The role of school governance in safeguarding children

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What is safeguarding and what are the duties on governors? Martin Hodgson, a school governor for 15 years, summarises the main points.

Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 requires school governing bodies, local authorities (LAs) and further education institutions in England to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 apply the same duty to proprietors of independent schools, academies and free schools.

What is child safeguarding?

Safeguarding consists of the actions that organisations need to take and the arrangements they need to put in place in order to protect children from harm and promote their welfare.

Educational settings have a central role to play in the early identification of any welfare concerns about a child, including indicators of possible abuse, neglect or wider safeguarding concerns.

What are the main safeguarding roles of governors?

Governors and boards have a key leadership role which is set out in the Governance Handbook: For Academies, Multi-academy Trusts and Maintained Schools published by the Government in January 2017. The guidance states that governors must carry out these leadership functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

The Governance Handbook states that an individual on each governing body or board should take leadership responsibility for a school’s wider safeguarding arrangements. This is usually accomplished by nominating an individual governor to champion child protection issues and to link with the Head and safeguarding leads. Such a role has been found to be an effective way for the governing body to achieve an overview of safeguarding arrangements and ensure they are robust.

In another key function, the Chair of the governing body or their deputy, will normally be responsible for liaising with the LA and any partner agencies, as appropriate, in the event of allegations of abuse being made against the Head.

Governors should ensure that:

  • schools have suitable systems and processes in place to ensure that Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are performed which prevent people who pose a risk of harm from working with children

  • procedures are in place for dealing with abuse allegations against school staff and to make DBS referrals if a member of staff has been dismissed or removed due to safeguarding concerns

  • appropriate support is provided to staff who are facing a safeguarding allegation.

Governors should support the safeguarding activities of the school at every opportunity and always act to promote the welfare of children. However, they do not have a role in dealing with individual safeguarding cases and do not have a right to the details about any investigation unless it concerns an allegation against the Head.

Since April 2016, all governors in England, in types of school, must have a mandatory-enhanced DBS check.

What statutory guidance must be followed?

A range of statutory guidance covers safeguarding children in schools. School governors must have regard to this guidance. It includes:

  • Working Together to Safeguard Children

  • Keeping Children Safe in Education

  • The Prevent Duty.

The latest version of Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children was published by the Government on July 2018 replacing the earlier 2015 version.

Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out the legal background to safeguarding. It applies to all agencies that work with children, including schools of all types. It also sets out an organisational framework for safeguarding.

The key change in the updated version is the replacement of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) with “safeguarding partners” led by LAs, Chief Officers of police and clinical commissioning groups.

Specific statutory guidance for schools is provided in the Department for Education document, Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory Guidance for Schools and Colleges. An updated version was also published in the summer and has applied since September 2018. The updated guidance includes reforms to the safeguarding framework introduced under the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

All schools are subject to a duty under s.26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being radicalised and drawn into terrorism. This is included in The Prevent Duty: Departmental Advice for Schools and Childcare Providers and is a vital part of safeguarding.

How does the statutory guidance apply to school governance?

The key message of Working Together is that safeguarding children is “everyone’s responsibility” and that all agencies must work together to create a “child-centred” system to safeguard and promote their welfare. Public enquiries and investigations into child deaths and abuse have consistently highlighted the need for all agencies — such as the LA, social services, the police and schools — to work closely together.

Keeping Children Safe in Education applies to all schools, including maintained schools, academies, free schools and independent schools. It defines the statutory role of school governors and requires them to ensure that all safeguarding policies, procedures and training are in place, and comply with the law and best practice. This includes procedures for safe recruitment and dealing with allegations of abuse against members of staff and volunteers. As part of these arrangements they must ensure that the school appoints an appropriate designated person to take lead responsibility for child protection.

Governing bodies are required to remedy without delay any deficiencies or weaknesses in regard to child protection arrangements that are brought to their attention.

The governing body must ensure that they, and all staff, have read Part 1 of Keeping Children Safe in Education. This provides general safeguarding information which is considered essential core information.

According to the guidance, governors must ensure that the school has up-to-date child protection policies and procedures in place, including a staff code of conduct. These documents should be given to new staff and governors on induction, reviewed annually and made available publicly, eg on the school website. Policies and procedures must be reviewed annually.

Keeping Children Safe in Education has extensive notes on the different types of abuse that school staff should be aware of. The latest version of the guidance includes a new section on responding to and supporting young victims of sexual violence and harassment. It strengthens guidance about online safety, provides more clarity around pre-appointment checks and safer recruitment, and contains updated guidance on the acceptable use of restraint.

The duty to prevent radicalisation is set out in Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales.

Who is the designated person?

According to Keeping Children Safe in Education, governing bodies have a statutory duty to ensure that a school appoints a designated person to take lead responsibility for child protection.

The designated safeguarding lead must be a senior member of the school leadership team. Larger schools may require more than one person.

The designated person is responsible for:

  • referring cases of suspected abuse or allegations to the relevant investigating agencies

  • providing advice and support to governors and school staff

  • liaising and working with other agencies, for example, the LA, the police and social services.

Governors should ensure the designated person is adequately trained and supported.

What safeguarding training is available?

Training is a key element in modern safeguarding practice. Governors and boards must ensure that school staff have access to appropriate safeguarding training. They should also access suitable training themselves. It is essential that those in influential positions in schools have a clear understanding of safeguarding policies, procedures and duties.

Teachers and other members of school staff who work closely with children are in a position of trust and are uniquely placed to spot the changes in behaviour that may indicate abuse, including neglect, radicalisation and exploitation. All staff must, therefore, have the necessary training to help them recognise signs of possible abuse and to know what to do if a child discloses information to them.

Governors should ensure that the Head and any designated persons attend additional training relevant to their roles. This should include multi-agency training. LAs and their safeguarding partners are responsible for providing such training that meets the needs of all partner agencies, including schools.

Temporary staff and volunteers must be made aware of the schools’ arrangements for child protection and their individual responsibilities, ideally on the first visit to the school.

Summary

School governors must:

  • carry out their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children

  • have regard to statutory guidance such as Keeping Children Safe in Education

  • ensure that a school appoints a designated person to take lead responsibility for child protection

  • ensure that the designated person, and staff and governors have access to appropriate safeguarding training and information.

Further information

This article provides only a brief introduction to school safeguarding. Governors should read the statutory guidance available on the GOV.UK website. Further guidance on governance and safeguarding is available from the National Governance Association website.

Last reviewed 4 December 2018

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