Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

A protective environment


Safeguarding is an immensely complex area, which is one reason why Ofsted has issued a string of revisions to its inspection guidance in the last year. Keith Dennis highlights some of the key points for schools.

Since Ofsted made safeguarding a limiting judgment in September 2009 - so that if safeguarding is judged inadequate, the school will be judged inadequate - there has been a degree of confusion (putting it mildly) among schools and colleges as to what Ofsted requires of them.

In a nutshell, safeguarding practice requires school and college managers, including governors, to be clear about their statutory responsibilities regarding safeguarding and the steps they are taking to develop good practice.

The inspectorate has updated its guidance on safeguarding - for schools and for its inspectors - a number of times since September. One area it has still to clarify, however, is to what extent schools need to go beyond the legal minimum requirements on safeguarding. Ofsted asserts that they are "not asking for more than the law requires or statutory guidance strongly recommends".

Yet, in order to achieve even a 'satisfactory' grade schools and colleges must ensure that "all safeguarding regulations and duties are met." And as there are two grades above satisfactory, it is clear that there are ways in which schools and colleges are expected to go beyond the statutory minimum. So to be 'outstanding' it's scarcely enough to line up with the law; you have to strive for better. Schools and colleges should find it helpful here to consult Tony Thornley's version of the level descriptors prepared for ASCL.

Single Central Register

One area that schools have pinpointed as a particular area of concern is the Single Central Register (SCR) and, specifically, who it needs to include besides staff.

There is information in Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education, guidance drawn up by the DCSF in 2006 and currently being revised. It sets out the column headings for the SCR (p48) and schools need to ensure that their registers feature all of these columns. Using an Excel spreadsheet is a straightforward answer here (see the case study on page 20).

For visitors who are not included on the register, schools and colleges should require them to sign in and ask for proof of identity if they are likely to have unsupervised access to children. Many schools already go further than this, giving visitors different coloured lanyards for example, so they are clearly identifiable as strangers to staff and students alike. This only works if everyone in the school is frequently reminded of it, of course.

Lea Valley High School in Enfield was rated outstanding for safeguarding by Ofsted in November 2009. Its staff are reminded about wearing their ID and checking visitors' badges in a daily briefing and the staff bulletin. Their ID cards are also used for the cashless system in the dining hall - an added incentive not to forget them.

It is not unheard of for staff to lose their own ID, which means paying for a replacement. The school policy which requires ID to be worn at all times was drawn up to ensure that students and staff are not put at risk by unauthorised people wandering around unrecognised.

Some schools have had some success with making staff cover the cost of replacing IDs or making it a disciplinary issue for persistent offenders, though there is a risk that staff will be reluctant to admit the loss if they fear retribution.

One business manager suggests adding guidance to the school's safeguarding policy on what staff should do if they lose their lanyard, which boils down to: "Tell the designated person as soon as you can. The most important thing is that the lost card is removed from the system, not that a member of staff avoids embarrassment."

Site security

Site security is an area which has attracted a certain amount of controversy with (possibly apocryphal) stories of schools being downgraded on safeguarding because Ofsted inspectors were not challenged to identify themselves on arrival at the site.

In fact, all Ofsted inspectors, both HMI and additional inspectors, are required to carry photo ID which is badged by Ofsted. Schools need to ask to see this but they do not need to see inspectors' CRB checks - the photo ID is assurance that the checks have been carried out.

The latest guidance to inspectors directs them to "take into account the extent to which the school takes reasonable steps to ensure that pupils are safe on the school site" and whether the school "has adequate security arrangements for the grounds and buildings".

It also says that no school should automatically fail because, say, a public footpath runs through the grounds. However, if it has not assessed the risk posed, and taken proportionate action, it may find itself in difficulty.

Walker Technology College in Newcastle achieved 'outstanding' in safeguarding under the new limiting judgment when it was inspected in late 2009. Steps taken to control site security include simple things such as increasing the frequency of re-setting the key code to external doors.

"It is to reduce the risk of the code being discovered by other people than staff," says Guy Reid, the school's bursar and security officer. "While it causes some inconvenience, staff accept the need and also make an effort to conceal the code, as with a credit card PIN."

One problem has been how to enable parents to come on to the site for sporting events without the necessity of a staff escort. "It caused much confusion at first but eventually we decided that such visitors would enter the college premises by a rarely used gate that allowed them access to the football field only, and not the rest of the site. It seemed such a simple solution, yet took months to work through."

The school's tenacity in finding a solution was one of the things that attracted particular praise from inspectors.

Similarly, Lea Valley has a raft of security measures in place - restricting access into the school during the day, no access for the community during the day and a strict rule that says visitors from other schools and agencies are never left alone on the site unless they have been CRB checked.

None of this is exciting or innovative, points out the principal, Janet Cullen. "The main thing Ofsted commended was our consistency in this area."

Training for staff

Ofsted requires schools and colleges to ensure that "all staff have been suitably trained and have the skills and expertise required."

All staff should have their safeguarding training updated once every three years while 'designated' members of staff - those with specific child protection or safeguarding responsibilities - should be updated every two years.

To keep track of who needs training and when, ASCL advises that the person responsible for the SCR keeps with it a list which identifies for each member of staff the date of their last training. Designated staff may be grouped separately or asterisked.

The difficulty always is with new appointments and with those who for one reason or another miss the scheduled training days, so this is something to watch out for.

From 1 January 2010, the governing body has had a duty to ensure that any person who interviews candidates, or where there is a selection panel at least one panel member, has completed safer recruitment training approved by the secretary of state. This training was initially provided by the National College but is now done by the Children's Workforce Development Council.

Student awareness

How well schools instil in students a realistic understanding of risk and the extent to which schools help students to keep themselves safe is something else Ofsted is looking out for.

Its guidance to inspectors underlines that safeguarding includes issues such as pupils' health and safety, bullying and racist abuse, harassment and discrimination, meeting the needs of pupils with medical conditions and providing first aid (remember that there has been concern recently about responses to students with asthma), drug and substance misuse, intimate care, internet safety, and issues specific to a local area, such as gang activity.

At Walker Technology College one of the things that inspectors singled out for praise was students' awareness of safety and security issues.

"Posters saying 'Be safe, stay safe' are displayed throughout the building and supplemented by others that focus on specific safety aspects such as cyber-bullying, social networking, and health matters," explains Guy Reid. "Students are regularly reminded of the risks that adults can present to them and whom to turn to for support in college."

One of the dangers of a plethora of advice and guidance is that schools become fixated on ticking Ofsted boxes and, instead of reflecting their own particular circumstances, the approach becomes rigidly formulaic.

The most important thing is for each school to consider its own context. CCTV might be ideal for one school's circumstances. But then again, coloured lanyards and constant vigilance might suffice just as well.

Keith Dennis is ASCL's inspections specialist

Further information

There are links from www.ofsted.gov.uk to:

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