Safeguarding: What does a culture of safety look like?

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

Safer working practice in schools is crucial to establishing safe cultures and ensuring effective safeguarding. In this article, Elizabeth Rose explains how schools can minimise opportunity for harm perpetrated by those working with children


Safeguarding children is multi-faceted and the role that schools play in keeping children safe is varied and diverse.

When we say the words “safeguarding” or “child protection”, we might immediately think about responding to abuse by parents or family members, contextual issues such as child criminal exploitation, or we may think of the in-school systems we have in place for noticing and reporting concerns, our policies or school training.


Safer working practice

There are key tenets that I generally refer to as the “cornerstones” of safeguarding – training, policy, multi-agency working, for example.

One of these key areas, which is a core responsibility (and safeguarding cornerstone) of any organisation working with children, is “safer working practice”.

Essentially, this means doing everything we can to establish environments and cultures where children are safe from all forms of harm, including harm perpetrated by those who should be working to keep them safe.

In February, the document Guidance for safer working practice for those working with children and young people in education settings was updated (Safer Recruitment Consortium, 2022). This document is an update of guidance originally published for schools by the then DfES, which has been developed over time by the Safer Recruitment Consortium.

It is not a statutory document, but it is referenced by many safeguarding partnerships, embedded into school policies nationwide, and has been designed to be read alongside the statutory guidance Keeping children safe in education (DfE, 2021).

It is an essential handbook to aid in establishing safe cultures and preventing inappropriate or illegal activity and something that should be regularly referred to as part of staff safeguarding training.

The republication of this document provides an ideal opportunity to revisit this in school, so in this article I will discuss what schools can do to create a culture that minimises opportunity for harm perpetrated by those working with children.


Training

All school staff should undertake robust safeguarding training as part of their induction, and this should include safer working practice training.

Keeping children safe in education clearly states: “All staff should be aware of systems within their school or college which support safeguarding, and these should be explained to them as part of staff induction.” And this includes the staff behaviour policy, or “code of conduct”.

I would strongly advise that schools use the safer working practice guidance to develop and inform this training, ensuring that key areas are covered and staff are immediately made aware of what is and is not acceptable when starting in a new role.

Some key areas to consider include:

  • Staff standards of behaviour.
  • The use of technology, including remote learning and staff use of their own mobile and smart technology.
  • One-on-one situations (including one-to-one online contact).
  • Safer working practice within the curriculum – how to deal with sensitive discussions or topics, setting ground rules, and devising safe learning opportunities.
  • How to raise concerns about members of staff, what to do in the event of allegations, and how to “self-report” where standards have not been upheld.

It is a good idea to revisit this regularly. Safer working practice scenarios can easily be embedded into staff meetings or at the beginning of briefing sessions to remind staff of standards throughout the school year. Using the guidance document is a good basis for this, as it gives examples throughout that could be adapted.


School environment

There has been a lot of discussion recently about school environments in relation to minimising peer-on-peer abuse (see the recent episode on our sister magazine's podcast on this issue) and many schools have reviewed their sites in light of this. It is also useful to consider your site from a safer working practice perspective.

  • Complete a site walk and ascertain if there are any areas of the school where staff could meet or work with children hidden from view. If so, or where this is necessary, are there processes in place to make this safe (for example, intimate care policies)?
  • Check that windows in classroom doors are not covered by posters or displays.
  • Consider which staff are on-site early in the morning and later in the evening and how you can ensure that they are able to work safely.
  • Think about your virtual environments. Are you using suitable platforms? Have resources that are being shared been vetted and checked? Do all staff know to check the provenance of resources, clips or websites that are used and shared?

Essentially, this is about making environments as safe as possible for children. We do this through health and safety processes too, and regularly considering your school from a “safer working practice” perspective will further support and extend this.


Processes for raising concerns

The Keeping children safe in education guidance was updated in September 2021 to include more information about what schools should do in relation to “low-level concerns” about members of staff.

The term low-level concerns applies when a member of staff breaks the code of conduct (including behaviour outside of work) but the behaviour does not meet the threshold for referral to the local authority designated officer.

Schools should have processes in place to train staff in relation to low-level concerns. Staff need to know how to raise concerns, and there should be a system in place for recording and responding when this type of concern is raised. Consider the following:

  • Do staff know what a “low-level concern” is, and have they been given examples or scenarios?
  • Do all staff know how to report these concerns in your school – including supply staff, volunteers or those who do not work with children, for example?
  • Do you have robust systems in place to effectively and appropriately record any low-level concerns that are raised?
  • How will you respond to low-level concerns, including possible whole-school responses, such as improving training and communication?


Allegations

When discussing safer working practice, the intention is that staff behave in ways that minimise allegations being made against them to protect themselves, protect children and to create an environment where possible perpetrators are prevented from harming children.

As such, strong processes should support schools in ensuring that allegations are rare. However, allegations are still made in schools and abuse still happens and all schools and colleges have a responsibility to respond to allegations appropriately.

Making sure that staff know what an allegation is and how to refer them through the appropriate channels is essential and should be revisited in staff training as necessary.


Summary

This article touches on a range of areas under the umbrella of safer working practice and the guidance documents referenced throughout provide more detail on establishing this in many different areas of school life.

However, school leaders have a responsibility to continue to promote safer working practice throughout each school year and develop a culture of safeguarding within staff that goes far beyond the safer recruitment process.

It is so important that we consider how we can continue to strengthen, extend, and adapt policy and training processes to make sure that we are providing staff with the guidance and boundaries needed to safely work with children in both the on-site, off-site and online contexts that we operate in.

  • 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 www.sosafeguarding.co.uk or follow her @sosafeguarding. Find her previous articles for Headteacher Update via https://bit.ly/htu-rose


Further information, resources and listening


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