Keeping Children Safe in Education

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
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Keeping Children Safe in Education, the statutory safeguarding guidance for schools, has been updated. Chris Parr looks at some of the key changes and requirements for schools

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) is not just a key responsibility of all schools, but also the title of the statutory Department for Education (DfE) guidance on safeguarding – an updated version of which came into force at the start of the new school year. So what do schools need to know about the changes?

The new document builds on the previous KCSIE guidance, which has been in force since September 2016, but it strengthens its focus in a number of areas – including how schools tackle peer-on-peer abuse.

In this area, schools are now required to have a safeguarding policy that details the preventative steps taken to mitigate against such incidents occurring and that must state how any incidents will be managed. Schools should also be aware that the new document makes previous guidance on dealing with cases of sexual harassment and violence a statutory requirement.

“All staff should be aware that safeguarding issues can manifest themselves via peer-on-peer abuse,” the new guidance states, adding that this is “most likely to include, but may not be limited to “incidents of bullying (including cyber-bullying), physical abuse such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting and hair-pulling, sexual violence and sexual harassment; sexting, and initiation/hazing-type violence and rituals”.

There is also additional detail on the importance of early intervention. Concerns about a pupil’s welfare should be acted on immediately, the new guidance states, and all staff should be familiar with and follow the school’s child protection policy – including ensuring that they report concerns to the designated safeguarding lead.

“We are broadly supportive of the changes to the guidance,” explained Jayne Phillips, deputy head of legal and member services at the ATL branch of the National Education Union (NEU). “One of the messages that is very clear is that safeguarding is the responsibility of all staff.

“Everyone has responsibility for safeguarding in their school, and you should never assume that somebody else is going to deal with it. If you have concerns, you must report them.”

Other changes include a requirement for schools and colleges to hold more than one emergency contact number for each pupil, which “goes beyond the legal minimum”, and additional guidance relating to pupils with SEND. This includes guidance on the use of reasonable force when restraining a child with SEND, stating that “schools and colleges should in considering the risks carefully recognise the additional vulnerability of these groups”.

In addition, the new guidance makes clear that any school which is part of a chain needs to ensure that it has its own safeguarding policy in place that takes account of its individual circumstances – it is not sufficient to have a general policy that applies to all members of a multi-academy trust.

The new guidance also now features information on the risks posed by homelessness and has more detailed information on domestic abuse, drug-dealing, honour-based violence, and online radicalisation.

“What teachers need out be looking out for will, of course, be different from school-to-school,” Ms Phillips continued – adding that she was concerned that while some schools offered access to high-quality safeguarding training, others did not.

She said that although the guidance was welcome, the NEU had hoped that more emphasis would be placed on ensuring schools appoint more than one person with safeguarding responsibility: “Unless it is a very small school, we feel there should be at least one or two deputies to the designated safeguarding lead, so that they can support each other,” she added.

The new guidance is also clear in its expectations when it comes to online monitoring: “All school and college staff have a responsibility to provide a safe environment in which children can learn. It is essential that children are safeguarded from potentially harmful and inappropriate online material.” It emphasises that schools need to ensure “appropriate filters and ... monitoring systems are in place”.

Mark Donkersley, managing director of eSafe, which provides digital monitoring services to schools and colleges, believes that while the alertness of staff is vitally important to picking up on safeguarding risks, many schools could be detecting warning signs much earlier.

This, he says, is particularly important given the emphasis the new guidance places on ensuring a swift response to safeguarding concerns.

“Traditionally, there are three ways in which you might find out that someone has been expressing feelings or behaviours that might be indicative of problematic issues,” he explained.

“You have got the eyes and ears of the teacher or other member of school staff; you’ve got the input from parents, who might flag up that their child has been bullied, for example; and you have got third-party organisations and agencies such as children’s services and the police, who might be able to highlight situations involving a particular person, or give information about local gangs that may be associating with pupils.”

However, he believes that it is only when schools are monitoring digital behaviour that schools can really identify the early warning signs that an individual, or a group of individuals, might require some form of intervention.

“If you are not using the digital environment to identify feelings and behaviours then you are losing out, and ignoring a pretty important source of information,” he continued. “I don’t think the new guidance makes that clear enough.”

The guidance does state that while it is “essential that governing bodies and proprietors ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place”, it adds that they should “be careful that ‘over-blocking’ does not lead to unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regard to online teaching and safeguarding”.

Mr Donkersley has some reservations about filtering and monitoring – which he says are very different things – being grouped together in the new guidance, just as they were in its previous iteration.

“By monitoring the digital environment, you can identify individuals that schools might never have known were having any problems at all,” he explained – rather than simply using filters to make some websites or programmes inaccessible.

“Often, these issues stem from the type of peer-on-peer abuse mentioned in the new guidelines. In cases like this, children can keep the incidents to themselves because they feel they have nowhere to go.”

Mr Donkersley said that in a number of cases they have picked, pupils with no-one else to talk to have typed letters to themselves in a word processor on a school computer.

“We often get incidents where someone is clearly writing an essay on a school computer, but there will then be a sentence or paragraph where they pour out their problems: why life is not good for them, why they don’t want to go home – then they will delete it and carry on, but we have captured the keystrokes so can identify the issue,” Mr Donkersley said. “A lot of the time these serious markers are there long before the person articulates them to a third party. In fact, they are likely to keep it bottled up by talking to themselves about it in a digital environment. If you miss markers like this, which pupils are leaving all the time when online or on computers, then there can be pretty serious consequences.

“Safeguarding issues are best dealt with if they are identified when the first signs appear and tracked early, because you can be more effective with your interventions and prevent the more serious issues further down the line. There are tools out there already that are being employed and are working to ensure problems are detected as soon as possible,” he added.

  • Chris Parr is a freelance journalist specialising in education.

Resources and reading

  • The updated version of KCSIE came into effect on September 3. A comprehensive list detailing all the changes is available in Annex H of the latest document: Keeping Children Safe in Education, DfE, March 2015 (updated September 2018): http://bit.ly/2bI2Zsm
  • Safeguarding guidance updated with advice on tackling sexual violence, SecEd, May 2018: http://bit.ly/2H21sLI
  • Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges: Advice for schools and colleges, DfE (updated May 2018): http://bit.ly/2ASbvks
  • Use of reasonable force in schools, DfE, July 2013: http://bit.ly/2zMT7g7


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