Podcast: safer recruitment in education

Last updated: 10 Jun 2019 Topics: Podcast Type: Podcast
Overview

The fundamentals of safer recruitment in schools, colleges and academies

Applying a safeguarding thread throughout your recruitment process is crucial in bringing statutory guidance into action and creating a safer culture for children and young people.

Taking the time now to embed safer processes in your school, college or academy will help you recruit and retain the best individuals and ensure that you’re keeping children and young people safe.

This episode features two of our Senior Consultants at the NSPCC, Donya Pourzand and Craig Keady, who highlight the importance of safer recruitment in educational institutions.

They explore:

  • how schools, colleges and academies can recruit safely
  • what can go wrong when a safer recruitment process isn’t followed
  • examples of high-level profile cases that have put education in the spotlight for the wrong reasons
  • the common errors made by educational institutions during recruitment processes
  • why training is key to bringing safer recruitment statutory guidance to life
  • the importance of including the child’s voice in recruitment.

Listen to the podcast now to find out how to apply a safer recruitment thread across your whole organisation.


About the speakers

Craig Keady is a Senior Consultant for Education at NSPCC. He has worked extensively in the education sector and has experience in varied roles including safeguarding, leadership and management, special educational needs and inclusion in schools, multi-academy trusts.

Donya Pourzand is a Senior Consultant with the NSPCC Consultancy Service specialising in HR safeguarding. She has over 11 years of experience in HR and consultancy roles across the public and private sectors and now works on a consultative basis with schools and external organisations to explore ways to improve their HR practice for children and young people.


Related resources

> Find out more about safer recruitment policies, vetting, disclosure and barring checks and managing allegations of abuse

> Get bespoke face-to-face training sessions on safer recruitment in education or take control of your learning with our online course

> Read our four top tips on how you can start incorporating safer practices in your recruitment processes

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Our podcast series covers a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate and tell you about the work that we do to keep children safe. The child's voice is at the heart of every episode and what they tell us informs all of the work that we do. 

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Transcript

Podcast transcript 

Introduction: 
Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to hopefully inform, create debate and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child’s voice and how what they tell us informs the work we do.

Ali:
Hi and thanks for listening to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. This week we’re talking about safer recruitment in education. Now applying a safeguarding thread throughout the whole recruitment process is vital - not only will it help recruit and retain the very best people for your school or college, but it will also ensure you’re keeping children safe.

I sat down with two of our senior consultants, Donya and Craig, to talk about the importance of safer recruitment in the education sector. Prior to working for the NSPCC, both worked extensively in the areas of HR and education. Donya has over 11 years of experience in HR consultancy roles and Craig was a teacher for many years, working in senior leadership roles.

We talked about what can go wrong when a safer recruitment process hasn’t been followed and the high-profile cases that have put education in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, but we also talk about how these cases have altered legislation around safer recruitment, in particular making training mandatory.

We discuss how safer recruitment training is key to bringing statutory guidance to life, how it provides a consistent message to schools and colleges, we talk about the range of NSPCC’s training on safer recruitment and the relationship between our free resources, our online course and our face-to-face training and as always, we talk about the importance of the child’s voice throughout.

I began by asking Donya and Craig why safer recruitment is so important to schools and colleges.

Donya:
Children deserve to have the best and the safest people in post in whatever setting that is and naturally schools, academies, colleges, they are predominantly there to serve the children if you like. They are the people that are the priority there and so having the right people in place is so important and safer recruitment enables people to do that. It forces you to have a think about what is the messaging that we want to send here about this role? What is the key messaging about our school and about the culture that exists within our school? How can we make sure that we are attracting people who have the right values to work with children, who have the right attitude towards children because not everybody is right for that?

Not everybody is right for that kind of setting and I think that’s certainly some of the learning that we’ve taken from past cases is that historically, we haven't been thinking in that way. We haven't been asking people about their motivation for working in that field and that has been a real downfall for us. We were naive in our thinking and there’s so many tools now that are available for people to really understand how they can think about it as a safer process and not just a process around compliance and ticking boxes.

Craig:
And I would always ask if you don’t have a safer recruitment process then how can you have a safer culture? I think that’s really, a really key question and without that safer recruitment process, you know, the process starts right at the beginning of someone’s employment then how can you have that safer culture and ensure that the young people that are accessing the service are actually safe?

