Children can be at their most vulnerable at moments of transition. They leave one safe environment where all the adults knew them to go to some place new. Regardless of how caring the new setting is, the handover is crucial.
At the moment there is no standardised method of passing on safeguarding and child protection information. All you can hope for are robust local arrangements.
At numerous schools where I have been a safeguarding lead, my experiences have been largely positive – but when something goes wrong it can be catastrophic.
Imagine trying to support a child in secondary school whose behaviour has rapidly deteriorated. They live with mum and she is at her wits’ end. Despite numerous meetings, phone calls to the child’s primary school, referrals to agencies that could help – it is the passing comment of another parent in Reception that sheds light on the background.
Dad was sent to prison when the child was six for sexual abuse, Dad has just gotten out of prison and despite being banned from the family home, the neighbour has seen Dad going into the house. Mum believes he has changed and was innocent of the charge anyway. When we challenge mum she denies everything. When we challenge the primary school, they say it must have happened before the child joined.
Gaps in information
It is an extreme example, but a failure to pass on relevant information can prevent schools from putting support structures in place.
I remember once finding some dumped tatty foolscap folders in my pigeonhole in November. One of our primary partners had finally brought up the student records for the five or six Year 7 students that had started with us three months earlier. Inside one of them was the information that one of them had been adopted aged seven and another child’s twin had died the previous year.
Transition has to include a robust duty of care where difficult questions are asked. It must be a conversation with the child’s needs at the core.
Some wily parents use the system’s slow nature to keep one step ahead of authorities. More than once we have reached the point of a referral to health or social care, only for the child to be moved schools. When contacting the primary school, the story is the same – “they weren’t with us very long”.
Only a standardised, confidential and legally protected document that is transferred electronically to each school can keep children safe.
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers' Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets @keziah70