Kid-saving classes are bureaucracy gone good

4th September 2009 at 01:00

Recently a headteacher expressed frustration on these pages about having to start this term with a day of child-protection training for his entire staff.

I can sympathise. On Wednesday, my school was due to have a safeguarding inset day, too - and as I left for the session, part of me was wishing I was still pottering in the garden with a cup of coffee and a pair of secateurs.

Of course it can be tiresome to organise these mass training sessions. And with the new "rarely cover" rule biting hard, all schools are limited on how we best deliver such priorities. But that, surely, is what safeguarding should be: a priority.

As our school is in Cambridgshire - the same local authority as Soham Village College - we are incredibly sensitive to the safeguarding requirements, training and support structures in place.

The previous time I attended safer recruitment training it was run by a team provided by Cambrideshire, who ensured that we all realised why we had to be there and the responsibilities we had in our schools.

We talked about Soham; we reminded ourselves of Victoria Climbie and why the Every Child Matters agenda was so important. And, yes, when we took the test we all behaved a bit like naughty students, checking with each other surreptitiously what the answers should be.

I honestly feel, though, that it was time well spent. Of course, some heads must feel that they are wasting valuable time and money learning that "odd behaviour and bruising are danger signs" in safeguarding children. But it is not just a matter of common sense.

The safeguarding procedures we have at Hinchingbrooke are, I would argue, second to none and are used in good-practice seminars across the county. But, on occasion, we still have staff turning in "nagging doubt" forms about a student at the end of the school day because they felt they were too busy to report an incident when it occurred at 9.10am.

Again, emails containing confidential material have been known to fly about in such a big school. Luckily, they always come to rest with a member of the designated team, who firmly reminds colleagues that such material needs to be kept to hard copy only.

There are also cases of hubris, where exceptionally confident and experienced staff can feel that they can personally solve all ills of a situation and trespass upon ground that is meant for field professionals - believe me, I know.

I would also remind critics, not only of Victoria Climbie or Baby P, but also of Lauren Wright in rural Norfolk. Lauren's stepmother, employed in a lunch-time supervisory capacity at Lauren's primary school, evaded justice until she finally managed to kill the six-year-old with a blow to the stomach in 2001.

After this experience, Norfolk County Council submitted an all-party letter to the Climbie inquiry, which stated: "The work of professionals concerned with the case of children has never been more challenging and demanding. They deserve the protection of a statutory framework of responsibility and accountability."

This irritating, time-consuming, expensive bureaucracy is there to protect us, the staff. But as the letter states so wisely: "The only people who deserve it more are vulnerable children."

Di Beddow, Deputy head, Hinchingbrooke School, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

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