Three school safeguarding priorities in 2019

Written by: Dawn Jotham | Published:

Three key safeguarding issues for schools in 2019 are honour-based abuse, bullying and mental health. Dawn Jotham shares her insights into these three areas and provides practical tips that school communities can implement in order to deliver best-practice safeguarding

Safeguarding in education is never far from the headlines and is something that is unquestionably a priority for educators and school staff, yet how to practically implement effective safeguarding practices continues to challenge the sector. A significant contributor to this challenge stems from a lack of understanding regarding the various safeguarding issues.

Schools play a central role in children’s lives, particularly in the more malleable stages of primary school, and consequently, it is important to recognise the responsibility educators have in improving harm prevention and the early identification of safeguarding issues.

The vulnerabilities that pupils are exposed to are ever-changing, with attention falling recently on mental health issues and an increase in honour-based abuse. Additionally, as Ofsted places more focus on bullying and wellbeing in its proposed new inspection framework, this particular safeguarding issue is attracting increasing attention too.

Honour-based abuse

Honour-based abuse (HBA), encompasses a range of crimes of abuse. This can include – but is not limited to – assault, imprisonment, and murder, but can also manifest through psychological and emotional abuse that can be more difficult to detect. Understanding the context is also important, as we usually learn our “honourable” principles through forms of positive and negative feedback during our formative years. It is this conditioning that is one of the most formidable challenges to overcome with the correlation between honour-based abuse and familial beliefs often grooming family members as perpetrators.

Additionally, while HBA may be more prevalent in secondary schools, educators engaging with younger pupils should also be aware of what can be considered “dishonourable” behaviour, particularly with regards to perceived over-integration with other cultures and a lack of conformity with religious dress.

Understanding the risks and the environments from which honour-based abuse emerges is the first step teachers and school staff can take in safeguarding against it, but knowing the warning signs is a close second.

As with all forms of abuse, the combination of warning signs is unique to each case. However, there are some common links. In the context of HBA, these can include feelings of anxiety, self-harm and depression, poor attendance at school, and becoming withdrawn from fellow pupils and staff.

Knowing how to effectively provide support is vital. Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, an award-winning national charity supporting those affected by HBA, offers advice to teachers and staff who suspect a pupil may be experiencing or at risk of HBA: ask the pupil if you can offer support and provide a private space that allows the child to speak comfortably to staff in school.

She also recommends that teachers refrain from approaching the pupil’s family without their permission as this could place them in greater danger. Karma Nirvana runs a confidential support hotline for people wanting more in-depth and personalised guidance.

Bullying

Today, bullying behaviour has become so prevalent that many people believe it is simply a part of growing up – part of the rough and tumble of daily life. However, the far-reaching physical and psychological effects on those who experience bullying should urge us to change this mindset and proactively take action to not only prevent bullying, but support those who have fallen victim to this behaviour.

As adults, most of us have encountered some form of unpleasantness over the course of our lives, but in most cases it doesn’t amount to the persistent bullying that seriously affects our health and wellbeing. That said, this doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to what may appear as playful banter.

The subjective nature of emotions means that what may give the impression of being fun for one pupil, may hurt another’s feelings. With this in mind, it is important to instil in children, from a young age – particularly at primary school as they become more socialised – an understanding of the difference between playful, harmless teasing, and other behaviours that can cause offense and distress.

Referencing safeguarding guidelines, bullying has also received increase examination from Ofsted of late as it takes steps to provide parents and carers with better information regarding how behaviour is managed in schools.

Lauren Seager-Smith, chief executive officer of Kidscape, a UK charity supporting children effected by bullying, encourages educators to monitor for signs of bullying so that swift action can be taken.

She explained: “There are a range of indicators that teachers and staff can look out for in the school setting but shifts in personality and behaviour are often the most indicative. If pupils become more aggressive or alternatively more withdrawn, if they start spending time alone during breaks, or lashing out at classmates, it is time to think about asking some questions.

“Additionally, lost or damaged belongings, or a sudden drop in school attendance are also strong indicators that bullying may be occurring.”

She goes on to say that it is crucial for school leaders to consider how bullying can be addressed under their guidance. At such a young age, primary school pupils may not feel confident approaching adults for support, so creating a listening culture between pupils and staff is a crucial point for safeguarding against bullying.

Mental health

Discussing mental health sadly has negative connotations. People often jump to the negative aspects of mental health disorders, such as depression or self-harm, but just like physical heath, people can have good mental health but still have challenges they need help to overcome.

YoungMinds, a leading organisation committed to the mental health of children and adolescents, defines mental health in young people as “the strength and capacity of our minds to grow and develop, to be able to overcome difficulties and challenges, and to make the most of our abilities and opportunities”. With this in mind, the school community has a responsibility to look after the full spectrum of the wellbeing of pupils – the good and the bad.

Again, factoring in subtle differences for individuals, in the context of primary school children, mental health also means having: the capacity to enter and sustain satisfying personal relationships, a clear sense of identity and self-worth, the ability to play and learn so that attainments are appropriate for their age and intellect, and an acceptance that it is okay to make mistakes.

One in eight students aged five to 19 are now thought to have a mental health disorder (according to recent NHS statistics) – that’s approximately three or four children in every class. It makes clear the importance of best practice. YoungMinds recommends being aware of the main risk factors associated with mental health. It is also worth noting that it may not be possible to remove the risks themselves, but often an awareness of the presence of risks will change the way a child’s needs are understood and responded to.

Additionally, predisposing factors can also play a role so be sure to consider: genetic influences, learning disabilities, developmental delays, communication difficulties, illnesses, academic performance, and low self-esteem.

Again, as is the case with honour-based abuse and bullying, understanding the warning signs is important, but the other crucial element of safeguarding is knowing how to provide support that makes a positive impact.

Overcoming these challenges and fostering an environment for positive mental health can occur at the individual and more holistic level. An invaluable first step is to create a school culture that works towards positive outcomes for its pupils. To achieve this, the outcomes that young people strive for in their mental health, are useful reference points. This includes, but is not limited to: an understanding of how they can improve their own wellbeing, feelings of control, confidence, and purpose, resilience, and a support network.

It is also important to keep in mind that there is no timeline or strict path to effectively managing mental health issues. The best approach that educators can take is to be observant and aware of subtle shifts in behaviour, be emotionally available, learn to reflect and not react, and importantly, particularly with primary school children, be prepared to take the first step.

  • Dawn Jotham is a pastoral care specialist with duty-of-care training specialists EduCare, which has developed in partnership with Karma Nirvana a safe- guarding course focused on honour-based abuse and forced marriage.

Further information

  • Karma Nirvana is a national charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse, forced marriage and disownment. Its helpline is 0800 5999247 and you can also contact info@karmanirvana.org.uk or visit https://karmanirvana.org.uk/
  • Keeping Children Safe in Education, Department for Education, March 2015 (last updated September 2018): http://bit.ly/2bI2Zsm
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children, Department for Education, March 2015 (last updated August 2018): http://bit.ly/2hZOeVM


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