The Department for Education’s updated statutory guidance on ‘Keeping children safe in education’ was put into effect on 3 April 2014. Below, Joanna Lada-Walicki, partner and head of Education at law firm Barlow Robbins LLP, sets out the changes with which schools should now be complying.
New measures introduced in the guidance undoubtedly bolster the safeguarding regime within schools.
Schools have been required to review and upgrade their policies and procedures and to ensure that their staff (including volunteers) understand their individual, as well as the school’s collective obligations in relation to safeguarding and child protection.
Schools are now required to ensure that all staff read at least part 1 of the guidance, entitled ‘Safeguarding information for all staff’. This sets out examples of the different types of abuse and neglect, so staff understand what they should be looking out for. This includes sexting, fabricated or induced illness, teenage relationship abuse and sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation.
Significantly, the guidance states in several places that ‘anybody’ may make a referral to children’s social care. This is one step closer to mandatory reporting. What this means is that if any member of staff has concerns and considers that these are not being followed up appropriately by those with safeguarding responsibilities i.e. the designated safeguarding lead, that member of staff may directly make a referral.
In addition to the already familiar requirement for schools to ensure that an effective child protection policy is in place, schools must now also ensure that a staff behaviour policy, or code of conduct, is also in place. This will be new to many schools. All staff need to understand what this code means to them in terms of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and both policies must be provided to staff on induction.
The person within each school with prime responsibility for safeguarding is now called the ‘designated safeguarding lead’ and the new guidance requires that this person is appointed from the school’s leadership team and receives training every two years.
There is also now a requirement for all schools to have procedures in place to handle allegations against other children, as well as against staff.
In terms of recruitment, the school must carry out a check that the candidate is not subject to a prohibition order issued by the National College for Teaching and Leadership in addition to the usual pre-appointment checks. Greater clarity is given as to what amounts to ‘regulated activity’.
Specific guidance is given as to whether, and if so what, checks are required in relation to volunteers – although there is an apparent inconsistency in respect of new volunteers not engaged in regulated activity. This is in relation to contractors, existing staff, agency staff and adults who supervise children on work experience.
Part 4 of the document sets out how to manage cases of abuse made against teachers and other staff. This replaces, but largely reflects and updates ‘Dealing with allegations of abuse against teachers and other staff’ guidance published in October 2012. This reminds schools of the legal requirement to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service when it is alleged that a member of staff poses a risk of harm to a child, may have harmed a child, or may have committed a criminal offence related to a child.
Within the statutory framework relating to safeguarding and child protection, bolstered by this guidance, it is very unlikely that the abuses of the past would go undetected today and it is much less likely that children will be abused. That said, no laws can ensure 100% protection for those whom they seek to protect.