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The law on ... Child protection

Basic issues

Unfortunately, we live in a society where there is a real risk of abuse to children. For schools, the protection and safety of a child is paramount.

Teachers have been charged with the added responsibility of reporting concerns of child abuse. The General Teaching Council for England's code of practice points out that teachers could be found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure pupils' safety or co-operate with other agencies.

There is a wealth of information available to teachers to assist in dealing with this issue, including a book called Child Protection for Teachers by Yvonne Quirk, which is a guide to identifying what child abuse is, how to spot it and practical steps for dealing with it. It also explains teachers' legal obligations and how to meet them.

Child abuse may not only occur at home, and allegations can also be made against teachers at school. In order to protect themselves against such allegations, teachers should never attend to a child's injuries on their own, always have a helper wherever possible and retain notes of incidents that may occur in or out of the classroom.

Schools may delegate specific responsibility to certain personnel or members of staff. If an allegation is made against a headteacher, the chair of governors would be in charge of leading an investigation into the matter.

Watch out for

Abuse can often be subtle and go undetected for many months, sometimes years. It is important that information is provided to staff so that ill- treatment can be detected early on. The range of abuse goes from simple neglect, where basic needs aren't being met, through to emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse - all of which may display different symptoms.

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