From September 2021, education settings will have to abide by the new Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) guidance – which contains notable new updates around allegation management.
The Department for Education has – after consultation with the sector – updated this with the aim of making this section much clearer and removing previous grey areas.
To ensure compliance you will need to look at your policies and procedures and see how they match with the new guidance.
What has been updated?
Managing allegations towards your team is never an enjoyable part of the job. The new guidance aims to ensure that this process is dealt with as professionally and as quickly as possible.
It offers clarity on how to handle cases based on the threshold they fall into. The section is now split into two parts:
- Part one (starting on page 81): for those incidents that are likely to meet the threshold and require relevant investigation;
- Part two (starting on page 95): low-level cases that – while they do not necessarily warrant further investigation initially – may form the basis of a wider concerning picture.
So what is new?
In the update, one notable change is around when contact needs to be made with the Local Authority Designated Officer:
"Where appropriate an assessment of transferable risk to children with whom the person works should be undertaken. If in doubt seek advice from the local authority designated officer (LADO)." (section 340 of KCSIE, p.82)
This gives us clarity on what should be done before the LADO is contacted (a simple line of inquiry that would offer a full picture but not jeopardise future investigations) as well as clear guidance on what is deemed a "transferable risk" (when somebody is not suitable to work with children regardless of the setting).
There is also an update for allegations against governors on page 85 as follows:
"If an allegation is made against a governor, schools and colleges should follow their own local procedures. Where an allegation is substantiated, they should follow the procedures to consider removing them from office." (section 360 of KCSIE, p.85)
This is another important area where leaders may need to update their policies to ensure clarity for staff.
What changes need to happen?
So, what does this mean for the policies that schools already have in place?
Firstly, it is important to note that managing allegations should not only form part of your safeguarding policy, but that the procedures around the process should be reflected in other policies such as your staff behaviour policy/handbook and your whistleblowing policy.
Having these topics reflected in the various policy strands helps to ensure that safeguarding is demonstrated as a top priority. This, in turn, helps to set the right safeguarding culture for your establishment – and culture around safeguarding is another element of the new guidance that is given more prominence.
In this new update, there is now specific guidance on the culture leaders create in the school.
"Creating a culture in which all concerns about adults (including allegations that do not meet the harms threshold (see Part Four - Section one) are shared responsible and with the right person, recorded and dealt with appropriately, is critical.
"If implemented correctly, this should encourage an open and transparent culture; enable schools and colleges to identify concerning, problematic or inappropriate behaviour early; minimise the risk of abuse; and ensure that adults working in or on behalf of the school or college are clear about professional boundaries and act within these boundaries, and in accordance with the ethos and values of the institution." (section 408 of KCSIE, p.95)
Indeed, whenever I get asked to audit a provision, the safeguarding culture is one of the main areas that I scrutinise.
A transparent culture in relation to safeguarding is vital. All staff should feel supported with safeguarding, and processes should be clear to them, including what a process around an allegation towards an adult looks like.
Where the safeguarding culture is veiled, the risks are usually higher.
Policies and procedures should be easily accessible for staff, and they should be encouraged to keep on top of changes as they happen, not just during the annual safeguarding update at the start of the new academic year.
The new update makes it clear there is an expectation that CPD will be tailored in response to current events in the school, ensuring that staff have the knowledge they need to react to the latest safeguarding issues.
"…Consideration should also be given to whether there are wider cultural issues within the school or college that enabled the behaviour to occur and where appropriate policies could be revised or extra training delivered to minimise the risk of it happening again." (section 421 of KCSIE, p.98)
It's clear that a robust programme of CPD incorporating safeguarding topics is important and expected.
'Nagging doubt' concerns
The new update also outlines how policies should reference what staff must do if they have a "nagging doubt".
"A good low-level concerns policy will simply be a reflection and extension of the school’s or college’s wider staff behaviour policy/code of conduct." (section 426 of KCSIE, p.99)
All staff should know who to talk to and where to record these concerns.
Section Two of Part Four of KCSIE (Sept 2021) on page 95 is very clear about what a low-level concern is, and safeguarding policies should reference this.
Policies and processes should be in place for dealing with those situations that do not meet the threshold; the guidance is very clear that both your safeguarding policy and staff code of conduct should set out what is deemed a low-level concern and how it should be recorded.
Duty of care
Remember that managing allegations is a difficult time for all those involved, and it should be navigated carefully.
The "case manager" (usually the headteacher) has a duty to ensure not only the wellbeing of the student(s) involved but also a duty of care towards the staff members.
Often, the default position is that the staff member should be suspended, for their and the children’s safety, however the guidance makes it clear: it is important to ensure that before suspension is implemented (unless no other option is available at this stage), the necessary guidance is sought from the LADO and preliminary investigations have been completed.
This is a stressful time for all those involved, not least the member of staff against whom the allegation is made. It is in everybody’s best interests for allegations to be dealt with in a timely but considered manner.
Three questions to ask
When amending your policies to reflect these changes, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you know that your safeguarding culture is transparent?
- Do you know that your policies are being followed effectively?
- How do you know that your staff feel empowered to deal with safeguarding concerns?
While not related to allegation management one other notable change is found around abuse between pupils, where the language has been strengthened to ensure staff understand that incidents involving peer-on-peer abuse should not be dismissed.
The guidance reads: "Downplaying certain behaviours, for example dismissing sexual harassment as 'just banter', 'just having a laugh', 'part of growing up' or 'boys being boys' can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviours, an unsafe environment for children and in worst-case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it." (Page 36, Section 145)
Other changes in this section see the definition of bullying expanded to include "cyberbullying, prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying" and expanding physical abuse definition to include "an online element which facilitates, threatens and/or encourages physical abuse".
Craig Keady is Director of Client Services for Satis Education, previously Trust-wide Vice Principal for DRET and Senior Education Consultant for the NSPCC