Safeguarding: Getting the basics right – every time

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The basics of safeguarding revolve around identifying children at risk of harm and we can never take this work for granted. Elizabeth Rose recaps the four main types of abuse, the principles of effective staff training, and the basics of keeping children safe from serious harm

Sadly many of us, and all of those working in safeguarding, are familiar with the names of children who have suffered abuse and died because of the actions of those who are supposed to look after them.

Over the last 12 months it is likely that you have read or heard about the tragic cases of children, including Arthur Labinjo Hughes, Star Hobson, Logan Mwangi, and Hakeem Hussein – children who were not protected by their parents and who died before any of them reached secondary school.

Both older and younger children are subject to abuse, and the latest statistics estimate that 1 in 14 children suffer physical abuse, 1 in 20 sexual abuse, and 1 in 15 experience emotional abuse (NSPCC, 2021).

Neglect continues to be the main reason why children are subject to a Child Protection Plan and many of these children will remain on this plan for a year or more (ONS, 2020).

With regular updates to statutory guidance, better understanding of extra-familial harm and the challenges of the last two years in relation to new and emerging issues such as remote learning, schools have been constantly trying to ensure that staff are equipped with the latest knowledge on these specific topics.

However, the priorities for safeguarding are an ever-spinning set of plates and when we hear the names of the children mentioned above, it is a stark reminder that we also need to ensure the “basics” are in place so that staff can effectively identify concerns and take action against the most common form of abuse – that which is perpetrated by those known to the child and often by their direct care-givers.

FOR MORE ADVICE FROM ELIZABETH ROSE: Listen to a recent episode of the Headteacher Update Podcast – Effective safeguarding practice in schools. And you can also find Elizabeth's archive of best practice articles for Headteacher Update via

The four main types of abuse

So, what do staff need to know? Working together to safeguard children (DfE, 2018) clearly defines the four main types of abuse – physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect – and all staff need to be familiar with these definitions and understand how children may suffer abuse.

They also need to know the signs and symptoms and be able to report and refer concerns in line with your school policy.

However, this may be covered as a reminder in one session in September and then an assumption made that this is all staff need to know. It is poor safeguarding practice to assume staff understand and remember because you covered something once in September, or for staff to rely on the fact that they have “heard this before”.

All staff and those working on behalf of the school should receive robust training in the four types of abuse, with examples and information to underline the importance of noticing indicators. Training for the indicators of abuse should be interactive, with staff deeply considering behaviours or physical signs that may be a cause for concern.

  • Dedicate enough time to this area of training within your annual refresher for staff. Do not forget to train any volunteers, governors and those working casually for your school such as cleaners or premises staff.
  • Revisit this regularly throughout the year. Pose a scenario at the start of a briefing, share information from child safeguarding practice reviews as appropriate, and build training into your annual CPD calendar.
  • Use local statistics wherever possible to highlight that these issues can and do happen in your local area. Approach your local authority safeguarding in education team for support with this if you need to.
  • Use and share your own school data. You may wish to consider sharing numbers of referrals made and anonymised data highlighting things that your own safeguarding team has been dealing with over the course of the last term, again to highlight that “it can happen here”.
  • Encourage staff to make links between issues. If punctuality is a problem, do staff recognise that this could be a safeguarding issue? Do all staff – including leadership – consider “safeguarding first” when responding to behaviour issues?

Upskilling the DSL and safeguarding team

Designated safeguarding leads (DSLs) will attend training every two years as a minimum and may also attend local authority briefings, online training sessions and specific training delivered by their local safeguarding children partnership.

Some of these will look at these main types of abuse and some will consider cases where things have gone seriously wrong. It is essential that those responsible for safeguarding understand cases where children have not been supported in the right way, to avoid making the same mistakes, or to provide confidence to challenge other professionals to seek the best outcomes for children.

  • DSLs can access local safeguarding practice reviews on each area’s safeguarding children partnership website. These provide useful information on processes within each locality and learning for agencies that is pertinent and relevant to the school’s specific context.
  • Serious case reviews are reviewed and a “triennial analysis” is published, detailing overarching trends and themes in child protection. The latest version was published in 2020 and is essential reading for all safeguarding leads (DfE, 2020).
  • Support and challenge structures such as supervision can provide vital space and time to critically re-evaluate cases. This is always useful but can be particularly important in cases that are “stuck” or on-going – such as those involving issues like chronic neglect.

Back to basics: Revisiting working together

Working together to safeguard children (DfE, 2018) is the handbook for how agencies should – as the title suggests – work together. All safeguarding leads should be familiar with this guidance and it applies in its entirety to all schools. Re-reading this document can serve as an important reminder, not only of a school’s duties but also those of other agencies working to protect children.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s annual report 2020 (published in 2021) draws together learning from a range of reviews and is clear that there continues to be barriers and issues in how agencies work together, ultimately hindering protection for vulnerable children. This includes issues with information-sharing (and reluctance to share information as a result of misguided understanding of GDPR), poor-quality record-keeping, and problems with sharing accurate and detailed meeting notes.

Again, it is a case of going back to basics and considering if your practice is as developed as possible in relation to the core safeguarding tenets outlined in statutory guidance.

  • Consider your working relationship with your local authority. Are you confident in processes and how things work? If not, consider who you need to speak to or training you need to attend to find out.
  • Review your own processes for sharing information and consider if any barriers can be removed. Use government information-sharing guidance (DfE, 2015) to support you in this.
  • Use local escalation policies if you feel children are not getting appropriate support. Challenge other professionals (including social care, the police, and health) using the appropriate channels and document your actions if you need to. It is so important that agencies constructively work together to ensure the best outcomes.


Some of the above may seem quite obvious; some of these points are, after all, the bread and butter of safeguarding practice. But we are still seeing cases where children have not been protected as a result of issues related to record-keeping, communication, training, and critical thinking. It is vital to consider why this is happening and remind ourselves of the core tenets of the Children Act (1989 and 2004) and how they inform our work (through statutory guidance) today.

By considering how we can better strengthen our individual and multi-agency work, we can hopefully work together to ensure that all children receive the protection that they need.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Visit or follow her @sosafeguarding. Find her previous articles for Headteacher Update via

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