Podcast: schools’ role in safeguarding

Last updated: 09 Sep 2019 Topics: Podcast Type: Podcast
Overview

Do you work in a school or educational institution? This could apply to you.

You know you have a responsibility to protect children and young people in your care, you’ve read up on all the information required and you wonder what else there is you might need to know about safeguarding. 

Listen to this week’s episode where we look at the role schools have in safeguarding children and young people featuring our Senior Education Consultant, Kay Joel and Helen, the parent of a primary school child.

You'll learn about:

  • good safeguarding practices for schools
  • the barriers children can face when talking about their experiences of abuse
  • managing relationships with parents
  • supporting students and staff and promoting positive mental health
  • how to work with other organisations and statutory services in the community to ensure pupils feel safe and supported.


About the speakers

Kay Joel is a Senior Consultant at the NSPCC who works closely with schools to provide external consultancy. This includes undertaking safeguarding policy audits and visiting schools to verify safeguarding practices. She has also worked for over 25 years as a qualified teacher in primary and special education.

Our guest speaker, Helen, is the parent of a child who is in year one and provides us with an insight into what she has experienced as a parent.


Related resources

> Take our child protection online course for schools

> Safeguarding responsibilities of schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

> Read the updated statutory guidance on Keeping children safe in education by the DfE

> Discover what makes an effective anti-bullying policy in our podcast

NSPCC Learning podcast

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. 

There's a new NSPCC Learning episode every fortnight. You can subscribe to the podcast through Audioboom or sign up to CASPAR to hear when new topics are released.

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 welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. This week our focus is on child protection in schools. Now every school knows that keeping children and young people safe is their main responsibility. Feeling safe and supported in school ensures that students learn and progress well. I sat down and had a chat with Kay Joel, who is our Senior Education Consultant and Helen, a parent whose daughter is in Year One.

We talked about why it’s so important that children and young people are protected in schools, we discussed why it can be difficult for children and young people to talk about concerns, or problems they might be facing, and why it’s important to listen to children and young people.

We also discussed mental health in schools, and how both students and staff can be supported in this area and how a school’s place in the community is another way in which they can protect their students.

Kay, can I start by asking you why schools play such an essential role in protecting children from abuse?

Kay:
Well schools are important in keeping children safe from abuse because where children spend most of their time when they’re not at home, they’re in school, and they’re surrounded by adults that want to take care of them, are noticing when things are not going right for them and will listen to any of their worries or concerns.

Ali:
And Helen as a parent, why is it important for you that your daughter’s school has a really good safeguarding culture?

Helen:
I think it’s just to reiterate what Kay said, in that that’s where my daughter spends most of her waking hours, so when I drop her off in the playground and wave her off into the classroom, I need to be confident that the school are going to look after her while she’s there and that she’s going to be happy. And it’s very important to me that she wants to go to school.

Ali:
Kay, you’re a consultant, you go to a lot of schools, academies, colleges. What have you seen that demonstrates that schools are really looking after children that are in their care from a safeguarding perspective?

Kay:
Well I think to pick up what Helen’s just said, it’s about staff being receptive and open and welcoming. That for a parent… they know that they can leave their child in an environment that’s safe and is going to look after them and make them feel happy. But it’s also that children know that if they’ve got a concern or they’re worried about something, that someone’s going to listen to them and take what they’ve said seriously and not just say “oh I’m sure it’s nothing, never mind, off you go” but actually, find the time and put time aside to speak and listen and notice.

Ali:
And so Helen, in what ways is that demonstrated in your daughter’s school? Can you give us any examples?

Helen:
I think it’s around the availability of the staff to parents and the information that they give us. So the staff at my daughter’s school are very willing and open to talk to parents. Just this morning when I dropped my daughter off at school, I spoke to one of the teachers because I was concerned about another child’s behaviour towards my daughter.

And the teacher was quite happy to take the time to listen to me. She took my concerns seriously and she told me what was going to happen next. And I think it’s that kind of involvement with the parents – sharing information – and that kind of demonstrates to me that my daughter is safe and that the teachers care about her wellbeing as well as her academic achievement.

Ali:
Absolutely and obviously the time you spoke to the teacher, you’ve probably got lots of children and parents going into school. So for her to give you that time in what’s possibly quite a busy part of the school day, again, I guess that’s a reinforcement that it’s really important to schools to make sure that parents know their children are safe.

Helen:
And I found it with all the members of staff there. Before I did this podcast, I spoke to my daughter’s Headteacher, again, in the playground and I just asked her for more information and more details about what she did and what her school did to keep my daughter safe.