Donya:
And also, how can you be sure that everybody else is thinking in the same way that you are? So you might be applying a safe process but that doesn’t mean that everybody else that’s involved in recruitment is doing the same and that’s where actually having that process down on paper is really important because it sets a precedent, it sets a standard that you’re going to work to across the board.

Ali:
Why is safer recruitment training mandatory?

Donya:
Part of the reason is because we have taken learning from a number of sort of high-profile cases that have come out over the years.

Obviously, the Soham murders being the big one that most people remember and naturally because Ian Huntley worked within a school and was able to get a role within a school, it really sort of threw the education sector into the spotlight after that. And I think the difficulty for education was that they thought that they were doing everything right, they had quite a strong process in place but the quality elements behind it is where they were really lacking. So they knew what they had to do but they didn’t really know in depth how to do that and I think that’s part of the reason why safer recruitment training has become mandatory because the statutory guidance can say this is what you should do but it doesn’t tell people how to interpret that guidance and how to bring it to life and so how to do that safely and in the best way that they can for children. I think that’s the difficulty and the difference.

Craig:
Yeah and an example just building on what Donya’s saying really, an example if you take the case of William Vahey – working in the international school, so the Southbank School – and you know, as a process from that serious incident that happened there, there was the review then of the processes around international checks and making sure that they were including that in the guidance - the statutory guidance - so they don’t take place.

Ali:
Okay, so if anyone’s listening and isn't familiar with that case, do you want to just give a brief overview, Craig?

Craig:
So, William Vahey was working on the international school circuit and he basically, for the time that he was based in the Southbank School in London, he was abusing a number of children. He would use intimidation of other staff members because his wife at the time was quite high up in an organisation linked to the international school sector.

The reason that case is important around the checks is because he was an American citizen and actually he had got a conviction from when he was a teenager - about 18, 19 I think it was - for abusing young boys. Basically, that conviction… he moved from where he was living at the time to another part of America and that didn’t go with him.

Ali:
Right.

Craig:
Then he was able to train to be a teacher and then obviously, work around the world with young people. What was highlighted was actually if there was a system for making sure those checks in various countries are  completed, then you’re more likely to pick up if someone has got an allegation in another country.

Obviously, there’s you know, that’s only part of a process and it should only be part of a process because what could be illegal here may not be illegal somewhere else, so that’s why it can only be part of a process.

Ali:
Sure, but does safer recruitment training contain some really good advice on overseas checks?

Craig:
Yes.

Ali:
And how to do that correctly?

Donya:
Yeah, I think that’s another difficult one and it’s part of the reason why I think it’s really important to make sure that training is used as well as just statutory guidance because that’s a perfect example of where the statutory guidance says you should do something around overseas checking but really, it leaves it at the school’s discretion to decide how to apply that. So we provide people with the sort of guidance, the advice points for them to try and make a decision about what is the best way for us to do this in this case, what are the options that are available to us and that’s not something that’s spelt out in the statutory guidance.

Ali:
Craig, you might be able to answer this from a personal experience, having been a teacher for many years: what are the common mistakes or misunderstandings that schools and colleges make when going through the recruitment process?

Craig:
I don’t think it’s necessarily a mistake but I think slips can happen when a school is suddenly finding themselves in a position that they need a member of staff and there’s an urgency around having to fill that post, that vacancy and sometimes can be a bit of a panic because well, there could be a number of things there, not necessarily just the timescales to allow the safer recruitment process to actually run its full cycle but actually in terms of you know, you might not have a strong field for instance or the number of applicants might be really quite low.

When you’re in those situations, it can be really difficult to have safer recruitment as a main focus of or an important focus, not necessarily the main focus but an important focus of the process because you might just think, “oh well I’ve got to just get somebody in”, which then if you’re in that panicky stage, you’re not necessarily going to get the best candidate or most suitable candidate.

If that is the case, don’t be scared to go to advert again and re-advertise and just allow yourself the time to do the process fully because if you’re not doing the safer recruitment process, you’re leaving yourself completely vulnerable.

Donya:
The way that we like to think about safer recruitment is how can we apply a safeguarding thread throughout the whole recruitment process. So, thinking about recruitment more generally, you know, it starts at the point that you’re planning, you’re thinking about how are we going to market our role and that’s not spelt out in the statutory guidance and I think that’s one of the difficulties that I find when I’m working in the education sector is that when I ask the question “how do you make your recruitment process safer for the children that you’re working with?”, the answer is always “well we do a DBS check”. And that’s understandable because in the guidance there isn't a lot of depth behind what the full process looks like and how does safeguarding apply to everything. And that’s one of the really good things about the course, it really breaks it down into manageable chunks of, this is your full recruitment cycle and these are the slots where we can start to apply safeguarding practice into your recruitment process and I think that, that’s really useful for people to see.

