On 6 July 2021, the Department for Education published statutory guidance for schools and colleges in England on safeguarding children and safer recruitment ("the guidance"), to come into force on 1 September 2021.
The new guidance is complemented by Ofsted's recent update to its school inspection handbooks which clarifies how inspectors will assess safeguarding measures, in particular, how schools and colleges are confronting sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence.
Both updates follow the conclusion of Ofsted's rapid review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges which concluded that certain forms of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse had become "normalised".
The statutory guidance covers five key areas.
1 Safeguarding information for all staff
The guidance places an emphasis on the importance of a child-centred and co-ordinated approach to safeguarding children in education. It is clear that the approach should be applied on a "whole school" basis, with all staff bearing responsibility for safeguarding.
The guidance sets out specific requirements in terms of both policies and training for staff. It also sets out key indicators of abuse and neglect, and points schools and colleges towards implementation of a preventative model. The guidance is clear in terms of the steps schools and colleges are required to take where a concern arises.
2 Management of safeguarding
The guidance emphasises that governing bodies and proprietors have strategic leadership responsibility for their school or college's safeguarding arrangements.
The "designated safeguarding lead" is expected to facilitate the "whole school" approach to safeguarding, and to assist the school or college in playing its part role in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.
3 Safer recruitment
The guidance provides for a rigorous recruitment process across all roles in schools and colleges. This is a key part of the creation of a culture that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children and young people. The guidance indicates that safeguarding must inform the whole recruitment process, from original advertisement to ongoing safeguarding considerations post-appointment.
4 Allegations made against/concerns raised in relation to school staff
The guidance sets out what is required of school and college management in two scenarios: (i) where an allegation is made that might indicate a person would pose a risk of harm (for further information on the definition of 'posing a risk of harm' see here) and (ii) where an allegation is made which gives rise to a low-level concern.
Risk of Harm
The guidance details the initial response to a potential risk of harm, and the terms for related investigations. It covers the possibility of criminal sanctions and provides for procedures where a school or college is required to manage an exit or, alternatively, a return to work for an accused member of staff.
Low level concerns
This guidance also sets out how staff might identify "low-level" concerns and what to do when they arise.
The guidance emphasises the importance of keeping records in line with data protection law. Lawful data recording and sharing is, of course, fundamental to the safeguarding of children.
5 Child on child sexual violence and sexual harassment
The final section of the guidance sets out the appropriate response for schools and colleges to allegations of child-on-child sexual behaviour, both in the immediate aftermath, and over the long term.
The guidance sets out the factors to be considered when carrying out risk assessments as well as who within a local authority should be involved, with a focus on victim and perpetrator support. The guidance also covers the appropriate role of schools and colleges where police involvement is required.
What about Scotland?
In 2020, the Scottish Government consulted on new national child protection guidance for Scotland. The new guidance, expected later in 2021, will serve to update the existing national guidance in this area.
Furthermore, the Scottish Government has committed to developing specialist guidance for practitioners and agencies to support the identification and assessment of child sexual exploitation.
If a school, college or local authority is in any doubt about the sufficiency of its safeguarding policies, practices or procedures, Brodies is well placed to advise. Should you wish to discuss, please do not hesitate to get in contact with Johanna Boyd, or your usual Brodies contact.