'Common sense' on safeguarding leaves schools 'exposed'

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Unions predict increased burden for heads after policy change

New Government "common sense" policies on safe-guarding pupils will leave teachers and schools "exposed", heads' leaders have warned.

The Government has enlisted Professor Eileen Munro from the London School of Economics to review front-line child protection practice in a bid to remove "unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation".

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has predicted this will lead to "significant changes" for schools, and that heads will be left to make decisions independently.

"We expect very little Government guidance from now on; it's going to be a more exposed world for teachers," said ASCL legal consultant Richard Bird.

"The emphasis will shift from checking those working with children to teachers being asked to do more to tackle gang activity, sexual exploitation and community crime."

Education minister Tim Loughton outlined the new "common sense" approach to child protection to MPs at an education select committee last Wednesday.

The findings of inquiries into major incidents involving children have been publicly available since the Government took office in May. The reports cover the role of all professionals, including teachers.

"The (inquiry findings) apportion responsibility," Mr Loughton said. "This means all partners involved in the care of children will have to pull their socks up. Teachers need to make sure they are absolutely integrated in the safeguarding system."

The "common sense" approach was part of the reason behind the decision to put the controversial vetting and barring scheme on hold while the Government decides how to scale it back. Unions have said they are worried about this decision.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "Vetting and barring is a horrible mess and our members are in the middle of this. They've always been able to make common-sense decisions, and will continue to do so. But what they want is a simple system.

"Nobody seems ready to have a common-sense conversation about how much risk they are willing to bear.

"Heads are happy to have responsibility, but they need to know they are doing the right thing and have done their duty. They also need consistent arrangements, rather than vetting and barring being done on a case-by-case basis."

Brian Lightman, ASCL general secretary, said: "We are hoping this confusion will be cleared up, and that safeguarding procedures are simplified and streamlined.

"Any decisions have to be considered in line with changes to the General Teaching Council. But this is a difficult interim period."


Baby P effect

The Baby P case has led to major staffing changes in local authorities.

A total of 40 out of the 152 directors of children's services in England have left their posts in the past year, according to Colin Green, of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) and head of children's services at Coventry City Council.

"Some have been retirements but there has been a higher rate of churn," said Mr Green, who is chair of the ADCS's families, communities and young people policy committee.

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