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National CSE Awareness Day: our schools deserve a promotion

Posted by Sam Preston

To stamp out Child Sexual Exploitation, we must involve all agencies which are influencing the lives of children and young people. So, the HM Government proposal to focus its latest Keeping children safe in education guidance around a strengthened tri-partnership between local authorities, healthcare services and the police, highlights a huge missed opportunity in including education as a key partner.

Omitting educationalists as key partners is unfathomable, and a decision I believe should be reconsidered if we are to benefit from a truly multi-agency approach to safeguarding.

This news comes off the back of an extremely worrying year for safeguarding in the UK. In the past month alone, we’ve witnessed the disturbing historical sexual abuse allegations uncovered in Telford and received news that child sex crime allegations have reached a record high in the UK. In almost 14,000 cases, the complainant was aged 10 or under, with 2,788 of the alleged offences perpetrated against children aged four or under.

The consultation on changes to Keeping children safe in education closed in February. The new guidance on how to deal with sexual assaults and sexual harassment committed by children on other children is a very positive step, however, I sincerely hope that the consultation will provide greater clarification of the individual roles and responsibilities of each agency, particularly schools, together with how multi-agency liaison will be improved.

Reflecting on the past 12 months, it is clear there is a real necessity this year to invest in learning and professional development to inform practice on the changes in legislation and guidance and development in the ways children and their abusers are accessing information and interacting.

The online world, for example, is constantly evolving, presenting new safeguarding challenges, so it is critical that every frontline professional working with children has the most up-to-date effective training to safeguard children and young people.

Ahead of National CSE Awareness Day, I’m championing the critical role all educational settings play in child protection and making the case for education’s place as an official partner in the government strategy. Let’s embrace this expertise in prevention and management of those at risk.

Daily contact

Outside of family life, school is where children spend the most time and where many trusting relationships are built between children and adults. Teachers have deep knowledge of each child’s behaviour and are in the strongest position to detect if a child displays worrying signs something isn’t right or if they are being negatively affected by social circumstances.

Early intervention

Daily contact with pupils, combined with quality safeguarding training and CPD, sees schools identifying and managing low level safeguarding concerns daily. Early intervention is critical to child protection and schools contribute significantly to this process.

Official attendance

Once in the education system, non-attendance is officially recorded and flagged. In some families where abuse is occurring, we see disengagement with health services – from missed doctor’s appointments and vaccinations, or visits to the dentist. Parents are legally bound to send their children to school, so any change in the norm is quickly identified and intervention can take place.

A trusted ear

For many children being abused, their safe place is not at home. Educational settings provide stability for these children, a safe place where there is routine and support from someone they can trust. In many cases they are a lifeline for abused children. 

Contact with families

In addition to ensuring academic progress, effective schools develop partnerships with parents and others to support the learning process, nurturing self-esteem and confidence in young people. While ‘hard to reach’ parents pose a significant challenge, schools have some of the strongest strategies for nurturing positive parental engagement.

“If you think you know everything you become a dangerous person”...

Posted by Sam Preston

Not my words but those of Amanda Spielman, reflecting on her own induction into the role of HM Chief Inspector—Ofsted at today’s Education Select Committee meeting. A view which is also reflected in the recent revisions to safeguarding training, where schools and academies now are required to evidence ongoing training and updates throughout the academic year.

Spielman also went on to comment “I don’t think you should ever say the induction period is completely finished, there’s always more to learn”. As a specialist and advocate of promoting best practice, music to my ears. So why are so many education settings still operating on a model of annual one-off training? In conversations with school and academy staff we are still hearing phrases like “we’ve done this year’s training” or “we’ve had training and are covered”. So, it begs the question that, given the chief inspector’s views, just how will such opinions fare in the inspection process.

As I’ve said before, given the range and complexity of the safeguarding remit, it is impossible to achieve best practice standards using a one off training method and snippets at staff briefings as such a model cannot possibly offer the depth of subject knowledge, assessment of learning and evaluation of practice standards. In my view, training models without such triangulation not only fail to adequately equip frontline staff but should also open up a key line of enquiry re leadership and management.

So what should a good training model look like and how can you be sure of it’s effectiveness? I’d advocate applying similar broad principals we apply to curriculum delivery:

  1. Use great content produced by experts in the particular topics and avoid cascaded models of training, which dilute expert experience and quality of learning;
  2. Ensure the content is accessible, engaging and most importantly current. The best systems offer immediate updates as legislation, statutory guidance and inspection requirements change.
  3. Provide training that all staff, regardless of their ability level, experience and language requirements, will understand with access to revision of training at the point of need, not when you can fit it into staff training sessions. (E-learning can be a valuable tool to achieve this).
  4. Use a system where individual tracking and assessment can be fully monitored. This is invaluable for leaders to not only track progress but assess comprehension. Something you can’t achieve in the traditional seminar style delivery.
  5. Avoid training where assessment pass rates are below 100%. I’m often asked why our pass rates aren’t lower than 100% and my response is always the same – “tell me what part of the safeguarding remit its okay not to understand”.