And she was quite happy to spend the time to tell me all about their training and reporting mechanisms and at the end when I thanked her for her time, her response was as a parent I’m entitled to that information and that I can ask her or any member of staff at any time what they’re doing to keep my daughter safe because I need to know and I need to trust them.

Ali:
And that’s a really nice message for parents actually. It’s their absolute right to go and speak about what is your school doing to make sure that my child is safe and I wonder, you know… in schools Kay, have you seen that that is apparent for parents? Are there things up that say to parents come and speak to us?

Kay:
Yeah, absolutely. There can be things around the entrance, main entrance or where parents congregate to pick up kids and drop them off at the start of the school day. There’ll be noticeboards - parent noticeboards. I mean I think schools also do events, evening events for parents where it’s like you can come and learn about our safeguarding policy.

Evenings for new parents or prospective parents always include or should include some information about safeguarding. Schools have to put their safeguarding policy on their website. So it’s easily available but if you’re not online, you can go to the office and ask for a copy.

And I think one of the strengths of schools is how well they get to know their parents and their families because if they get to know their parents and families, it means that you develop a more personal connection with them. It’s not just a sort of parent professional relationship but it’s, you know, we understand you as a family, we know what’s going on and there’s a shared sense of responsibility for keeping children safe.

Ali:
Primary school is a different beast to secondary school. I’ve got small children like Helen. I drop them off, I pick them up, I see their teachers, I see other pupils, I see the parents. It’s more independent when you get to high school. What should secondary schools do to be able to still let parents know this is what we’re doing to look after your children, you’re welcome to come in, this is how we feedback?

Kay:
Well I think all secondary schools, it’s that time of year when parents of children who are about to transfer, go trudging around all the schools, so there’ll be those sort of induction and welcome events and afternoons and sometimes, it’s a really good thing to do, to make an appointment to go and see the school while it’s in its kind of normal operating day because then you can see it as it really is.

Secondary schools do those sorts of events to make parents aware of what they’re doing but yeah, I agree, it’s difficult when you don’t see the parents every day and I think that the transition between primary and secondary, it’s really important that secondary schools get to know something about the children that are joining their school.

And to sort of pick up on any family concerns that there might be or particularly around children who are already known in terms of any child protection issues. But also, sending out newsletters, emails, stuff that’s put on the school website and making sure that all your safeguarding information is accessible and obvious on the website.

So if you want to know about safeguarding and you’re a parent here, you click here. You can see the policy. You can see names and photographs of the safeguarding staff so that parents know who to approach when they come in.

Ali:
Kay when you were a teacher and also now that you’re a consultant and you visit schools and talk to teachers, how do they talk about how they manage their own kind of belief and feelings if they think maybe a child is possibly suffering from abuse?

Kay:
The thing is, I think it’s important to recognise that if you think that a child is suffering from abuse or you’re worried about a child, then that’s obviously going to have an emotional impact on you. You might feel a bit helpless; you might feel angry; you might feel upset; or you might feel that you’re seeing something that isn’t there.

And that also we have our own values and we have our own beliefs around abuse and that we might then bring something that’s from our own background or our own experience and that might affect the way that we’re seeing something. But it’s really important I think to acknowledge those feelings and deal with it and know that you can talk to someone else in school about how you’re feeling and look to your designated safeguarding lead for some kind of support.

But as well as acknowledging that that’s how you feel and it’s okay to feel any of those things or anything that I haven’t mentioned, but the really important thing is that you do something about it and not keep it to yourself.

So, I mean in the past, I’ve done lots of work with teaching assistants and they’re often in a position where they might pick up a concern about a child and sometimes, they’ll say “well I don’t really know if it is something to be worried about, so maybe I won’t do anything” or “it’s just a gut feeling”, but my advice is always if it’s just a gut feeling or you’re not sure that something is quite right, then do something about it. Don’t take it home and worry about it. It’s better that you report it and it turns out to be nothing than to ignore it and it becomes something that should have been dealt with sooner.

Ali:
And I suppose from the child’s point of view, it’s incumbent on us education professionals to not display any feelings and do you know what I mean? So you’re not looking horrified or shocked because a child does not want to see that and you have to be able to make sure that they are paramount.

Kay:
Yeah, absolutely. And you might be in a position where you’re hearing something that is quite shocking and it’s really important that you don’t show that shock because the fact that a child trusts you enough to tell you something so important, you should really recognise the significance of that. But then, you know, we’re all human and things do have an impact, so it’s important that you know that there’s someone you can talk to afterwards, just to say how you were feeling and get some support for yourself.