Craig:
Yeah and I think that’s where a face-to-face training session is also really important.

Ali:
Yes, I was going to move onto that but can we draw out some of the training with safer recruitment when you’re face-to-face?

Craig:
I think a massive benefit to the face-to-face training from my experience of delivering it is the time that people get to really consider their personal circumstance in their school and how this training can really come alive within their context. And having the trainer there to be able to speak to and actually put ideas through and having that active discussion is really beneficial for organisations. And they do find that really useful and feel much more comfortable, I think, to go away and have the conversations with potentially the senior leadership team and things like that. And to really think about how they can implement the things that we’ve spoken about, the best practice we’ve demonstrated in the courses.

Donya:
I think it really helps to have that sort of whole school community in one room receiving the same message and with the chance to have a conversation about what key learning points have we picked up on here and how does that apply for us. And the other thing is, we can make that course slightly more bespoke to their setting as well, so we can use some of their own materials which is always going to be more useful for people because it makes it much more real for them. But you know, on the flip side obviously with elearning, it’s much more accessible as well and safer recruitment isn't at the top of the list for everybody, every day in their jobs when they’re working within a school.

So sometimes we have to have that flexibility and we have to have that opportunity for them to be able to take control of their learning as well and some people would prefer that, so I think there’s benefits to both options really.

Ali:
Is there a nervousness around safer recruitment do you find? In education?

Craig:
I’ll be honest, I don’t think there is when we first go in. I think that through the day, people tend to think “oh actually, we could be tighter on doing that check or we could look at that practice again”. And that makes absolute sense because I think it’s very easy for a school because this is part of a process that schools can become really quite complacent with in their practice and “well that’s the way we’ve always done it”. But that doesn’t mean that necessarily it’s the best way and I think that sometimes, I don’t know about you Donya, but I’ve had it where you know at the end of the day you’ve got people with questions because they can feel a bit panicked and it’s about, don’t be complacent with all areas of safeguarding.

Donya:
I think the thing that I find is that people come into the training with no expectations really. I think this is one of those things that comes with the fact that it is a mandatory training requirement that’s set out in statutory guidance, so people are told that they have to go onto this training and so they come along because they’ve been told to do it. And then what I’ll get is we’ll take a break in the morning and people come up to me and they go “oh, this is actually really interesting” and “I just had no idea that that’s what we could and should be doing and it’s actually exciting to see that there’s more that we can do with our recruitment process and how we can make it safer and how it can be a really positive experience for everybody”. And I think that’s the thing that I definitely notice when I’m doing the face-to-face courses.

People come with no expectations whatsoever and then they leave with, weirdly, a smile on their face and a to-do list a mile long. Obviously, you know, then the beauty there is we can refer them on to our NSPCC Learning website because there’s so many free resources on there that they can use and we can point them in that direction throughout the course, so that we don’t just leave them with a list of things to do, they know that they’ve got things there from us afterwards as well.

Ali:
To follow up with… Can we talk a little bit about the elearning course because you have both acted as consultants on that course?

Have you been able to use some of your experiences from the face-to-face training and add it into the elearning course?

Craig:
Yeah.

Donya:
Absolutely. I think every time that we work with a school or a college and we are doing that sort of bespoke course for them, we take learning ourselves from their situations and we take learning from what they’re saying to us throughout the day.

Without that, we wouldn’t know what it is that people need in that elearning course, so we can take that forward and apply it. A lot of the scenarios that we use on the courses, the sort of dialogue that you hear, is actually based on real life cases that we’ve worked on.

It’s not something that we’ve just sat and made up. We want that to be as real as possible for people and the way to do that is to use what is actually happening for schools now.

Craig:
And the evaluation process from the face-to-face sessions as well helps us to know that we are pitching things right.

Having all of that sort of information allows us when we do consult on things like the elearning that actually we’ve got that in our mind or we’ve already looked at it from a face-to-face point of view and can that be something that can be implemented or would it work in an elearning process.

