The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Luke Ramsden

How the role of the DSL is set to change in 2021

Luke Ramsden explores the implications of proposed changes to Keeping children safe in education for the ever-expanding role of designated safeguarding lead.

There’s been a lot of focus recently on the government consultation around assessment and exams for summer 2021. However, there’s another important consultation underway: proposed changes to Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE). The suggested changes would be implemented from September 2021 and could have a significant impact on the role of the designated safeguarding lead (DSL).

The deadline for the consultation is 4 March 2021 so it’s important to add your voice soon if you want to contribute.

I’ve already picked up on some key points you might want to consider in responding to the consultation. Here I want to focus on what I think is the most significant proposal: changes to the role of the DSL.

Pay attention to Annex C

Proposed changes to the DSL role can be found in Annex C of the KCISE 2021 consultation document. The changes largely revolve around emphasising that ‘the role of the designated safeguarding lead carries a significant level of responsibility’ (page 121). Emphasising the importance of the DSL isn’t controversial, but it is likely that many school leaders will note a significant disparity between an increase in responsibility loaded onto the DSL and no mention of additional support to help the DSL with all of this.

The four main points added to the responsibilities of the DSL (pages 122-123) are largely just developing and clarifying a lot of work that safeguarding leads already do. However, in specifying these increased responsibilities, the sprawling role of the DSL (especially when combined with another leadership role as is often the case) is made very clear.

  1. To be a ‘source of support, advice and expertise for all staff’.
  2. To promote ‘supportive engagement with parents and/or carers’.
  3. To ‘liaise with the senior mental health lead and, where available, the Mental Health Support team.’
  4. In promoting ‘educational outcomes’ the DSL is now given ‘lead responsibility for maintaining a culture of high expectations’ among students who need a social worker or who have had them in the past.

Potential issues

The third point above pre-supposes that every school has a mental health lead and – ‘where available’ – a Mental Health Support Team.

While it’s the government’s ambition that every school will have a mental health lead by 2025, and of course this would be a positive move forward, I’m not sure that every school is as yet able to fund or staff this position.

Will DSLs end up taking on this extra responsibility themselves, particularly in smaller schools?

Been appointed as your school’s mental health lead but unsure where to start? Check out our guidance and resources to prepare you for the role. 

I can also see increasing overlaps between the role of the SENCO and the DSL around both mental health and responsibility for educational outcomes. In many schools it is likely that the SENCO will have had at least part of the role in coordinating academic support for students with social workers (and also possibly students with mental health issues in lieu of a mental health lead).

This wider brief for the SENCO is suggested by paragraphs 6.22 and 6.32 of the SEND code of practice and schools will need to work out how mental health support and the enlarged DSL brief will fit with the work of the SENCO.

Is this a job for one person?

The fact that the role of the DSL is growing broader every year begs the question about whether this is still a model that is best seen as one run by a single person.

Many larger schools already have a number of DSLs, and given the increasing range of responsibilities, it would be helpful if KCSIE would acknowledge that schools might want to have a team of DSLs, or even suggest that this would be best practice in bigger schools. 

At present KCSIE only refers to DSLs in the singular. Changing this, and specifying how schools could potentially divide or devolve safeguarding responsibilities amongst a team, would be extremely helpful for many schools.

Time for supervision

It would also be very welcome if KCSIE would note the importance of providing safeguarding supervision for DSLs so that they have the best personal support in these very demanding roles. The desirability of these 1:1 sessions to support every safeguarding lead was included in last year’s KCSIE consultation but then was dropped, along with most other changes, in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Clearly the government is going to be reluctant to make expensive individual support sessions for DSLs across the country compulsory for schools, but it would be good to see them acknowledged as best practice, and as something to work towards.

Support for safeguarding leads

Are you a DSL or safeguarding lead looking to build your support network? Our Leading Safeguarding conference takes place in June 2021. Join us for practical and interactive digital modules designed with leading experts and a wealth of downloadable resources, including recordings of every session.

Check out the programme



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