent trend and technology is here to stay. We cannot put it back into Pandora’s box.  Accordingly, we must educate our children to use it well – not to abuse it or be victims of those who do so.  The next section focuses on one such boy, Breck, who had his short life terminated by another youth who sexually exploited him.  His full story is recounted in the Times Education Supplement but reports on his sad saga are on the BBC and The Guardian websites

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Keeping children safe: basis for happiness and success

18 Aug

Creating the right environment for learning facilitates learning.   If children are to succeed at school, they must have excellent teachers.  But that is not enough.   They must want to learn.  Establishing the right conditions for this desire means that they should be happy.   Keeping them safe is one of the prerequisites of happiness.

Consequently, the Department for Education (DfE) has taken pains to develop advice in Keeping Children Safe in Education, which is 76 pages long.   Ofsted, too, places enormous store on the arrangements the school/academy makes to safeguard young learners.   Should a school/academy fail to safeguard them sufficiently well, it is immediately put into special measures.

All adults working and volunteering at a school/academy – including governors and trustees – must now have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.  However, two groups of people associated with children are exempt from these checks.  These are children’s parents and carers and their peers studying at their schools/academies or neighbouring schools/academies.

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The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

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