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