Ali:
Is that something in schools… Have they got that good support mechanism? Because teachers have so much pressure, just you know, outside of the traditional teaching role and other education staff, but there’s this big pastoral side of things now that teachers aren’t social workers. So is there support for teachers in the schools? That if they are faced with really tricky child protection or safeguarding issues that they are getting that support from colleagues, from peers?

Kay:
I think in more schools now there are staff beyond just the designated safeguarding lead. You might have a designated safeguarding lead and a deputy but you might have a wider team around that. And it’s really important that staff know who those people are, not just so that they can report their concerns but also, so they can go and just sort of have an off-the-record chat and say oh, you know, I’ve noticed this or you know, I’m feeling like this.

And sometimes, some of the things that staff in schools say, is “I reported a concern, and I don’t know what’s happened next and I don’t know if anything is happening”. And the best practice is where the designated safeguarding lead will go back and say thanks for reporting your concern. This is what I’ve done as a result of it. Maybe I can’t tell you everything because of confidentiality and I can only tell you things on a need-to-know basis, but thank you for making that referral and this is what is happening as a result of that. We are doing something.

Ali:
So, giving…

Kay:
Giving some feedback.

Ali:
And reassurance that something is being done.

Kay, what are the barriers that a child might face when either disclosing or thinking about disclosing?

Kay:
I think they have to recognise that for a child to make a direct disclosure of abuse can be quite rare and that often, it will be shown in terms of maybe their behaviour or their attitude or that there might be a change in their behaviour. They might suddenly start exhibiting challenging behaviour or they might become quite introverted and quiet or they might fall out with friends or they might isolate themselves from their peer group.

And those kinds of things are important to notice. So if a child is going to tell you something, you need to make sure that you’re able to give them the time to listen and it may be that… it’s likely to be when you’re in the middle of loads of other things or you’re about to go from one room to another or you’ve got a change of lesson time.

But that doesn’t mean you should say, “don’t tell me now, tell me later”. I think if a child is ready to tell you something, you have to make yourself available and you have to find a space to actually listen to them and it’s really important that you do just that. You listen and try not to show anything about what you’re feeling, not be irritated that you’ve got a load of other things to go on to…

It may be that a child starts telling you something and then stops telling you and that’s also okay not to press them. Because if you try and get more information out of them then chances are they’re going to be quiet and not tell you anything else.

Helen:
And thinking about it, my daughter is still quite young and it can take her a long time to get to the point of a story. It can take her a long time to get the words out to explain what she’s feeling and I think that’s something that I’ve noticed with the teachers in my daughter’s school – in the primary school – is that they do give the children the time to get the stories out – to find the words.

Ali:
So Kay you mentioned just a little bit earlier about how important it is to listen to children, can we elaborate on that?

Kay:
It’s important to listen to children. It might have taken them all of their courage to think, I’m going to tell this person that or it might just be quite a spontaneous thing that something just comes out. And it’s important to listen because you need to recognise that for some children, you know, the actual courage of starting to say something is perhaps the most courageous thing that they’ve ever done.

And I think giving them that time and showing them that you’re listening - so stop doing anything else, sit down and actually really listen to what the child is saying. You know, we always say that oh, you need to record it, you need to write it all down. And obviously if you can do that at the time, that’s great, but if you can’t, you need to do it as soon as possible afterwards but you just really need to give your undivided attention to the child while they’re talking to you.

Ali:
Going on from that, Helen why is it important for you that your daughter is listened to at school?

Helen:
I think it’s because I want her to always know that she can go to a teacher and a teacher will listen to her. And it may be at the moment, as I said, she’s quite young, her concerns are really quite minor, but I feel that if the teachers don’t listen to her now, if in later years something more serious happens, she won’t go to a teacher because she’ll think “oh, there’s no point. They haven’t listened to me before. They won’t listen to me now”.

And I need her to know that aside from me and my husband and our family, that the professionals in her life are also safe adults that she can go and talk to and I think that’s something that does come through in the messages of the school, in that they do make sure that all the children know who to go to. And if I ask my daughter who she would go to if she was sad or worried, she can reel off a list of her teacher, her TA, the TA who runs her after-school club…

Kay:
And in the best schools, children in terms of their safeguarding will know that they can talk to any adult. I mean usually every child will have a preferred adult that they would go and talk to but even if you’re thinking about older children at secondary school, they’ll have particular members of staff that they get on particularly well with. It might be their Head of Year, it might be their Form Tutor, it might be a particular subject teacher that they just have a connection with.