Whilst I echo Spielman’s ethos of ongoing continued professional development as essential, it’s the quality of such learning which lies at the heart of best practice. If we make this our focus for the safeguarding remit, standards can only improve and we may finally see the demise of the tick list approach!

Invest in society’s protectors to protect Britain’s children and young people

Posted by SSS

Sam Preston, safeguarding specialist, urges government to focus on CPD and reformed systems to enable teaching professionals to protect Britain’s children and young people from abuse.

Failed succession planning and increased workloads have led to ongoing depleting skill sets now at a critical level. As the recent HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Commons Select Committee reports evidence, we are losing vital skills and expertise from two of Britain’s most important safeguarding bodies at a rapid rate, negatively impacting on service provision. Our protectors; teachers and the police are stretched to capacity, resulting in greater safeguarding risks than ever before. Today’s HMIC official warning states that a third of police services are rationing services, resulting in too long response rates for high risk calls including domestic violence and where children are at risk. Shortages of detectives in forces, 700 in the Met alone, mean that a detective has to manage in excess of 20 cases at any one time, an unacceptable workload, resulting in ill health and many experienced colleagues leaving the service. Despite the contraindicators of evidenced based research, officers are carrying out investigations without having completed specialist training. This includes rape and complex crime cases.

The recent report from the Commons Education Select Committee, evidences how HM Government has not only missed recruitment targets for five years in a row, but further suggests that recruitment of new teachers to address shortages will not address the need for improvement in service delivery. There has been little focus on retaining teachers with the skills and expertise, also essential to solve shortages, whose experience is critical if we are to effectively safeguarding children. Child protection, Child Sexual Exploitation, FGM, Prevent Duty, ‘Forced Marriage’; the safeguarding arena is vast and complex. We need policy to support the retention of experienced teachers who can utilise and extend their safeguarding expertise through ongoing CPD.

“Government must focus on the development and CPD needs of existing teachers, and invest in their careers. Safeguarding is a complex subject area, and relies upon continuous CPD and training to ensure schools understanding modern day safeguarding issues and comply with Department for Education and Ofsted Common Inspection requirements.”

Neil Carmichael echoes this sentiment in his recent post for the Times Educational Supplement CPD can power respect for the whole profession. The Education Committee Chair implores government to give teachers access to high-quality development throughout their careers to solve Britain’s recruitment and retention crisis. Recruitment may fill positions however, inexperience increases the risk of child abuse being undetected and impacts on the effectiveness of our educational system to prevent, intervene and support victims. If we lose experienced teachers, we lose not only the CPD investment schools and academies have made, but also damage our defences against child abuse.

One area that is particularly concerning, is the traditional model of training used by schools and academies. As Keeping Children Safe in Education (2016) evidences, to create a robust and efficient approach to safeguarding, all staff must be sufficiently trained and equipped in an ongoing basis with the latest knowledge and legislation. As schools and academies now recruit throughout the academic year, how can they meet this requirement and be confident that, at any given time, every single member of staff is sufficiently trained? Annual ‘all together’ sessional INSET just isn’t going to suffice, and this is where cracks in best practice can appear. Newly qualified teachers represent the next generation of teaching in our society. There is no doubt that they are enthusiastic, eager and committed, however, child protection skills are developed by both training and practice experience. Therefore, it is questionable to place this grave responsibility on them with little more than access to policy, briefings and limited mentoring of more experienced staff. Training models, including induction processes, urgently need to be restructured not only to protect children but to protect staff and their organisations. Put simply, if we are to learn lessons from serious case reviews, doing what we‘ve always done does not lead to improvement.

As we have seen over the last 20 years, the safeguarding remit is extending and is likely to become more challenging than ever. As former Chief Constable for Northumbria Sue Sim stated we cannot afford to continue working in “splendid isolation”. Now is the time to take on board these external findings, rethink the functionality of systems within all our professional organisations and boldly consider change.

Fewer teachers and police officers increasing workloads mean that the ever-increasing safeguarding remit is likely to become more challenging than ever. We must focus investment on new models to support professionals or we run the risk of a practice lottery. A lottery that could cost children their lives.