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

What do DSLs need to be prepared for?

What challenges does the upcoming academic year hold for safeguarding leads? Luke Ramsden shares his reflections on the impact of KCSIE, Everyone’s Invited and Covid-19. 

With teachers around the country reaching their well-deserved summer breaks (ignoring for the moment the inevitable fallout of teacher assessed grades when we get to results day in August!), safeguarding leads will no doubt also be doing some preparation for the new academic year.

So what do DSLs need to be prepared for? Here are my top seven ‘areas of concern’.

1. Keeping children safe in education 2021: some key changes

Updating the safeguarding policy is a familiar but essential annual task. A small industry has grown up around providing guides and seminars around the annual changes to Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) each summer. There are many useful summaries out there which highlight the key changes that need to be made to policies, such as this free overview from the Safeguarding Network. Optimus Education has its own safeguarding policy available for members, which has been updated ready for the September return.

One KCSIE development with practical implications for safeguarding leads is the much greater emphasis on the responsibility of governors for safeguarding in their school. It is likely that governors will want to have more training and support in this area, and that this will be coordinated by safeguarding leads. Some companies are offering specific training courses for safeguarding governors.

Furthermore, Annex C, which lists the duties of the safeguarding lead, now explicitly states that they should take ‘lead responsibility for promoting educational outcomes’ for students with safeguarding concerns.

Not only does this add an academic element to the responsibilities of the safeguarding lead, but also means that careful planning will be required around areas of responsibility, given the potential overlap in roles with the SENCO and academic leaders. It’s important that this is clarified early in the new school year.

We'll be talking about changes to KCSIE 2021 at the Child Protection in Education conferences. Watch this update from conference chair Dai Durbridge for a taste of what to expect.

2. ‘Everyone’s Invited’

Probably the key challenge for DSLs for the new academic year though is responding to the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. Unsurprisingly, KCSIE has a number of changes in it to address this review and safeguarding policies will have to reflect these. 

Among the amendments is a new paragraph (18) stating that:

All staff should be able to reassure victims that they are being taken seriously and that they will be supported and kept safe. A victim should never be given the impression that they are creating a problem by reporting abuse, sexual violence or sexual harassment. Nor should a victim ever be made to feel ashamed for making a report.

Make sure you’ve also read the government’s sexual violence and sexual harassment guidance and incorporated that into your safeguarding policy.

Schools need to ensure that they are looking very carefully at how they deal with sexual abuse and harassment. Schools without proper processes for dealing with harmful sexual behaviour will be judged as ‘ineffective’ on safeguarding. DSLs should be aware of the key things that Ofsted inspectors will be looking for.

  • There should be a whole-school approach to addressing issues of consent and harmful sexual behaviour, including an RSHE policy that specifically addresses these issues as well as an effective behaviour policy and pastoral support.
  • Pupils must be supported to report concerns about harmful sexual behaviour and schools should take concerns seriously, deal with them quickly and keep records of all allegations.
  • Schools should ‘assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around the school, even when there are no specific reports, and put in place a whole-school approach to address them.’

ISI are introducing the same ideas in their inspections, saying that ‘we have already started work to ensure that ISI inspection practice reflects the recommendations made.’

Training for staff is likely to be led by the safeguarding lead. There are also some very good companies that can support with this, and also with RSHE on consent, such as the Schools Consent Project whose volunteer speakers provide excellent, clear and down-to-earth advice for students.

3. Schools against discrimination

The online racism shown towards members of the England football team after Euro 2020 brings back into focus the issue of racial discrimination in society. Schools reflect society, and so in the same way that abuse towards girls in schools reflects abuse towards women in wider society (domestic abuse is said to have spiked by about 38% after England lost in the European Championship final), racism continues to be an issue that schools must tackle with the same whole-school approach demanded against sexual harassment and abuse. 

Not only must there be a clear zero-tolerance message towards racist behaviour, but schools should also be looking to see what else they can do to take a lead in challenging and tackling racial discrimination both in and outside the classroom.

One step that all schools can take on a day-to-day level is to ensure that their uniform policy takes into account afro-textured hair, and they can do this by signing up to Halo Code for schools.

4. Behaviour

In recent months the Education Secretary has, controversially in the view of many teachers, focused on improving behaviour in schools for the new academic year. There have been a number of headlines about enforcing a ban on mobile phones in schools. Of course, it’s important that students are well-behaved, but many schools have a ban, or some sort of control on phone use, already in place.

In addition, it rather distracts from the more pressing concern which is to support the mental health of students in the wake of this very difficult year. As many pastoral leaders as possible should contribute to the government consultation on school behaviour to make their views known.

5. Student mental health

Rather more importantly than updating behaviour policies, let's look at what we can do to address the growing number of mental health problems among students linked closely with the pandemic and associated lockdowns. There is a long and growing waiting list for CAMHS, so it is important that schools see what can be done at an earlier stage than CAMHS referral. There are a number of useful organisations that work to help schools to fill this gap, such as Young Minds and the Schools in Mind network.

Safeguarding leads would do well to note paragraph 173 of the new KCSIE:

The senior mental health lead role is not mandatory…However, we expect a senior mental health lead in a school/college will be a member of, or supported by the senior leadership team, and could be the pastoral lead, SENCO, or designated safeguarding lead. We are aware most schools and colleges already have a senior mental health lead in place.

6. Staff wellbeing

Schools will always have children at the heart of all they do. However, this year has demonstrated starkly how vital it is to support all staff in schools, so that they can in turn support students effectively.

In the same way that the urgency of academic catch-up should not be at the expense of student mental health, it should also not put excessive strain on staff workload after an unprecedented year for schools. 

With KCSIE putting ever more jobs the way of safeguarding leads, time needs to be set aside for them to carry out this crucial role without themselves feeling additional stress. Furthermore, schools should be looking to provide effective support and training both for safeguarding leads with safeguarding supervision and for all staff. On that front it is good to see mental health first aid training being taken up by growing numbers of schools.

7. No more Covid?

A rather downbeat, but essential, note to end this blog on is the likelihood that Covid-19 will have a continuing impact on our society and our schools.

No-one is quite sure what the impact will be of the 19 July opening up of society (in England), with the positive impact of mass vaccination balanced by scientific concern that this might just spur a big resurgence in infections and the development of different Covid variants. With such a lack of certainty it is important that school leaders remain flexible and prepared for renewed restrictions over the winter, while at the same time hoping that we can go back to ‘normal’ as much as possible.

A very practical step that all schools can take is to make sure that they are as safe as possible. I would highly recommend a website developed by MIT to help schools and businesses to assess the ventilation and safety of different rooms for any airborne virus: COVID-19 Indoor Safety Guideline.

A podcast from Economist Radio explains why it has taken so long for the WHO and other organisations to recognise the importance of airborne transmission of Covid-19, and makes the interesting point that in the wake of the pandemic, air quality in classrooms and workplaces might soon be viewed in the same rigorous way we would check the quality of water and food.

So: that's my top seven priorities. What are yours? 

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