Or it could be, you know, someone who’s a visiting member of staff, so it’s really important that schools make sure that anyone working with pupils in their school know what to do if there’s a concern.

Ali:
Let’s move on to how children are supported in schools and how they feel safe. Kay, you visit a lot of schools, what really good practice have you seen that demonstrates to you children are really being supported in their schools?

Kay:
Well one of the things that I do if I’m doing a safeguarding audit and review in a school is meet with a group of pupils because they tell it like it is. So one of the questions that I ask them is, is this a safe school and if you think it’s a safe school, what is it that makes the school safe?

And often, the thing that they will mention is that you can talk to any adult in school if you’re worried about something and they’ll listen to you and they’ll help you and they’ll do something about it. But it can also be more environmental things, so we know the school is safe because not anyone can just walk in from outside and visitors have to sign in and they have to wear a badge and they shouldn’t be on their own in the school building.

It might be things that happen as they’re moving around the school, that break times are unstructured times, that there are particular rules and regulations about where you can go and where you shouldn’t go.

And it can be the things that they’re actually taught about keeping safe. So through the curriculum or through tutor times or assemblies and those kinds of things. A lot of older pupils will talk around safety and what the school does if they’re feeling stressed particularly around exam times or if they’re struggling a bit with feeling anxious about different things or under pressure.

It’s different things like different drop-in sessions that they have or places that they can just go, just to be. So if they don’t really feel like they want to be in the sort of the whole noisy environment of the playground or somewhere outside, that they can be somewhere inside, that there’s time to be mindful. A lot of schools are doing mindfulness and other activities just to help their pupils manage stress and anxiety, particularly around exam times.

Ali:
It’s a big thing, isn’t it? Like every time you open a paper or watch the news, mental health is huge. And through schools and what we hear about Childline, it’s often one of the top things that children call in about.

So Kay, what have you seen change with regards to children and young people’s mental health and how that is managed within schools?

Kay:
When we’re talking about mental health in schools, we’re not just talking about mental health where it’s become an issue and it’s a negative but you know, thinking about positive mental health, that we all have mental health and it’s what schools can do to promote positive mental health and that often starts with what schools are doing for their staff.

And going back to what we were saying - what do you do if you’re concerned about a child and you’re feeling upset about it - well, is there support for you? And I think schools are doing some really good work around acknowledging that some people do struggle at certain times and that maybe it’s affected all of us at some lesser or greater degree at some point in our lives.

And I think also doing a lot of peer support as well - so helping pupils to help each other. I’m always blown away by when you say to pupils, you know, “what would you do if you were worried about a friend?” and then they’ll say things like “well, I’ll talk to them first and I’d try and get them to seek help themselves. But if they weren’t going to do it, then I might go and talk to a teacher but I’d do it with their permission”.

Ali:
It’s very mature, isn’t it?

Kay:
It is very mature and sometimes, I think we forget that they have this maturity and this resilience and that they do look out for each other.

Ali:
Can we talk a little about teachers then and how teachers are supported? Because as you say, for children to feel safe and supported and secure and happy in schools, staff in schools should be happy and feel supported themselves.

Kay:
The remit of someone who’s got a safeguarding role in a school is just huge. And it feels to me that sometimes it’s just growing by the week. Not much time goes by when… without us seeing something about another safeguarding issue or another type of concern.

I think it’s really important to see that it’s a whole school responsibility. Safeguarding is not just the responsibility of the designated safeguarding lead. Everyone has got a responsibility. Everyone’s got a role to play in supporting their pupils and supporting each other.

And then another question is, well, who supports the designated safeguarding lead? And they should have someone else that, on the senior leadership team, that they can go to and talk things through. And in some areas, they’ll have a sort of local network of people that are doing a similar role that they can talk to, too.

It’s just really important that staff know that if they report a concern about safeguarding, that that’s taken seriously. So just as much as pupils know that if they talk to an adult, they’re going to take it seriously - any member of staff needs to know if they talk to someone about a concern, that’s going to be taken seriously.

Helen:
At my daughter’s school, the Headteacher is the DSL and she has three deputies. And the rationale for that is that there’s always a senior member of staff with appropriate training who’s available to provide support, both for specific child protection concerns, but also, if a member of staff or a parent wants to talk about anything that’s concerning them, maybe a change of behaviour or something that might not be as obvious but they still need to talk it through and get some advice and support.

