The government is updating its guidance on safeguarding children in schools and colleges.
A consultation on changes to its key statutory document, Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE), closes on Thursday.
The Department for Education is also seeking views on a new non-statutory 41-page document that gives schools long-awaited advice on how to deal with peer-on-peer abuse – sexual assaults and sexual harassment committed by children on other children.
Why does the government want to update the guidance?
KCSIE was last updated in 2016. The DfE says the aim of the new changes is “to help schools and colleges to better understand what they are required to do by law and what we strongly advise they should do in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of children”.
Changes in the new version of the document have been 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.
Why is the government issuing advice on peer-on-peer abuse?
Last year, Tes reported that some schools have put pupils who were raped back into the classroom with their alleged attackers.
MPs and charities warned that a “gap” in the government’s safeguarding guidance had left schools struggling to respond to cases of peer-on-peer abuse. Only a small section of the current KCSIE is devoted to the issue.
The government has also been under increasing legal pressure.
In September, solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn wrote to then-education secretary Justine Greening, accusing her of being in breach of her duties under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination against girls in school.
Two months later, they threatened judicial review proceedings if the DfE did not act quickly to protect students from peer-on-peer abuse. The legal campaign was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
What does the new advice on peer-on-peer abuse say?
The new document, Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges, tells schools not to dismiss sexual violence or sexual harassment as “banter”, “part of growing up”, “just having a laugh” or “boys being boys” – and to challenge behaviour such as grabbing bottoms, breasts and genitalia.
It is clear that “where there is a report of a rape, assault by penetration or sexual assault, the starting point is it should be passed to the police”, and tells schools that their safeguarding duties remain the same whether the incident took place on or off their premises.
Crucially, the document says the alleged perpetrator should be removed from any classes they share with the victim.
It adds: “The school or college should also consider how best to keep the victim and alleged perpetrator a reasonable distance apart on school or college premises and on transport to and from the school or college where appropriate.
“These actions are in the best interests of both children and should not be perceived to be a judgment on the guilt of the alleged perpetrator.”
The document also gives advice about situations where a police investigation is ongoing, where a pupil is convicted or not convicted, and how to safeguard and support the alleged perpetrator.
What else is the government proposing?
Apart from the new document on peer-on-peer abuse, the DfE wants to make numerous changes to Keeping children safe in education. While a number are minor and technical, here are some of the more substantial proposed alternations:
- Exchange trips: The proposals say that, although schools cannot get DBS checks on adults who provide homestays abroad, schools should liaise with partner schools abroad to understand what arrangements are in place, and “should also satisfy themselves that these are appropriate and sufficient to safeguard effectively every child who will take part in the exchange”.
- Special educational needs and disability (SEND): A new paragraph says schools should carefully consider the risk of using restraint or isolation for children with SEND, “given the additional vulnerability of the group”. It says that proactive behaviour support can reduce risky behaviour and the need to use restraint.
- Emergency contact numbers: The revisions recommend that schools and colleges hold more than one emergency contact number for each pupil. The change follows a report by a coroner following a child’s death. This goes beyond the legal minimum, but is described as good practice.
- Recruitment: The section on recruitment already sets out information that schools and colleges must record on their single central record. The DfE plans to make it clear that schools can include non-mandatory information on this record as well.
- Online safety: The department asked schools, colleges, software providers and sector experts whether it could make improvements to its advice on online safety.
What happens next?
The consultation closes at 11.45pm on 22 February. Until then, responses can be submitted here.
The DfE says the results of the consultation – and its response – will be published in “early summer 2018”.
The revised guidance is expected to take effect in September 2018.
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