There have been gaps in safeguarding provision in some schools and local authorities. The DfE has set about amending its guidance but will it be enough to make schools the safe places they should be? Suzanne O’Connell investigates the current situation.
- There are concerns that local authorities are not overseeing safeguarding arrangements in academies.
- Safeguarding advice is to be amended and will emphasise the responsibilities of local authorities and their schools.
- Safeguarding will continue to be a priority in Ofsted inspections.
- Supplementary advice has led to an increase in referrals of staff.
When safeguarding had its own Ofsted judgement, there could be no doubt that it would be high on the agenda for schools. In theory, of course, it should be high on everyone’s agenda, irrespective of any Ofsted rulings. However, with so many pressures on schools and the high stakes set against academic performance, it is easy for other areas to lapse.
As the ‘Trojan horse’ affair proved, there is more to a school’s success than achieving the right grades. There must be some consideration given to the quality and breadth of the curriculum and the school’s day-to-day practices.
Safeguarding and academies
With local authorities (LAs) having less direct involvement with academies, there are concerns that poor safeguarding arrangements may be overlooked or, even worse, ignored. The School oversight and intervention report (http://bit.ly/Oversight2015) is critical of the government’s approach to overseeing schools, and claims that it relies too heavily on whistleblowers for the identification of problems.
The message is clear: ‘Over several years, we have recommended that the Department improve the way it supports and regulates the autonomous schools system’. The feeling is that the education sector is out of control, with 460 sponsors supporting and managing 1,900 academies.
The report depicts the Department as out of touch, and points out that schools with good academic attainment can still have safeguarding issues. It is claimed that LAs do not understand their safeguarding duties towards pupils in academies:
‘We heard that 13 of the 87 [LAs] (15%) that responded to a National Audit Office survey were not monitoring safeguarding arrangements in academies, and that 13 said they would not intervene in academies if pupils’ safety was threatened.’
The DfE is already aware of some of this confusion. The recent consultation on safeguarding arrangements reflects its concern that LAs may be taking a spectator role when it comes to their independent schools.
Revisions to safeguarding advice
The consultation was launched on 6 January 2015 and closed on 3 February 2015. The review is not extensive. The proposed changes mostly centre around the referral of allegations and notifiable incidents involving the care of a child. The role of the LA designated officer (LADO) is called into question, and it is proposed that the role be divided between officers and linked more closely to children’s social care.
The DfE wants to see that allegations against those who work with children are referred to the same point of contact as concerns about a child’s welfare (children’s social care). The LADO or team of officers in the LA should be qualified social workers and children’s social care should be informed within one working day of all allegations that come to an employer’s attention. Given the current overload on children’s social care, it is hard to see how this additional responsibility can be carried out effectively.
Other changes, not being consulted on at present, include:
- making it clear that guidance applies to all schools, including academies
- clarifying accountability functions of LAs
- updating guidance in relation to young carers and parent carers
- providing updates, including specific reference to female genital mutilation (FGM), gender-based violence, child sexual exploitation and radicalisation
- making clear the local safeguarding children board’s (LSCB) role in relation to child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups.
With new advice in place, it is important that compliance is also checked.
Changes to Ofsted
There may no longer be a safeguarding judgement, but Ofsted is keen to ensure that safeguarding maintains a high profile. When the additional Ofsted briefings were removed, Inspecting safeguarding in maintained schools and academies was the only one to remain.
The prominence of safeguarding has been maintained in the proposals for the new Ofsted framework in September 2015. We have been told that the new common inspection framework will place a greater emphasis on safeguarding. At the same time, inspectors will always make a written judgement in the leadership and management section about whether arrangements for safeguarding pupils are effective.
Some aspects of safeguarding will also be covered in the personal development, behaviour and welfare judgement. In this section, inspectors will judge the school in relation to:
- behaviour and conduct
- whether pupils understand how to keep themselves safe from risks such as exploitation and extremism.
This will include pupils’ use of the internet and social media.
An improved approach?
As the School oversight and intervention report points out, academic success is no guarantee of robust safeguarding policy and practice. It may be that the DfE had been too eager to pull back from schools whose results were ticking the right boxes.
We are seeing a return to clearer safeguarding requirements in the review of key guidance. However, there is still a sense of safeguarding arrangements being made in response to failures rather than as part of a proactive plan.
The tendency of the DfE to reduce guidance to the minimum might make documents easier to navigate but leaves them full of holes. We have seen recently that attempts to patch up what has been omitted can have unforeseen consequences. For example, the supplementary advice for early years providers, Keeping children safe in education, contained reference to the disqualification criterion: ‘Living in the same household where another person who is disqualified lives or works (disqualification by association)’.
Although this was written in relation to childcare, the guidance identifies that the criterion also refers to staff working in the early years. Those affected must provide information to the school, which is then forwarded to Ofsted for a ‘waiver’ to be applied. The issuing of this advice has led to a rush of referrals and delays, as schools and families wait for wavers to be issued.
The return to a more rigorous approach to safeguarding might be needed, but it should not be rushed and must form part of a cohesive and considered approach. What schools need to feel is that there is someone watching over them in a systematic, planned and thoughtful way. At present they could be forgiven for not knowing which way to turn.
- School oversight and intervention report, Public Accounts Committee, January 2015 (http://bit.ly/Oversight2015)
- Keeping children safe in education: childcare disqualification requirements – supplementary advice, DfE, October 2014 (http://bit.ly/KeepingChildrenSafeSupplement)
- Better inspection for all: A report of the responses to the consultation, Ofsted, February 2015 (http://bit.ly/BetterInspectionResponse)
- Revisions to working together to safeguard children, DfE, January 2015 (http://bit.ly/SafeguardingRevisions)
- Inspecting safeguarding in maintained schools and academies, Ofsted, December 2014 (http://bit.ly/InspectingSafeguarding)
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About the author
Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was the headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.
First published on this website in June 2015.