John Brownlow, head of professional engagement at the NSPCC, writes:
Last week, the DfE released an update on safeguarding, entitled Keeping children safe in education. The guidance is welcome: it is more concise than its predecessor, while also managing to be clearer about the role of individuals in a school and what they should do if they have child protection concerns.
The specific responsibility put on governors to ensure that all staff read the new guidance is also positive, as it will ensure that all are clear about what processes and duties apply to them to keep children safe.
But, of course, guidance, processes and duties – however clear they may be – mean nothing if not translated into action. We’ve seen too many cases where children have been let down by those who had a clear duty to protect them.
The faces of Daniel Pelka, Victoria Climbie, Peter Connelly – to name but a few – serve as an eternal reminder of why we need to do better. Their stories are why the oft-quoted phrase “Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility” must never be one we merely pay lip service to; it needs to be one that informs practice day in and day out.
It is because of those people that do take responsibility that there are many cases we thankfully don’t end up hearing about in the news. These are the cases where action has been taken early by someone – and often that someone is a teacher – leading to a child being protected and tragedy being averted.
So what can schools do to help ensure this is the case for all children in their care?
Creating the right culture is vital. Staff must feel supported when reporting any worries and children must know that someone will listen to them if they have problems. I strongly believe in a zero-threshold approach. We’ve previously carried out research along with Youthworks on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner into best safeguarding practice in primary schools. A teacher in one of the best schools told us, “Threshold doesn't exist – it is whatever is worrying you.”
This zero-threshold approach, which encourages teachers to report and record even the smallest niggles about a child’s welfare, can help guard against the dangers of complacency. The DfE guidance calls on staff to maintain an ‘it could happen here’ attitude where safeguarding is concerned – and it is right to do so. Sadly, child abuse and neglect occurs across all sections of society and in all communities; to think otherwise leads to children being let down.
Children must also feel that they can approach staff at the school and be listened to. In the same research we undertook for the OCC, one child said of the staff at their school, “They’ll listen to you and can understand and you can talk to adults you trust.” This is something that we want and need to recreate in all schools if children are to be kept safe.
In order that they can take action, staff must have an understanding of what the signs of abuse and neglect are. Having at least basic child protection training for all staff, along with more specialist training for the Designated Senior Person (DSP) for safeguarding, is crucial and something that the NSPCC prides itself in providing. I welcome that the DfE guidance specifically refers to our training and online advice as a source of support on a number of topics, including child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and online safety.
To help teachers further, we will also soon be launching a free self-assessment tool for schools, in partnership with TES. This will allow DSPs to assess which safeguarding arrangements are already in place for their school and what more needs to be done by creating a personalised action plan for them.
Making sure that teachers clearly understand what action to take is more important than ever.
The 2014 edition of our annual “How safe are our children?” report, released last week, has found that children’s social services are stretched to the point where, acting alone, they struggle to be more than an emergency service. The report reinforced that preventing child maltreatment requires action from everyone – the individual, family, community and society. In this way, the real child protection system extends well beyond children’s social care. Teachers are a huge part of this and clearly play a crucial part in keeping children safe.
Well-informed school staff, along with other professionals and members of the public, can play an essential role in helping to prevent harm and abuse before it even starts.
Ultimately, it’s a compassionate mindset and willingness to act that can change the course of an individual child’s life for the better and make schools and wider society safer for children everywhere.
That is the child protection system that will make a real difference to the welfare of our children.
For more on safeguarding, have a look at the NSPCC’s free teaching resources on TES Connect