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Keeping children safe in education: what do schools need to know?

The Department for Education has revised its statutory guidance for schools and colleges, Keeping children safe in education. We’ve pulled out some of the key updates for schools.

Online Safety

The updated KCSIE guidance reflects the increasing importance of keeping children safe in a digital age.

References to technology risk has been strengthened throughout the report with online safety issues categorised into three main areas of risk:

  • being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material.
  • being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users.
  • personal online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm.

The new section on sexual harassment between pupils specifically references the importance of managing incidents involving self-generated inducement images, addressing issues like sexting. The guidance highlights that sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact, but that technology can be used to facilitate sexual exploitation.

Governing bodies now need to ensure online safety is included when children are taught about safeguarding. The following resources to support schools with online safety are listed:

Transparency and clarity

There is an emphasis on the importance of schools maintaining written records and transparency surrounding the reporting process. This particularly applies to honesty with the child reporting, for example, not promising to keep the conversation confidential when it may have to be reported to other services.

Support, respect and trust in the child coming forward

The guidance highlights the importance of reports being taken seriously. Children should be assured that there is no shame or burden in coming forward. It is important that the person to whom the child discloses information recognizes that the child has placed them in a position of trust. This trusted person could be any member of staff, so it is important that all staff members are aware of the school’s safeguarding policy and reporting process. The staff member is encouraged to listen, not judge and avoid asking leading questions.

A new paragraph has also been added to address contextual safeguarding. This means assessments of children should consider the wider environmental factors affecting the child’s life that may pose a threat to their safety and/or welfare.

Early intervention

The updated guidance places a new stress on early intervention. For example, children missing education is identified as a key warning sign for a variety of safeguarding issues.

Additionally, on the issue of homelessness, early contact with the Local Housing Authority and recognition that for 16 and 17-year-olds homelessness may not be family-based.

These points have been introduced to help staff recognize the potential need for early help and intervention:

  • The child is showing signs of being drawn into antisocial or criminal behaviour, including gang involvement and association with organised crime groups.
  • The child is at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation.
  • The child is showing early signs of abuse and/or neglect.
  • The child is at risk of being radicalised or exploited.
  • The child is a privately fostered child.

Peer-on-peer abuse

The guidance draws new attention to the fact that children can abuse their peers. The abuse includes, bullying (including cyberbullying), sexual violence and sexual harassment, physical abuse and sexting. The guidance goes into detail about what a school’s child protection policy should include on this topic, including how allegations of peer-on-peer abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with; and a clear statement that abuse should never be tolerated or passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh” or “part of growing up”.

The importance of the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL)

The updated guidance identifies the DSL as the central figure in dealing with any safeguarding issue. If a member of staff has a concern they should follow their own organisation’s child protection policy and speak to the designated safeguarding lead (or deputy). The guidance clearly lays out the duties of the DSL which include managing referrals, being a contact between relevant people and agencies inside and outside the school dealing with an abuse case and raising awareness of safeguarding issues generally. Moreover, the guidance specifies that any deputies should be trained to the same standard as the DSL and the role should be explicit in their job description.

Information sharing

Staff should not assume a colleague or another professional will take action and share information that might be critical in keeping children safe. They should be aware that early information sharing is vital for effective identification, assessment and allocation of appropriate service provision. The guidance also provides a link to a separate document on information sharing which advises adults who are responsible for children on when and how to share personal information legally and professionally. Despite obligations on organisations to keep the information they hold safe and secure according to the Data Protection Act 1998 and, more recently, the GDPR, the guidance stipulates that fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children.

Read the full statutory guidance for schools and colleges here.