The biggest child protection exercise ever launched lands on headteachers'
desks next week, with the aim of teaching all school staff to recognise signs of abuse in pupils.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has been tackling what it sees as inadequate child protection training for teachers for the past two years.
All heads in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands will receive three free copies of the first part of EduCare, a new comprehensive, modular training programme in child protection. Every household will also get a child protection awareness pack as part of the same campaign, Talk Till It Stops, during next week's Full Stop Week.
But there are worries that the initiative could be overlooked by schools already struggling to complete their staffing reviews, introduce the new responsibility payments and complete their self-evaluation forms for Ofsted.
"Our agenda is incredibly hectic this term," says one English head, racing to meet the December 31 deadline for workforce planning. "It could be a case of the most valuable item in a head's office being the wastepaper bin."
Mary Marsh, NSPCC director and chief executive, says: "We recognise that schools are currently under a great deal of pressure and that teachers already have a lot of administrative and training responsibilities.
However, child protection awareness training for all school staff must be a priority.
"Children spend the majority of their day in schools. All school staff from headteacher to caretaker can play a vital role in the child protection chain. Everyone who works for or alongside children and young people must be able to recognise, respond and report any concerns they have about a child."
Research published by the NSPCC two years ago revealed that half of all teachers were involved in at least one child protection case in their first 18 months in the job - yet many were ill-equipped to deal with it. Many young teachers said they had received no training at all in spotting child abuse at college, with a maximum of four hours given to the subject during some courses. It also found that nine out of 10 designated child protection teachers were concerned about how best to support pupils who report abuse to school staff.
The charity's campaigning has started to make a difference. More new teachers are receiving training, and a refresher course three years into the job is to be implemented. Now the NSPCC wants to extend training to everyone on school payrolls.
Many teachers now undertake child protection awareness training but what about dinner ladies, caretakers and teaching assistants?
"School support staff can be a vital link in the child protection chain as they have daily contact with children," says Enid Hendry, NSPCC director of training and consultancy. "We have developed EduCare to help all staff recognise the possible signs of abuse and ensure they know how to act if they have concerns about a child."
The latest figures from the Department for Education and Skills show that there are 32,700 youngsters on child protection registers in the UK, and that every week in England and Wales at least one child will die following cruelty.
Chipping Norton comprehensive in Oxfordshire recently did whole-school training in child protection. With 1,150 pupils and a staff of 120 it was a major undertaking, but head Richard Graydon is adamant it was worth it.
"I'm glad we did it last year, rather than this, but I would still consider it worthwhile at any time," he says. "It isn't just teachers who are dealing with the students and all staff need to recognise the signs of abuse."
Mr Graydon organised the training in groups, where teams of staff such as dinner ladies worked together.
At the New School at West Heath, a residential special school for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Sevenoaks, Kent, the approach was different.
"Some of our students are incredibly vulnerable or have been through trauma," says Bill Willock, vice principal.
"We wanted to ensure every member of staff, from care workers who are there when the young people go to bed to the estate staff in the grounds, was sensitive to the signs of abuse or neglect, and to know how to react, so we used the NSPCC modules. It is not an onerous course and all our staff were able to cope with it."
The New School chose to cover the modules in whole-school sessions, but EduCare's flexibility lends itself to group learning or individual study.
The course is divided into four modules with questionnaires at the end of each, which staff can fill in and send off to the NSPCC for assessment.
Completion of all four questionnaires correctly leads to certification in child protection awareness.
Rhostyllen primary school in Wrexham arranged for its 12 teaching staff to go through the certification process with the NSPCC and now head Wynne Jones is considering extending the training to all staff.
But Mr Jones does have some reservations. "The course is easy to do but I wouldn't push all the ancillary staff into taking the exam or going for certification, just because it may put some off. If they think they will be tested, they won't do it," he adds.
The flexibility of EduCare extends to the certification process and it is possible to work through the modules without completing the questionnaires or sending them to the charity. If a school chooses this method, it does not have to pay each time. "If a school buys one pack, for pound;22, plus VAT, and it doesn't want staff to go through certification, it can just reuse the modules," says Mrs Hendry. "We don't mind. We would encourage this. As long as employees are being made aware of child protection, we are satisfied."
However, for some career school staff, such as teachers and classroom assistants, having the certificate could be a plus point on a CV. It would also fit snugly into a personal professional development plan.
The NSPCC is hoping that schools will reach out and grab this opportunity with both hands, ensuring that all staff are trained in child protection awareness, and that if they cannot fit it into the busy agenda over the next couple of months, that it will be put somewhere handy for next term.
Teachers in Scotland will be sent EduCare if they request it. To request a copy of the pack visit www.debrus-educare.co.uktalktilitstops or email your name, address and job title to firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01926 436202
ABUSE: TALK TILL IT STOPS
* Provide regular training on child protection for all school staff and for school governors;
* Have a school governor with responsibility for child protection;
* Create an ethos and culture that values, involves and listens to children;
* Help children understand what is not acceptable behaviour towards them and how to speak up if they have worries;
* Build good working relationships with parents and with other agencies;
* Ensure teachers use the curriculum to develop awareness and resilience in children;
* If any child "disappears" check out what is happening and report any concerns;
* Have a school policy and measures to prevent bullying (a legal requirement);
* Have guidelines that minimise the opportunities for abuse;
* Be a role model for children - friendly, courteous, fair and willing to listen;
* Develop services so children have someone to talk to, such as counselling or a peer support scheme.