If you’ve ever been involved in a serious child-protection case, you will have inevitably spent time analysing what you could have done differently. There are so many aspects involved in getting safeguarding right, it is natural to question your own role in it.
And it is a role that is definitely ours to perform; those who say school should be focused solely on education forget that sometimes we are the only window into some of these children’s lives. As a school, we carry a huge responsibility for the students in our care.
All of this makes me worry about the behaviour-management systems employed in schools, some of which seem to almost ignore the pupil and address the symptoms, not the cause. In such schools, the relentless focus on micromanaging pupils’ behaviour is done at the expense of building effective pupil-staff relationships. When pupils raise issues, they are treated as if they are making excuses – and this leads to those issues not being shared at all.
In our efforts to keep children safe, it’s helpful to understand that some actions by pupils are taken as a way of communicating issues that may be of concern. That’s not to say that we should tolerate certain behaviours, just that we have to see them in the context of the bigger picture.
Firstly, that relies on building strong relationships. Carefully crafted relationships between staff and pupils have the biggest impact in terms of improving behaviour, but also in how we keep pupils safe. Creating a climate of trust is imperative. If children don’t feel that they can trust adults, or feel safe around them, then they are unlikely to share information with them.
Secondly, we need to gather the data. When a child lashes out, we need to notice. When a child acts in an unusual way, we need to notice. When a child dawdles over going home, when they won’t get changed for PE, when they never seem to be equipped, when they steal fruit from the snack bowl, when they haven’t got a coat – we need to notice. And then we should join up the dots to have a system that pulls together all the information we receive – one that doesn’t dismiss the little things.
So, what might this system look like?
When I first came to work in my school, we had a local authority parent-support adviser working with us. She was amazing. The families trusted her, she built good relationships and she was the best proponent of early intervention I’ve ever seen. Then the council restructured and the support for our vulnerable families disappeared. We just couldn’t afford to replace her, so we had to rethink how to make sure we had strategies in place to avoid missing anything.
The key to the solution was making sure that everybody understood the part they had to play. When I say everybody, I mean everybody: teachers, support staff, office staff, midday supervisors, caretaker. And then we had to create a system in which these people could share information. So we set up our “60 second” monitoring procedures.
The process is simple. During the week, every member of staff remains vigilant to anything that might be of concern. Each week, the safeguarding lead will speak to every staff member and hear anything they have to say. It is not time-consuming – it takes 60 seconds, as the name suggests.
During these catch-ups, we check up on concerns, share key info on a need-to-know basis and really just talk about the children.
This information then feeds into a monthly teaching staff concern-and-sharing meeting. We all have an understanding that there is a collective responsibility for the children in our care. There are obviously confidentiality considerations about what is shared, but it is here that all the little bits of information gathered in the 60-second conversations come together to create a bigger picture.
CPOMS software has made managing the information a lot easier and has made a huge difference, supporting this process by helping us clearly see the chronologies and how the bits fit together.
It may sound simple, and it is simple, but it is not done enough. No one who works in a school has a view of the whole picture. We only have a piece of the jigsaw each. The effect of this approach for us has been the ability to offer much earlier intervention and support for families when they need it. This in turn has led to an increase in trust. We have seen more of our pupils, in particular some of our most vulnerable pupils, ready to learn, and in a place where they can focus on the stuff beyond the home.
Genuinely, there is a feeling that our families know we are here to help them. We don’t always get it right, but it is not for want of trying.
Simon Smith is headteacher at East Whitby Academy, North Yorkshire. He tweets @smithsmm