May 2014

The know zone

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    Richard Bird examines new government guidance on safeguarding and is reassured to and it emphasises professional judgement rather than box-ticking. More
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    Preparing for National Curriculum reform needs to take into account how changes will affect all year groups and for years to come, says Sue Kirkham. More
  • ASCL PD events
    Unexploited Potential? The Role of the Clerk in Outstanding Governance, CPD Conference: Manageable, Meaningful and Motivating, and Ofsted Seminars: How to be Prepared for Inspection More
  • Supporting staff
    The non-teaching team can play a vital role in raising standards, provided they receive the right training More
  • Strength in numbers
    National Numeracy is a charity that focuses on helping adults and young people to improve their everyday maths skills. More
  • Adding value
    Using data as evidence More
  • Tense presence?
    The debate about school inspection has intensified over the last few weeks, with fundamental questions being asked about Ofsted and the future of the school inspection system. Here, members share their views on one of the issues being discussed – notice of inspections and whether they would like more or less notice. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Count the cost, Stick to the plan, and Please sir, can we have some more? More
  • Accident investigator...
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Richard Bird examines new government guidance on safeguarding and is reassured to find it emphasises professional judgement rather than box-ticking. 

Children’s needs first

The new English guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSE): Statutory Guidance for Schools and Colleges is now in force (see the guidance online at The previous version was published following the 2002 Soham murders when there was a folk panic about abuse. This one comes in the wake of the Savile affair and a stream of historic abuse cases. It is greatly to the credit of ministers that, in both cases, they have not been blown off a sensible and measured course.

The principle underlying the new guidance is encapsulated in the response to the consultation published at the same time: ‘Too often a well-intentioned desire to guide and support professionals through the provision of lengthy guidance has created a culture of ‘box-ticking’ rather than supporting a real focus on the needs of the child.’

This new guidance aims to tell professionals what they must secure and then to let them use their judgement as to how. It is dramatically reduced: down to 50 pages from 122. An even shorter description of duties (eight pages) is available for staff and governors who are not involved in detailed decisions. 

Less about structures

The reduction has been achieved essentially by cuts in content rather than by paraphrasing. So there is much less about structures and the school’s role in dealing with ‘community abuse’. That is left to Working Together to Safeguard Children, the existing statutory guidance on inter-agency working (see the guidance online at Sections on forced marriage, drug- and alcohol-abusing parents and young people who abuse have all gone. Reflecting current concerns there are brief sections on sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, neglect, and looked after children.

Child protection issues are covered by links to a suite of separate documents. In Wales, by contrast, the exhaustive new draft guidance, Safeguarding Children in Education, weighs in at 219 pages and includes a model child protection policy. Some will prefer one approach, some the other.

Within these boundaries, the new guidance is very helpful. There is a very useful section specifically defining different forms of abuse and a helpful reference to part two of the Teachers’ Standards and its implications. There are charts for referrals and for making sense of the complicated rules of who needs what clearance when. There are sections on building resilience in children and encouraging reporting.

It deals with major topics at length. For example, it incorporates the guidance regarding allegations that was previously issued separately. This is particularly helpful as it has become clear that some key players do not seem to have picked up the changes in guidance on allegations, particularly on suspension, publicity, recordkeeping, and references.

Some areas are not clarified. The section that includes the old form of foreign exchange, where pupils stayed with families, is essentially unsupportive and will do nothing to save those exchanges from extinction. Some will find that there is not enough on developing a safeguarding culture in schools.

Reporting is also an issue. The guidance states that any member of staff can make a referral outside of the school. Certainly, a member of staff has a right under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to go beyond the school if he or she has reported a criminal act and senior management is ignoring or concealing it.

Some governing bodies are beginning to regard failure to do so as a disciplinary offence. However, a recent case suggests that a member of staff who decides to publicise a physical bullying incident when management has decided to deal with it in-house may be liable to dismissal with no redress. It is not clear how far this would apply to a member of staff who reported a concern about abuse later found to be groundless. Conversely, a recent serious case review criticised schools for not challenging the brush-off they had received from other agencies and suggested that they should have gone to a higher level of management.

Schools will need to revise their whistleblowing policies for themselves in line with the recommendations of the report produced by The Whistleblowing Commission ( Report on the Effectiveness of Existing Arrangements for Workplace Whistleblowing in the UK and explicitly link them to their child protection policies. It is increasingly clear that the alternative is legislation to make reporting mandatory, backed up by criminal sanctions.

Value-based interviewing

The government has decided to retain the legislation that makes it a duty to have one person who is trained in recruitment on every interview panel. The duty was one of the recommendations in Sir Michael Bichard’s 2004 report into schools’ vetting procedures in the wake of the Soham murders.

At the time, The Times speculated that the move ‘may prove to be more cumbersome than useful’. In practice training has focused on what can be checked off and KCSE compounds this by concentrating on paper checks. The new freedom from prescribed providers and prescribed content (while retaining what is in KCSE as a minimum) may encourage more training for more people in value-based interviewing that will help to deter and detect those who may harm children.

The launch of the guidance is a reminder of the increasing demands on the designated senior person and, one hopes, will provide the stimulus and occasion for regular training for all staff to build a safeguarding culture.

Richard Bird is ASCL’s legal specialist