Donya:
And I think some of the things that we have to think about as well is with this being an elearning course, how can we make sure that we can get as much of that really valuable information from the face-to-face courses into an online training environment because you know that does come with its limitations but we want to make sure that we can get the best information in there. And so, we do spend time having a think about, not only the evaluation information that we obviously read ourselves after the courses, but we come together to have discussions about what needs adapting and then in our planning for the actual content, we can then, like Craig said, pull that in and think about how we can get those messages out there.

Craig:
And because we do actually cover a wide range of different education establishments, so not just primary schools or independent schools but literally the whole sector who ever want to receive the face-to-face, we get a real diverse audience and diverse feedback.

Donya:
And I think that’s a challenge actually, coming onto that, because I think historically across the education sector there’s been so many different ways of working when it comes to thinking about safeguarding and safer recruitment, everybody, because there’s different pieces of guidance and people have been left to interpret that in their own way, there is no consistency and thinking and I think that again is the real beauty of the course because it brings a consistent message regardless of the institution or setting that you’re in: these are the fundamental points that you should be working to for safer recruitment, you know, across the board.

There are no variations there and I think that makes it much easier for people to digest, there’s less sort of noise around the messaging.

Ali:
And the course is really… it’s in bitesize chunks, isn't it? It’s really accessible, it’s really digestible. So should people maybe take the course but then if they feel the need for more, is it then a natural progression for them to go for face-to-face training? They can have some more bespoke training that is put into their school or college?

Craig:
Absolutely.

Donya:
Yeah, I find that a lot actually. I was doing some training recently and half of the group had done our online elearning course and they had found it really beneficial and then they’d had that conversation themselves to say, “okay, well how can we make sure that this is a consistent message within our school community and interpret this in a bit more depth and make it a bit more tailored to us”. And then they contacted us and asked us to come in and sort of further that learning experience for them, so it can be used in that way.

Ali:
It feeds back into the free resources that we have on NSPCC Learning and we produce something, we find out from our audience what they want, how they want it and that feeds back into the rest of our content and we kind of start from there.

Donya:
Yeah.

Craig:
Absolutely and you know, often as well people will sit the elearning course and then say, actually we want to know more that but also about a certain aspect or we have a gap in our, say for instance, our policies where actually we’d like some more advice and work with that. So not only does it necessarily lead onto the face-to-face training but it may also lead onto an organisation wanting some consultancy as well. It is a good way of…

Donya:
It’s all part of the journey really isn't it? And it’s their journey, it’s not something that we’re putting onto them, it’s them going on that journey in their own time and taking that learning themselves and then deciding what is right for them. And we just make sure that we have something, some kind of product, some kind of service that will cater to any need really and even if there isn't something that we’ve already thought of, that’s what our team is here for. People come to us with whatever their issue is and if we don’t already have a solution, we work with them to create that solution.

Craig:
Yeah and obviously because of the organisation that we’re part of, what we do is always, we see as being best practice. And we would always recommend what is best practice, which some schools and colleges, could think “oh well, that’s quite full on” but actually it’s from having such a history in the area that we learn from previous events and things like that and actually being able to go to the organisation and various teams within the organisation to get information from, allows us to inform our practice to ensure that what we do is that the best practice.

Donya:
Yeah and I think the NSPCC has such a rich history around the field of creating safer organisations. We have so much that we can draw on and we’re constantly learning and evaluating in that field, so I think we really pioneered the thinking around creating safer organisations and safer recruitment is just one part of that.

Ali:
What advice would you give to schools on how to recruit safely?

Craig:
If it’s one piece of advice, I would say make sure that you give yourself enough time to be able to complete the recruitment process fully without rushing so, therefore, you’re less likely to make any of those slips or mistakes that we’ve spoken about earlier. So, whilst you may feel that you’ve got to rush the process and have a deadline to get somebody in post, you know, there’s always going to be alternatives until that has run its course. Yeah, I would say that time is a big factor.

Donya:
I think from my perspective, from an HR perspective, recruitment has always been thought about as a marketing tool so when you’re going out to recruit, people are often thinking how can we sell ourselves, how can we make ourselves attractive to people so that we get candidates applying and my advice would be to balance that thinking because you need to be thinking about the risk as well as marketing. So, what is the risk in our recruitment and a lot of schools don’t think about this.

They think, we’re selling the role and they don’t think about the vulnerabilities that they’re opening up in the way that they are selling the role, so make sure that they’re presenting the role and the school and their approach to protecting children in the right way so they can really balance that messaging between safeguarding and selling.

That would be my advice.

