The role of the safeguarding lead in schools and colleges has changed dramatically in recent years. This has become one of the most important jobs in the life of a school, bringing with it very significant responsibilities. If things go wrong in safeguarding there could be serious consequences to manage, not least the potential risk of harm to the child or young person as well as the negative impact on staff, parents and the local community.
Given the increasing demands and challenges faced by our safeguarding leads, is this sustainable and is the system already under-resourcing and over-loading this critical role in keeping children safe?
What safeguarding demands are schools facing?
We know that every year around 120,000 referrals relating to children in need are made to social care by schools and colleges – and this number has been increasing year on year. We also know that the number of children on child protection plans has increased significantly; in 2017/18 a total of 53,790 children were placed on plans during that period, an increase of 5.3% on the previous year.
Whilst the time taken to complete assessments and referrals by school safeguarding leads will vary (dependent on the severity and complexity of the case), there can be no doubt about the detailed and time-consuming nature of the work and the impact this can have on front-line teaching staff and leaders.
Safeguarding in a time of shrinking resources
Since 2010 we have also seen a 29% reduction in government funding to local authority children’s services, leaving local services short of resources and unable to provide the vital early help that so many children need. This is having a major impact on the role of the safeguarding lead; the reducing levels of local authority and health service support mean that schools are having to manage a much higher number of cases than ever before. As one safeguarding lead commented: “We are the only agency that cannot turn around and say no.”
What major safeguarding risks are schools dealing with?
Whilst the number of children needing support is increasing, we are also seeing a much wider range of issues being reported to safeguarding leads. Emerging trends linked to the use of the internet is proving to be one of the major safeguarding risks facing young people today and increasingly schools are having to pick up the pieces when there are problems at home. Safeguarding leads and their staff are also expected to keep up with the wealth of new government guidance that has been published in recent times – not easy when you are doing the job alongside your teaching or leadership responsibilities.
Is it time to properly professionalise one of the most important roles in education and give safeguarding leads the much-needed support that they need?
What are schools doing to manage the increasing workload?
The increasing workload has meant that some schools and colleges are having to invest in more resources to manage safeguarding (despite falling budgets) and in some cases they are having to employ or buy-in additional specialist support such as school counsellors and family liaison officers.
Many senior schools and colleges now have established dedicated safeguarding staff to enable them to meet the demand, and in most primary and specialist schools the safeguarding lead is supported by at least one deputy.
Do we need better professional support for safeguarding leads in education?
As a consequence, schools and colleges find themselves very much on the front line of child protection and safeguarding, and safeguarding leads are frequently managing serious and complex situations that could end up in in formal legal proceedings such as the family or criminal courts or even subject to a case practice review. Given these challenging responsibilities, should safeguarding leads expect more formal, professional support, guidance and time to prepare them for this critical role and should it form part of every leader’s professional development?
The increasing complexity of the safeguarding role raises issues around competence, qualifications and support. For example, there are no formal qualifications necessary to undertake the role of the safeguarding lead and no nationally agreed frameworks in place that adequately describe the skills and competencies required for the role. Is it time to properly professionalise one of the most important roles in education and give safeguarding leads the much-needed support that they need?
Join our free, live safeguarding discussion
On 25 September, we’ll be discussing the most important issues relating to the critical role of the safeguarding lead in education settings.
Join our panel of expert speakers for an opportunity to anonymously ask your questions and get honest answers.
Find out more and book your free space here.