Why is safeguarding important in schools? (Know your responsibilities)

It is no surprise that safeguarding and schools go hand in hand.

Under 18s are certainly vulnerable to mistreatment, neglect or trauma and it is essential that people working in schools commit themselves to making sure that the place of education is a safe space for students.

It is important to ensure that dangerous people and situations are averted.

Dangerous people could be those in the school or outsiders and dangerous situations can come in many forms. Through methods like creating equality in schools, securing schools from intruders and ensuring that any school staff are fit to work with children, these jeopardies can be monitored and hopefully, avoided.

Who needs to be safeguarded in schools?

Every child needs appropriate care and should be safeguarded. However, there are certain types of children who need a little extra consideration. These include:

  • Disabled children with additional needs
  • Children with special education needs
  • Young carers
  • Children who are at risk of performing criminal behaviour
  • Children who are significantly anti-social
  • Children who have previously gone missing
  • Any child at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation
  • Children who are at risk of being radicalised or exploited
  • Children in unstable family situations
  • Children misusing drugs or alcohol
  • Children in care or who have previously been in care.

This list is not exhaustive, but these are some examples particularly vulnerable children who should be monitored. However, it is very important to establish that any under 18 is considered vulnerable.

What Schools Need to Do

High Speed Training states that “anybody who works in an education setting has a duty to protect the welfare of children who attend”.

This means that whether you’re a teacher, a classroom assistant, dinner staff or a caretaker, you should always be looking out for ways to safeguard the children in your care.

The safeguarding in schools definition can range from keeping an open and honest environment, to monitoring individual children’s behaviour.

Here is a safeguarding in schools checklist to make sure that your team is covering the essentials.

  • Identify children at risk of abuse, neglect or harm.
  • Keep schools secure to prevent dangerous individuals from entering.
  • Educate children to avoid dangerous people outside of school – especially on the walk to school.
  • Ensure that no member of staff poses a risk to children.
  • Prevent radicalisation.
  • Tackle bullying and peer-on-peer abuse.
  • Prevent self-harm and self-neglect.

We’ll take this list one by one and delve into some deeper ways that school staff can safeguard their children.

Identify children at risk of abuse, neglect or harm

Sometimes, classroom teachers or assistants might be the adults that have the most contact with a certain child. It is therefore vital that they keep an eye on all children in their care –particularly vulnerable children, as determined above – and check for any signs of abuse, neglect or harm.

Children are often unlikely to tell adults that they are being abused – they might think that what is happening to them is normal or fear the consequences of speaking up. They may also presume that they won’t be believed – if they are being emotionally abused, they may have started to believe hateful things that the attacker has told them and have little self-confidence.

The signs that a child is being abused vary with age, but they may:

  • Talk about being left home alone.
  • Have a bad relationship with a parent.
  • Act out violence to excess.
  • Not have any social skills.
  • Be underweight.
  • Be secretive.
  • Not want to go home after school.
  • Have poor school attendance or punctuality.
  • Have parents who do not pay attention to the children’s life at school.
  • Not want to get changed for PE.
  • Drink alcohol at a young age.
  • Is challenging or disruptive at school.
  • Show any of these signs of sexual abuse.

Indications of whether a child is at risk may also be represented in their online behaviour. For example, a child searching the web for suicide methods, or attempting to access a terrorist recruitment site is definitely cause for alarm.

Schools should deploy a firewall with content filtering capabilities to ensure students cannot access inappropriate websites, but additional software may be required, such as Fastvue Reporter, to actually monitor traffic and alert safeguarding officers when a student attempts to search for, or access, inappropriate content.

Of course, not all these signs mean that the child is definitely being abused. However, if more than one of them is noticed, or if there is no other logical reason for the child’s behaviour or characteristics, it may mean that the child is a victim of some sort of harm.

Teachers or other school staff must voice their concerns if they think that a child in their care is being abused. Abuse at such a young age will greatly affect children throughout their life, and it is imperative to act, as the child is unlikely to do so themselves. It is better to investigate the situation and it be nothing than to not investigate it and it result in tragedy.

Generally, teachers are expected to voice their concerns to a higher member of staff, possibly the head of year or the head teacher. However, in certain circumstances, the teacher might not feel comfortable talking to a senior member of staff or their concerns may not be taken seriously. In this incidence, they should go straight to the police. The NSPCC can also offer guidance.

Keeping Schools Secure

Possibly the most common worry amongst parents is that an intruder will somehow get into their child’s school and kidnap or otherwise cause harm to them. This is a scary worry, indeed, but not a likely scenario. While intruders in schools used to be a big problem – BBC mentions how fatal school attacks in 1994, 1995 and 1996 all involved intruders, security measures are nowadays a lot higher.

The BBC article states that “most schools now have better fences, more secure entrances, security cameras and intruder alarms”, making it much more difficult for strangers to enter schools. Reporting safeguarding issues in school is important, so if any of these methods do not seem secure, it is a staff member’s duty to let the head teacher know.

Guests are also required to sign in and to wear a lanyard, a badge or other form of recognition. Teachers are thus expected to look out for any non-staff adults in school without a lanyard or badge and ask them to state who they are.

