'Safeguarding Priorities and Safer Recruitment' - Judicium in Headteacher Update

'Safeguarding Priorities and Safer Recruitment' - Judicium in Headteacher Update

Posted  1st May 2023

Safeguarding is a priority for the leader of every school, but how much attention do you give to this when you are recruiting paid and volunteer staff?

Despite the budget pressures schools currently face they will always need to recruit paid employees. And with money tight it is possible that volunteers may start to play a bigger role in school life.

That creates heightened complex challenges for schools. Volunteers can be an amazing resource – I have met some incredible people volunteering in schools who enhance not only the education of children, but the life chances of children in their community.

But educational establishments must not dilute their due diligence for the sake of convenience and must ensure that risk assessments are conducted on volunteers and that they consider what checks should be done on each individual on a case-by-case basis.

In fact, robust safer recruitment practices should apply to all new employees, paid or voluntary. Safer recruitment is the first step in making sure that schools have the right adults in their settings – adults who will watch diligently for safeguarding issues and effectively apply safeguarding policies.

There is currently no statutory requirement for schools to renew their safer recruitment training, but it is worth noting that guidance, contained in Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE), often changes significantly in a short space of time.

For example, this academic year’s KCSIE saw the addition of “online searches on shortlisted candidates” (DfE, 2022). Those who had their training before this edition of KCSIE will have received no guidance on this topic and may well be unaware of best practice in this area.

Schools need to be as vigilant about KCSIE changes as they are in their attitude to safeguarding. KCSIE changes come at regular intervals – but don’t wait for them – be proactive and ensure that this training is regularly updated in some format.

Strengthening candidate interviews

What can schools do to make sure that their recruitment practices do not create a risk for their overall safeguarding approach?

Interviewing candidates is a great opportunity to explore the views of those looking to work in education. Following Ofsted’s review, schools should strongly consider building child-on-child abuse into their interview questions. Good examples of questions include:

  • Do you think children can abuse each other?
  • Do you think sexual child-on-child abuse happens in primary schools? Or is it something that is only a problem in secondary schools?
  • We have had no reports of child-on-child abuse at this school. Do you think that this still happens here?
  • What would you do if you heard a pupil use humiliating sexual language towards another child?

You could even pose hypothetical scenarios: “A boy in school A slapped the bottom of a girl in the year below. The school comforted the girl by explaining that this was just part of growing up and that boys will be boys. What are your thoughts?”

Firming up your policy on child-on-child abuse

Remember that our culture has historically been more tolerant of sexual child-on-child abuse than other forms, such as children fighting each other. This is something that we cannot tolerate. Candidates’ answers may reflect this cultural attitude and you should explore these attitudes at the interview stage.

I have spoken to several members of staff who are shocked when I talk to them about child-on-child abuse. I have also spoken with leaders in primary settings who are adamant that “this doesn’t happen here”. Unfortunately, these are not uncommon reactions.

Schools need to remember to include child-on-child abuse in their behaviour policies – does the policy cover harmful sexual behaviours? Does the school sanction (where appropriate), and support, pupils who display these behaviours? Consequences should not be a surprise to pupils, and these should be clearly outlined.

Keeping it simple

Your safer recruitment policy forms just part of an overall safeguarding approach. Tight recruitment processes are of limited effectiveness if your overall safeguarding approach needs tuning.

If I was limited to giving school leaders one basic piece of advice about their safeguarding policy it would be to keep it simple above everything else.

School safeguarding policies can sometimes resemble the geological layers in a coastal cliff; they start simply but are then tweaked and added to year after year. The end result is that half of the information is out-of-date or repeated somewhere else in the policy.

I go into schools where their policies sometimes run into hundreds of pages – these are simply unmanageable and staff cannot be expected to follow these to the letter. Don’t be afraid to start your policies from scratch if they are old. A simple policy is often the best policy.

A regular audit

A good way to check if a policy is effective is to get your governors involved in a regular audit. For example, when it comes to child-on-child abuse, go through individual cases on your record-keeping system and hide the names of those involved. Governors can look at the record alongside the policy and see what action was taken. If the actions of the staff don’t align with the policy, then action should be taken.

If a policy is commonly being misunderstood, this could mean either staff have not received sufficient training around this or the policy is poor and leaders need to recognise this.

Other safeguarding concerns

In recent survey, carried out by Judicium and the Supporting Education Group, more than 620 designated safeguarding leads and senior leaders across England were asked to rate how they were doing across a range of key safeguarding activities.

Filtering and monitoring ICT usage, along with safeguarding training and updating safeguarding records, were rated as the least effective safeguarding areas with the highest personal challenge.

Just 18% said filtering and monitoring was as effective as it could be in their schools, with 59% claiming it was one of their biggest current challenges.

Just a quarter said that their current safeguarding and child protection training worked well and 43% claiming the activity was one of their biggest challenges.

Updating and reviewing safeguarding records to identify patterns of events or behaviour was another pain point: 30% found this activity challenging.

In each of these areas DSLs drove the concerns. Just 16% of DSLs found that training worked as well as it could, compared to 49% of senior leadership team members, for example.

The findings follow analysis by Judicium which has revealed the important part safeguarding failures play in Ofsted category 4 inspection reports. Of the 130 inadequate judgements between 2019 and 2021, 59 (45%) cited safeguarding as ineffective.

Record-keeping, leadership, and governance, following-up concerns, staff training and pupil safety were most frequently cited in inspector feedback in these cases.

James Simoniti is a former police detective with a background of child protection policing and investigations into individuals with a position of trust. He is now a safeguarding consultant at Judicium Education, supporting schools with their safeguarding matters and carrying out safeguarding audits. We offer risk assessment templates, conduct policy reviews and provider model policies. Visit www.judiciumeducation.co.uk/safeguarding-service and follow @JudiciumSG

Further information & resources

  • DfE: Statutory guidance: Keeping children safe in education, last updated September 2022: https://bit.ly/3ZxJ1HE
  • Judicium: Schools find key safeguarding areas highly challenging, November 2022: http://bit.ly/3GhfOJH

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