Transforming safeguarding in education

Martin Baker and Mike Glanville share an extract from their book, Lessons Will Be Learned: Transforming Safeguarding in Education

Introduction: Safeguarding in Education – The Leadership Challenge

This book is for leaders of safeguarding in education and will help you to bring a strategic approach to the business of keeping children safe. While the principles we’ll be exploring apply to pretty much any sector, we’re focusing on education because it’s an area we know extremely well and one in which we can envisage a significant impact from a new approach.

We’ve been directly involved with safeguarding for much of our professional lives, starting with our roles as senior police officers (one of us as a Chief Constable and the other as an Assistant Chief Constable). During our police service we each had personal responsibility for child and adult safeguarding in a variety of contexts, and we each have roles in education governance today. This has given us both a passion and commitment to the transformation of safeguarding in schools and colleges, and to support all staff, particularly safeguarding leads, to succeed in their roles.

We know that being a safeguarding lead is a huge responsibility. You have a duty of care not only towards the children for whom you’re responsible but also to the parents and caregivers who’ve put their trust in you. This was illustrated at one of our 2019 safeguarding conferences, attended by representatives from 140 schools, at which we were privileged to have Alex Renton talk about his own experience as a victim of abuse at school.

Alex is an award-winning journalist and author whose book, Stiff Upper Lip, recounts his and others’ experience of abuse in British boarding schools; he also made an ITN documentary that featured testimonies from many victims.

At our conference, Alex had only just launched into his presentation when he had to step back to compose himself. It was probably only for a few seconds, but it felt like longer. Eventually he said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t believe that all you people are here, focused on preventing the sort of thing that happened to me and the other people who suffered. I just could not be more grateful and impressed that you’re dedicated to doing this.’ It was one of the most humbling experiences of our professional lives.

It’s so easy to forget what good safeguarding (what Alex Renton describes as ‘the real job of properly caring for the vulnerable’) means. It can make the difference between long-term misery and happiness, harm and safety, even life and death. For a safeguarding lead this can be pretty scary. You have a duty to protect the children you’re responsible for, and if you fail in that the consequences can be huge and life-long.

You couldn’t be doing a more important job, and yet it’s unlikely that you have all the support you need

Not only do you have this responsibility, but it’s hard work. We live in an increasingly complex world that doesn’t always have children’s best interests at heart, and sometimes even sets out to harm them. You couldn’t be doing a more important job, and yet it’s unlikely that you have all the support you need. You might go home wondering if you’ve missed something crucial, or worrying about someone you aren’t sure how to help.

This nagging doubt is probably down to you being so busy firefighting, or dipping in and out of your work, that you’re rarely able to stand back and see the bigger picture. Safeguarding is something you do rather than think deeply about.

And if you work in education, particularly in a primary school, it’s likely that the job of being the safeguarding lead came as one of your many responsibilities in another demanding senior role; many safeguarding leads are ‘anointed’ with or inherit the role in this way. Alternatively, you may have volunteered for it, seeing it as an essential part of your professional development – one in which you believe you can make a difference.

Irrespective of how you came to safeguarding, this is the book that will help to transform your practice, by providing you with a comprehensive strategic framework and practical advice on how to transform your safeguarding. We’ll walk you through the eight principles of a structured approach that will enable you to spot problems before they arise, deal with them more effectively when they do, and build a network of support both within and outside your organisation.

Throughout, we’ll give you examples and stories that highlight the various aspects of our unique approach. As we mentioned before, they’re mainly relevant to education, but there are other settings to which they also relate. Whatever the organisation you work in, safeguarding leads like you all have one thing in common – a requirement to protect children to the very best of your ability.

For context here are some stats explaining the scale of child safeguarding issues in England today, in 2019–20:

  • 642,980 children were referred by public agencies to local authority children’s social care departments because of concerns about their welfare;
  • 389,260 children were legally defined as being a ‘child in need’;
  • 51,510 children were subject to a formal child protection plan;
  • 2% of all referrals to social care were made by schools (117,010); and
  • 56% of children in need had abuse or neglect as their primary need identified at assessment.

Lessons Will Be Learned: Transforming Safeguarding in Education is available to buy online.

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