Designated Safeguarding Lead Tips

Safeguarding Network

April 2024 - 14 minute read

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X (Twitter) is an amazing resource for teachers, and we’ve begun curating content about the role of designated safeguarding leads to help them settle into their role. You’ll find lots on the #safeguarding and some on the #childprotection tags, and there’s a real community of safeguarding leads who are happy to share advice or just sympathy to both new and experienced DSLs, deputies and others in a #pastoral role.

Safeguarding Network has a bit of a different approach. We believe the power of the whole outweighs that of the individual – our core guidance is called Working Together for a reason! We’re developed a host of resources to support DSLs and a curriculum of ‘bite-size’ training packs for DSLs to deliver in their schools, building capacity and confidence across your staff team. Find out more about membership here.

This is always a page in development – if there’s something you think we missed, or another resource you want to share, tweet us @safernetwork and include the hashtags #dsltips and #safeguarding. We’ll add your suggestions. As a result, this page is a composite of views – it’s not guidance and you might not agree with it entirely. We curate a little as we go, but feel free to contact us with your views and questions.

DSL Support Programme

Safeguarding is an enormous responsibility and those in the DSL role need support beyond their initial training.

Safeguarding Network bring together DSLs throughout the year with a two-hour session every half term to highlight key issues, build confidence and enable them to build a strong safeguarding culture in their setting.

Click the button below for more information and booking.


Being a DSL is about creating a safer culture across the school. It takes a certain type of person to lead safeguarding.

  • New to the role? Being responsible for the #safeguarding of young people is rewarding but as a new #DSL can seem overwhelming. This is natural, after all we are dealing with lives and futures. Be confident, seek support, remember it’s a collaboration and listen to your gut instincts. (@MelJaneWills_WB)
  • Make friends! Get your name known around the school (the worst inspections are when people don’t even know who you are). Build relationships with the staff team across the school, including pastoral and other support/admin/caretaking staff who see children from a different perspective and sometimes have very different relationships. (@CeriStokes; @babyhart; @jennamarie_123). Our DSL puts ‘thought posters’ on the doors of staff toilet cubicles featuring updates on KCSiE to scenarios. Her photo is in reception together with the  deputy (@HelenHassell2).
  • Share feedback from inspections or observations – recognise you are all in it together (@DebbJBenson).
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge. (@robynwa37241205; @PrimaryDHTSenco) Nag, complain, escalate, and be a bit of a pest. Ultimately, children need someone to speak out for them, and if people don’t listen, keep speaking out and finding ways of being heard. The DSL is the school’s advocate for its most vulnerable children, with the staff, with the head, other agencies and sometimes with the community at large. Keep at it! (@CeriStokes)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! It’s okay not to know something (@AHTpastoral) and it is far better to find out than let a young person down. The demands on DSLs are enormous – we all have areas where we need support.
  • Don’t make assumptions (@RCourtaux) that someone understands your concerns (@suzannesmith28), that another agency is making the referral, or that because a referral has been sent it will be acted on. You remain responsible until you have good reason not to be worried about the child anymore – always check. (@MrsG_ELT)
  • Be in tune with your gut. Your intuitive nature can be invaluable in safeguarding roles (@ProjectWiredUK). Intuitive judgement isn’t just informal, it’s evidence based and recommended by Eileen Munro! The key question is to then ask why your safeguarding bells are jingling and explore the evidence. (@SaferNetwork)
  • Maintain professional cynicism, don’t believe anyone (!) (@FStygall; @PC717Sazzles). It’s easy to make mistakes, miscommunicate, or even conceal or befuddle information. Triangulate (check three sources) each important area before you rely on it. Eileen Munro calls this ‘respectful uncertainty’, taking people seriously but deciding what you believe based on the evidence that arises.
  • Don’t be afraid to halt conversations in staff room/meetings etc. if you feel they are straying into details that should be on a safeguarding referral rather than part of general conversation (@mobooboo2011). This includes conversations about staff that perhaps might breach your code of conduct! (@safernetwork)
  • Always try and discuss actions you are thinking about taking with another safeguarding team member. Try to avoid decision-making in isolation. This provides opportunity for challenge and safer decision making, as well as building capacity across your team. (@STConsulting_)
  • Communication is key – build relationships with your wider team. De-brief often. (@babyhart)
  • Be professionally curious (@pactgroup).
  • Don’t err on the side of optimism – it may not ‘be okay’. (@pactgroup). This is one of the greatest dangers, particularly as time becomes pressured and you want things to be alright.