Kay:
I think it’s about communication, isn’t it?

Ali:
Sure.

Kay:
It’s just knowing that there are open channels of communication whether it’s between staff, whether it’s between pupils and staff or parents and staff, that those channels are always open and that it’s a two-way process.

Ali:
Absolutely and I think we should point out as well, we’re very England-centric, aren’t we? With our anagrams? So the Deputy Safeguarding is a very English term; is it Designated Safeguarding Person in Wales? Named Person in Scotland, and…

Kay:
Yeah, so it’s the person who has the overall responsibility for safeguarding.

Ali:
Can we just talk about the wider community? What can be termed as contextualised safeguarding but actually, what schools are doing outside in acknowledging what goes on in their community and making sure that their pupils are still safe and feel supported?

Kay:
I think it’s where schools see themselves as an integral part of the community. They’re not just a school but they’re a school within a community and they understand the community that they serve, that they have links within the community. So they have really good, positive links with statutory services but also, they’re aware of the community and voluntary sector and what organisations are working around the school and in the school, that they can tap into different areas of expertise.

So if there are concerns, like for example, if there are concerns around gang membership or whatever, that there are organisations out there that know more about that than the school do and they can work together to solve some of those problems, particularly where things from outside the school are coming into the school. And it’s schools that don’t just see themselves as oh, we have to deal with this by ourselves, but how can we work with other people?

And I think pupils themselves also say that they like opportunities to work with organisations that are outside the school because sometimes they don’t want to hear stuff from teachers; they want to hear it from other people.

Ali:
Of course. And Helen, how do you feel your school handles what is going on in the community? Do you get things fed back to you? Do you know what’s going on from a safeguarding point of view?

Helen:
I think my daughter’s school is quite good at sort of like passing on information. We did have something last year where there was concern about someone who was hanging around the routes to school and the school passed on the information and descriptions and advice to parents.

So for things like my daughter, like I’m sure most primary school children, likes to fly down to school on her scooter and it was like for this period we advise you not to let them go on scooters, to make sure they stay next to you.

And I think there’s also a network because there’s quite a lot of schools near where I am, so in the mile… there’s like a mile of road that’s got three primary schools and two secondary schools. Those schools also I think have a network and so… my daughter’s primary school also passes on information that they’ve got from the local secretaries… like some of the local area that has trouble after school and where some of the secondary school’s teachers go after school to kind of help monitor.

And I think it’s around a community of information and it’s letting parents know so that we can all work together to help protect our children.

Ali:
Great and have you seen that as well Kay? That schools in an area will work together to…

Kay:
Oh yeah definitely and they’ll join up for things like staff training because sometimes, you know, the capacity for schools to have to cover all the training themselves; so, they might look at getting external speakers and pooling together some of their resources or being aware of different organisations that might come in and do assemblies and then sharing that information with neighbouring schools, so that they can all get the same messages out there.

And I think a lot of schools also will build up those links themselves. They might start out as quite informal and then they start to become a bit of a more formal network where they’re sharing different information. And in some areas where there’ll be information that’s held locally by say the police or a different kind of organisation that that’s all shared. So around issues such as domestic violence or other issues that are impacting on particular families, that information is shared and then schools are aware and then they know what to look out for.

Helen:
I think from the parents’ side, it’s good if the school can take a stance or to pass information on because then we know it’s reliable. So I’m going to be critical of social media here and I’m part of several parents’ groups on social media and quite often, there are things flying around, rumours about this, that, and the other and you don’t know whether they’re true or not. But if you hear it from the school, you know that it’s a genuine concern; it’s a valid and authoritative bit of information and it takes some of the scariness away.

Ali:
Sure. So to tie up then, Kay if you could give one piece of advice around protecting and safeguarding children, what would that be?

Kay:
Well, if you are a member of staff of the school or you’re about to start a new job in a new school, the things you need to know: who’s the designated safeguarding lead; how do you report a concern; most important things. What do you do if you’re worried about a child?

Ali:
Thanks, Kay. And Helen from a parent’s point of view, what would you want the school to know what the one piece of advice is that they could give you?

Helen:
I think the most important thing for me is that the teachers are trained and know how to talk to my child and that they value them as an individual and not just as someone who can contribute to a league table.

Ali:
Kay, Helen, thank you very much.

Kay/Helen:
Thank you.

(Outro)

"Thank you for listening to this NSPCC Learning podcast. If you're looking for more safeguarding and child protection training, information or resources, please visit our website for professionals at nspcc.org.uk/learning."