Educate Children to Avoid Dangerous People or Situations Outside of School

Teachers don’t have much of a say in what children do outside of school hours, but they do have a responsibility to educate children to avoid risky situations. Since the 80s, schools and parents alike have used the term ‘Stranger Danger’ to portray the idea that any stranger could be threatening.

However, this is now thought to be outdated, as a Guardian article expresses. It considers this term to actually be harmful to kids, as they may become convinced that all strangers are villainous and become too afraid to leave the house, instead spending longer and longer around televisions or iPads.

Instead, kids should be taught to not react to strangers – or known adults – who are displaying certain tendencies. Things, like luring children into their car, asking kids into their house, or telling children on their own to follow them, are all red flags. These could be potential abductions.

That being said, it is also important to remember that most people who pose danger to children are not strangers and children should be taught to look out for this kind of behaviour in adults who they know as well.

The Walk to School

Teachers should ensure that children are safe on their walks to and from school. They can ask children who walk alone how long their walk is and whether they walk with another student to vet their safety, and suggest that they join a walking school bus if there is one at the school or use this tool to get the council’s advice about the safest possible route.

Teachers should also encourage students to report any people with strange behaviour, no matter how small it seems. This might be something as seemingly insignificant as the same van parked near the school every day for a week, or something immediately threatening like a person approaching a solo child or group of children.

Prevent Radicalisation

A hot topic within schools is the prevention of radicalisation. While a radicalised pupil may or may not be an issue that presents itself while the student is at school, teachers do have a duty to do what they can to prevent impressionable young people from turning into extremists.

Currently, Islamic radicalisation is most talked about in the UK, due to terror attacks perpetrated directly or indirectly by extremist group ISIS. But, of course, any student of any faith can be radicalised – and steps must be taken to try to prevent every student from becoming an extremist.

There are a few different ways to prevent radicalisation, but they all have the same undertone – to express equality and make sure any child, regardless of race or religion, feels welcome at school. By creating this kind of atmosphere, children are far less likely to become extremist later on.

Some ways schools do this are:

  • Have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying about race or religion
  • Make all students believe that they matter
  • Educate children about how to live and work together
  • Encourage students to feel empathy
  • Help children get involved in school activities and issues, making their voices heard

Some schools also follow the Prevent strategy which was developed in 2003. However, some teachers say that this strategy stigmatises Muslim pupils, making them feel isolated and subsequently doing the opposite of creating an atmosphere of equality.

Tackle Bullying

Bullying and peer on peer abuse is sadly a problem that many children face when in school. Despite kids knowing that bullying is bad, some still push the boundaries and torment others emotionally and physically. Ditch the Label’s bullying survey has discovered that in 2016, 50% of students said that they had been bullied that year. 19% of students claimed that they were bullied every day.

It’s a good idea to talk about this situation with other members of school staff, who can keep an eye on the bully. When bullying situation comes up, re-establishing perimeters about responsibilities and respect in the classroom helps matters as well, as both the victim and perpetrator will hear and hopefully understand.

It is also, of course, important to talk to the bully. Having a private conversation about their behaviour and the reasons for it can often immediately better the situation.

Ensure That No Member of Staff Poses a Risk to Children

As previously mentioned, most kidnappers are people that children know. This makes it of the highest importance to ensure that anyone working in a school is a savoury character. One of the ways that this can be done is by carrying out DBS checks for potential employees – which are required by law for anyone working in a school. An enhanced DBS check for schools includes spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands as well as a barred list check.

We offer a comprehensive enhanced DBS check service.

Click here to learn more.

Although a DBS check covers past convictions, it is not a foolproof way of discerning whether someone will harm a child or not, so staff do need to be monitored.

Safeguarding in Schools Interview Questions

People doing interviews for new staff members might want to ask them particular questions. These could include things like:

  • “What would you do if you saw a child being bullied under your care?”
  • “How would you react to a child who came in with bruises on their legs?”
  • “How would you teach children to be aware of dangerous people on their walk to school?”

These questions can help determine that a potential staff member knows the correct teachers safeguarding responsibilities and is a good fit for the role.

Preventing self-harm and self-neglect

The last danger that children may need to be protected from is themselves. Schools should support children and youths who self-harm; up to 10% of them do so. School staff can support them by making the student aware of the help around them and their options for treatment.

Their duties are to ensure that any knowledge of self-harm is taken seriously and they should deal with students in a non-judgmental manner. Information about external support agencies should also be offered by the staff at the school.

So how important is safeguarding in school?

As you can see from the above, there are so many reasons why children are vulnerable and should be safeguarded. A school is not just where children are educated; it is where they develop and eventually become adults, and it should be a space where they are free to discuss any problems they may have, without fear of judgement.

Conclusion

The examples of safeguarding in schools detailed above are very important for keeping children safe both in school and outside the classroom. Teachers and other school staff are a crucial connection that children have with the outside world and are often the people that they admire and will speak to first.

By keeping a close eye on children in your care, you can help with any situations that come up and make a real difference in the first two decades of a person’s life.

 

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