Safeguarding: Revised government guidance issued
Against the backdrop of its drive to reduce red tape and what it describes as a culture of unnecessary checking and a tick box approach to safeguarding, the Government has issued revised guidance on safeguarding of children to which schools should pay particular attention. The Government has put forward its approach as starting with a presumption of trust and confidence in those who work with children, and the good sense and judgments of their managers. Effective from 15 April 2013 will be the revised guidance entitled “Working Together to Safeguard Children”. This guidance sets out how individuals and organisations, including independent schools, should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Independent Schools: Is the Statutory Guidance relevant?
Independent schools should particularly consult paragraph 4 of chapter 2 as this summarises the responsibilities of schools in the area of safeguarding. Under section 157 of the Education Act 2002, independent schools have a duty to exercise their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children who are pupils at a school, or who are students under 18 years of age attending further education institutions. The guidance states that all educational settings to whom the duty applies should have in place the arrangements set out in paragraph 4 of chapter 2.
The arrangements that schools are expected to put into place include the following:
- A clear line of accountability for the commissioning and/or provision of services designed to safeguard and promote the welfare of children;
- A Senior Board Level Lead to take leadership responsibility for the organisation’s safeguarding arrangements;
- A culture of listening to children and taking account of their wishes and feelings in making any individual decisions and in developing services;
- A designated professional lead for safeguarding. In a school context this would be a senior member of the teaching staff;
- Appropriate supervision and support for staff, including undertaking safeguarding training.
It should also be noted that under section 10 of the Children Act 2004 schools, including independent schools, have a duty to cooperate with other bodies and agencies designed to improve the wellbeing of children and young people (including for example Local Safeguarding Children Boards).
Consultation: Keeping Children Safe in Education
A week following the issuing of the above revised Government guidance has seen the issuing of new draft guidance and an associated consultation specifically related to keeping children safe in education. This has been released by the Department for Education, and is about how schools should carry out their duties specifically to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils. Of course, the statutory duty for independent schools under section 157 of the Education Act 2002 (and for state schools under section 175 of the same Act) still applies and so this draft guidance will have to be followed unless a particular institution has a compelling reason for acting differently.
This guidance does not cover every detail but schools can follow what is more a laying down of principles by the Government, as the Government itself has stated that it is for front line skilled professionals to use their own knowledge and judgment to promote the welfare of children and safeguarding pupils.
A key principle set out in the guidance is that governing bodies and proprietors of schools are to be accountable for ensuring their school has effective policies and procedures in place in accordance with the guidance and for monitoring their school’s compliance with them. It will be for governors to ensure that an appropriate senior member of staff is designated to take lead responsibility for dealing with child protection issues, providing advice and support to other staff, liaising with local authorities and other agencies involved in child safeguarding.
The guidance, which is available on the Department for Education’s website, also covers principles in relation to inter-agency working, pre-employment vetting checks on new staff, and also checks on the proprietors of independent schools. On this point, the proprietor of an independent school or its chair where a body of persons is the proprietor, or the chair of the governing body must obtain, prior to becoming the proprietor or being appointed as a chair, an enhanced criminal records check which will actually have to be countersigned by the Secretary of State for Education.
The Government is currently consulting on this draft guidance and if you wish to respond, the deadline is 20 June 2013.
If you should require further information or advice on how best to implement safeguarding policies in your school or institution, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.