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All change again?

Safeguarding guidance is undergoing further revision. Matthew Burgess looks at the implications for schools

Posted by Hannah Oakman | March 22, 2016 | Law, finance, HR

Readers will know that ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (KCSIE) is the key statutory safeguarding guidance for schools in England, replacing ‘Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education’ (SCSRE). SCSRE survived for seven years, from 2007 to 2014, but KCSIE has not had such longevity. Introduced in April 2014, it was overhauled 11 months later and then reissued in July 2015. And, three days before Christmas, the DfE published a consultation on further revisions.

The DfE is to be commended that, for once, it does not appear that changes will be rushed into implementation. The consultation, which closed in mid-February, anticipates that a final version of the statutory guidance will be published in advance of the proposed implementation date of September 2016. So there will be time to make preparations for the changes.

The changes are largely focused on parts one and two of the guidance and do not touch core sections on safer recruitment checks and handling allegations – although we can anticipate further revisions to these areas.

Based on the consultation draft, schools can start thinking now about likely changes required in their policies and procedures. This is just as well since some of the changes are likely to require a long lead time.

Likely changes to a school's suite of safeguarding policies

The revised KCSIE mentions in a few places the need for schools to have an “overarching” safeguarding policy. This appears to be a discrete and separate policy to the school's child protection policy and may therefore require a restructuring of the school's suite of policy documentation.

Before schools start rewriting policies, however, this is an area where greater clarity might emerge as a result of the consultation process – we have requested this as part of our consultation response.

Additional specific policy content likely to become best practice as a result of the revised KCSIE includes:

  • An acceptable use of technologies policy in the staff code of conduct and a policy on the use of mobile technology as part of the child protection policy
  • Greater detail on tailored procedures to minimise the risk of peer-on-peer abuse
  • Reference to local protocols for assessment and the LSCB's threshold document for different types of assessments
  • How the school addresses barriers which can exist when recognising abuse and neglect of children with SEND.

Annual safeguarding training

Training for the school's designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and indeed all staff is likely to become an annual requirement. Allied to this, the revised KSCIE requires in a number of places that staff must not only be familiar with the guidance but must also understand it – presenting obvious evidential and practical challenges to schools and inspectorates alike. It is possible that sampling staff understanding of KCSIE, through mini-surveys or interviews, could become a feature of the governor-led annual review of safeguarding.

Of course, greater staff understanding presents opportunities as well as challenges and the revised KCSIE reflects this, requiring governing bodies and proprietors to recognise the expertise staff build by undertaking safeguarding training and managing safeguarding concerns on a daily basis and to provide opportunities for staff to feed in and shape safeguarding policy.

‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (KCSIE) is the key statutory safeguarding guidance for schools in England, replacing ‘Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education’ (SCSRE)

Referrals to children's services/LADO

With a slight change of emphasis, the revised KCSIE indicates that anyone with a concern about a child's welfare "should ensure a referral is made" to children's social care. In relation to referrals to the LADO for allegations against staff members, the revised guidance sensibly indicates that staff may consider discussing any concerns with and if appropriate make the referral via the DSL.

Internet filtering

KCSIE currently refers to internet filters only in the context of preventing access to terrorist and extremist materials; the revised KCSIE broadens this out to any type of potentially harmful and inappropriate online material. In addition, school IT systems will need to be able to identify children accessing or trying to access such content. The consultation response form indicates that DfE might be considering further guidance to set out what appropriate filters and monitoring systems look like and advice as to how schools can satisfy themselves that they have them. 

This would be helpful, as proprietors are also warned that filters should not "over block" or unreasonably restrict access to what children can be taught with regard to online safety – and the current requirement that proprietors "should consider how children may be taught" about safeguarding is strengthened to a requirement that children are taught about safeguarding.

Looked-after children and children with SEND

Current KCSIE content relating to looked-after children does not apply to independent schools, but the revised KCSIE will extend all this content to them. Legislation and separate guidance on the role of a designated teacher to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children continues to apply only to maintained schools (and, via funding agreements, to academies), but it is likely that independent schools begin to emulate this role in order to discharge their duties under the revised KCSIE.

In relation to children with SEND, the revised KCSIE acknowledges that additional barriers can exist when recognising abuse and neglect in this group of children and expects schools to address these challenges in their policies and procedures. 

The revised KCSIE indicates that anyone with a concern about a child's welfare "should ensure a referral is made" to children's social care

Host families

The question of whether schools involved in host family arrangements are engaged in regulated activity has been a complex one ever since the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. Helpful wording is currently included in KCSIE to clarify that where parents either make the arrangements themselves "or take the responsibility for the selection of the host parents themselves", then this is a private matter between parents and the school is not consider to be a regulated activity provider. The revised KCSIE proposes to remove the words quoted, which will be of concern to many schools who rely upon this formulation, derived from Sir Roger Singleton's 2009 review of this area of the law.

Areas for proprietors/governors to consider

VWV will be updating its ‘Governance of Safeguarding Best Practice’ resources pack to take into account changes deriving from KCSIE once it is in a final form. Areas for governors to think about are likely to include the following:

  • How can we be sure that all staff understand KCSIE?
  • Could we answer questions from ISI about local protocols for assessment and the LSCB's threshold document?
  • What opportunities do we provide for staff to feed in and shape safeguarding policy in this school?
  • Are we confident that filters and monitors are in place to prevent access to harmful and inappropriate online material and/or track when attempts are made? How does the school achieve the balance between protection and 'over-blocking'?
  • How do we ensure that staff have the skills, knowledge and understanding necessary to keep looked-after children safe? 

Matthew Burgess is a partner at leading education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards. T: 0117 314 5338 E: mburgess@vwv.co.uk W: www.vwv.co.uk

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