By Kevin Hartley, Senior Education Consultant
How do schools and teachers deal with safeguarding?
Safeguarding is an integral part of a teacher's role. In recent years, the way that schools approach safeguarding and child protection has been changing.
We've seen many positive developments. There's a much better awareness of safeguarding with schools increasingly taking a child-centred and trauma-informed approach. Curriculum changes such as the statutory relationships and sex education are helping to start conversations about staying safe. And the COVID-19 pandemic taught us a lot about how to protect children remotely and our wider responsibilities – particularly in relation to contextual safeguarding.
Teachers are essential to creating a strong safeguarding culture in schools. But if you're new to teaching, where do you start?
What is a teacher's responsibility in safeguarding?
Schools should be a safe space for children and young people, and providing an environment where they feel secure and supported is an essential part of your role as a teacher. You should always follow your school's safeguarding policies and procedures, and the statutory guidance for your UK nation. Make sure you are familiar with these so if a child discloses abuse or you notice something that is a clear safeguarding concern then you know how to respond in the moment and who to report it to.
But teachers' responsibilities for safeguarding extend beyond this. You're the "eyes and ears" on the ground and as such you're well placed to recognise when something might be wrong.
The positive relationships that you build with your pupils and students not only mean that they are more likely to tell you when something is worrying them, but that you’ll be able to spot changes that may indicate something is wrong, even if what you’ve seen may seem quite small on its own.
When we notice a change (perhaps a child always misbehaves on a certain day or they start acting in a way that is unusual for them) it's likely that there's something we need to be aware of. There are obvious red flags – you notice bruises or a young person tells you about something that has happened or is happening to them – but can't overstate the importance of the small things. If you notice anything, no matter how small, speak to your nominated safeguarding and child protection lead.
When I was a designated safeguarding lead (DSL), sometimes a member of staff would come to me and say "this may be nothing, but…". Very often I was able to put this together with other information to build a picture of what was going on and provide that child or young person with the support that they needed.
Common safeguarding concerns you may notice
As a teacher, you may come across a range of safeguarding issues including:
- signs of abuse, neglect or injury
- domestic abuse – both at home and in their own intimate relationships
- self-harm and eating disorders
- mental health and wellbeing
- child sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and county lines
- discrimination in all its forms
- inappropriate relationships between a member of staff or volunteer and pupils
- radicalisation (the Prevent duty)
- behavioural and emotional issues
- bullying and harmful sexual behaviour
- online harm and abuse from online trends and dares to online grooming and sharing nudes.
At times, it can feel overwhelming – particularly if you are new to a teaching role. The first and most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. You are part of a collective approach to safeguarding and there is support available to you. Your safeguarding lead is there to support you with practical guidance and access to resources and training. You’re also there to support them; the knowledge and insight you have about your pupils is crucial to keeping them safe.
How can teacher wellbeing affect safeguarding?
Everyone in a school is responsible for creating a good safeguarding culture. Part of that is modelling healthy behaviours for children and young people. As a teacher you need to be alert to and able to respond to the needs of children and young people. But you can only do that if you are physically and emotionally healthy. It’s critical that schools support staff, especially new teachers, so that everyone can effectively safeguard children and young people.
This means that schools should ensure teachers have the tools they need to do the job, including training. But also by making sure that there are forums and methods for teachers to share their experiences and learn from each other. This might be a mentoring scheme. Or you could suggest setting up a "teachers network" in your school, academy trust or local area, where staff can come together. This can be particularly valuable for teachers new to the profession.
What safeguarding training do teachers need and how often should it be taken?
All teachers should have regular safeguarding training that covers the essential elements of child protection and safeguarding. You may have training provided by your local authority or trust, or you might access external courses like our Child protection in schools elearning course. Teachers should also receive safeguarding updates (which can include training) at least annually. You can sign up to our monthly Safeguarding in education update email to help you keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date.
As well as introductory training, you may wish to undertake learning in more specialist areas. For example, we provide online courses in subjects such as:
- keeping children safe online
- managing sexualised behaviour
- sharing nudes and semi-nudes
- mental health and emotional wellbeing in schools.