`Teachers are the front line of children's safety'

26th September 2014 at 01:00
TES poll reveals widespread concerns about child protection

Two-thirds of teachers have reported safeguarding issues within the past 12 months, according to an exclusive poll by TES and children's charity the NSPCC.

But school leaders have warned that it is often difficult to attract the attention of local authorities to cases of child neglect, increasingly leaving teachers to perform the role of social workers.

The poll of more than 1,200 headteachers, teachers and support staff found that 66 per cent had reported a safeguarding issue in the past year and 81 per cent had done so in the past five years. Only 15 per cent had never reported an issue.

Staff in primary schools were more likely to raise concerns, with 71 per cent having taken action in the past year. The figure is higher still among senior leaders, at 82 per cent.

John Cameron, head of child protection operations at the NSPCC, said the majority of teachers calling the charity's helpline asked about signs of possible neglect, including children being consistently hungry, dishevelled, disorganised or tired.

But he said that when social services failed to respond in the way teachers expected, it created tensions between schools and local authorities. "A lot of the comments we get from teachers are that nothing seems to be happening," he said.

"There is an expectation about intervention, but lack of resources and the pressures social workers are under mean there is often a delay."

However, Mr Cameron added: "Sometimes the school is in the best position to provide support to children, particularly where an intervention is required before it becomes a serious issue."

Peter Watt, director of national services at the NSPCC, added: "These figures show that the majority of teachers are spotting the signs of neglect and reporting it. This has to be a positive thing as teachers are at the front line of keeping children safe."

The role of teachers in dealing with safeguarding issues has been thrown into the spotlight over the past year with cases including the death of four-year-old Daniel Pelka in Coventry.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers' union the NAHT, said that schools were often frustrated by the apparent lack of action from social services.

"Getting the attention of children's services is really difficult," he said. "Reporting safeguarding issues is almost a daily occurrence, but to have a social worker come in and deal with it is quite rare."

The majority of issues faced by teachers were related to low-level neglect, which made it difficult to assess if there were more serious problems, he added. "If you know a child is at risk and the risk is just not immediate yet, you are faced with overstepping your authority and in some cases visiting the home, and that puts the teachers at risk.

"The line between pastoral care and social work is not an easy dividing line."

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said that money was increasingly being passed from local authorities to schools for early intervention and family support. "Sometimes what we find is that schools are making referrals which really they should be dealing with themselves," he said.

Schools and local authorities needed to work together more closely to get a better understanding of who intervened when, he added.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: "Recent events have made plain that now more than ever professionals who work with children need access to the right support and advice on safeguarding. I'm delighted that this new tool from NSPCC and TES will provide further help to ensure that schools can spot signs of abuse and take action where they think it might be occurring."

More on safeguarding

School support

Children's charity the NSPCC and TES have joined forces to launch a new way for schools to check up on their safeguarding arrangements and to ensure the correct procedures are in place.

The online Safeguarding in Education Self-Assessment Tool is designed to help schools in four areas: child protection; pupil behaviour, emotional health and well-being; working with parents and other agencies; and staff and governance issues.

It should be used by the safeguarding lead and includes checklists and resources.

For more information, go to esat.nspcc.org.uk


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