Ali:
Great. And what’s quite interesting about safer recruitment and education training is, I guess when I traditionally think of recruitment, it’s how you get the right person for that job, which is correct but actually a lot of the safer recruitment is how to deter the wrong person from that job. And I guess that’s a quite important element of this training?

Craig:
Yeah, absolutely.

Donya:
Yeah, it’s that message that people don’t think about because people don’t like to think about that do you? You don’t like to think about that. It’s not nice but it is a very real issue at the moment. We know that people who are looking to harm children will actively seek out roles that give them an opportunity to have access to children, so anybody who is working in a setting with children is a potential target for those people and you know, fundamentally, that is what that safeguarding thread is that we’re talking about that runs throughout this course.

We can use recruitment as an attraction or we can think about skills wise having the right person but we also need to think about the vulnerabilities and putting the children first and making sure that that person is the safest person to work there or volunteer there.

Ali:
How often does safer recruitment training need to be taken?

Donya:
People ask this question a lot, there is nothing spelt out anywhere that says you must do your safer recruitment training every X years, that’s just not the case, it’s not in there anymore so when we talk to people we say to them, what you need to think about actually is that the world of safeguarding is a bit of an ever-changing beast. There’s constantly things that are coming up that we’re taking learning from, there’s constantly changes to legislation – to the statutory guidance – and we can’t predict when that’s going to happen.

I think the William Vahey case that Craig talked about earlier is a perfect example of this. When that happened, there was learning that was taken from the review and there was best practice guidance that was applied to our elearning, so we updated our content because we are constantly updating it whenever we need to which meant that people could get those new messages. So, I think it’s really important to make sure that you think about doing it regularly but also think about what your needs are.

If you’re recruiting regularly then you need to make sure that you’re refreshing your thinking because you’re not constantly thinking about safer recruitment when you’re in your jobs. That’s not your day-to-day job, is it? So have a think about actually if I’m recruiting, let’s refresh this knowledge and that is again, the beauty of the elearning course because you can dip in and out whenever you need to and you don’t have to do the whole thing. You can dip in and out of the different modules depending on what it is that you’re going to be doing.

So, it really is flexible in that way.

Craig:
And I think as well an important factor is making sure that you have enough people within your organisation trained to be able to sit on a panel. So if you do have to, based a bit on what Donya said, if you do find yourself in a busy time of recruitment, that you’ve got enough people to cover it because as Donya said – it’s not always at the forefront of your mind, the safer recruitment thing – so it’s easier and that’s why the face-to-face training especially is good because if you can train 16 people in one go, you’re always going to have someone that you can pull on to sit on a panel to cover that requirement.

From a school’s point of view, if you’ve got your safer recruitment policy there, you should really state a time to say how often it’s going to be …

Ali:
Yeah, that’s good practice too.

Craig:
Yeah.

Donya:
Yeah, that’s always going to be good practice.

Ali:
Yeah and I guess the safer recruitment course has resources at the end – checklists and templates that schools can… and I’m sure a lot of schools have these already, but actually it’s probably quite nice to have examples that you can, like you say, it’s like an aide memoire that you can refer back to. You can kind of use them, see how yours compares to the one NSPCC training has, so I guess it’s all helping to work towards making sure that you recruit safely?

Craig:
Yes.

Donya:
Definitely.

Ali:
And everything is about the child’s voice that the NSPCC does, how are we ensuring that we’ve included the child’s voice in our safer recruitment training in education?

Donya:
Whenever we are planning the content for a course and through all the work that we’ve done in understanding, creating safer organisations and what the NSPCC considers as safer recruitment, we’re thinking about that with the child as being sort of the end user.

We’re constantly pushing people to think about being child-focused. So in your decisions that you’re making, are you being child-focused? Are you thinking about the children that are the end-user basically? When you’re recruiting to a position within a school or a college, the child is the end-user in every single setting and that’s a very easily forgotten when it comes to recruitment because I’m thinking, “okay, has this person got the right skills? Have they got some experience in this field?”. And when we go in and maybe do an audit with schools, maybe they’ve made a mistake in their recruitment recently. My challenge to them is always, have your decisions been child-focused here? And in more cases that not, it’s because something else has taken priority and they’ve lost sight of the children that they’re actually working for.

Ali:
So, Craig, Donya, thanks very much for speaking to me.

Craig:
You’re welcome.

Donya:
You’re welcome, yeah. Thank you for having us.

Ali:
Thank you for the sterling work you’ve done on the course.

(Outro)

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