Have clear systems and processes

Safeguarding can make people really reactive. Ensure there are clear procedures understood by all that they can put into practice.

Ofsted are looking for “clear and effective arrangements for staff development and training in respect of the protection and care of children and learners”. Safeguarding Network’s bite-size training packs with quizzes, scenarios and presentations provide a clear and comprehensive in-house curriculum to meet the requirements of the inspection framework and settings can subscribe here. This takes the time out of the preparation and ensures your materials are professional, expertly sourced and effective for your staff. Contact us for a demonstration.

  • Ensure there are clear systems of reporting concerns that EVERYONE understands. Ensure clear recording of any actions taken. Work together and support each other as a team. If an issue is not acted upon as you feel is required, use the local escalation procedure! Actively seek support. (@mikeyambrose)
  • Have a deputy and talk to them (@Mr_L_edu). Keep records. Don’t be afraid to make it the priority. Make sure you can offload on someone. (@tinglytastebuds)
  • Audit the current systems against the Ofsted safeguarding expectations. (@Spaceship_Learn)
  • Ensure that all actions are followed up. Using CPOMS or equivalent is an excellent tool to monitor this. Do your research on your pupils catchment area to address any contextual safeguarding concerns in the community. Implement these areas in PSHE/assemblies to educate/prevent. (@sineadjefferson)
  • Always feedback to staff what has happened with their referral. (@PrimaryDHTSenco) Working Together 2018, para 71: “Within one working day of a referral being received, a local authority social worker should acknowledge receipt to the referrer and make a decision about next steps and the type of response required”. If there’s no response, send gentle reminders then escalate. (@safernetwork)
  • Read all the documentation, and if you are unsure take advice. (@mm684).
  • Read the resources! NSPCC, AOCPP, CYPNow and Safeguarding Network (see opposite). All have fab newsletters. See your local safeguarding partnership. (LSCB, @RCourtaux)

Build relationships

Relationships between agencies are key. Think about the links you have to share information with consent, or when you are worried about the safety of a child. Who can you draw on to provide young people and families with support?

  • Reach out beyond the school to local clubs, the shops down the street, the local police, health, voluntary and statutory services that come into contact with your children. Understanding your school community and local community is key to contextual safeguarding and makes it easier when you are trying to get things done!
  • Strike up a good relationship with your school nurses. This is invaluable for both of you and the wider team. (@Nic_La_Nurse)
  • Work to build positive professional relationships with support agencies and remember everyone in your school is responsible for safeguarding. Team work and shared responsibility is key! (@RosieSel)
  • Find out who the DSL’s are at other local schools. (@RCourtaux). If not already done, set up regular meetings to share ideas. This acts as a form of supervision as well. (@sdhowe80)
  • Visit other schools – see how their systems and approaches are working (@CeriStokes). Are you facing shared problems? How might you come together to address these, particularly in the face of shrinking resources and rising needs.
  • Find your LSCB (often now a safeguarding partnership)/escalation procedure or professional dispute protocol. Print it off and pin it above your desk. Use it whenever necessary. (@CarolynEyre, @HeatherBarnby)
  • Remember ‘experts’ don’t always know the law – double check (@PC717Sazzles).
  • Do not hesitate to phone the police if a child is at risk. Sometimes overstretched social services just cannot act fast enough. (@FStygall)
  • Early intervention works (@FStygall) – identify children who may be vulnerable. Be caring, be inquisitive, identify problems and know the resources within and outside of school you can draw on, involving their family and tracking the improvement.
  • Check back. It’s just a small thing, but I had a colleague who would sort of rephrase what SS were saying back to them i.e. “Are you saying that even though this is her third allegation of physical abuse we are still supposed to let Dad collect her from school today?”  This almost always worked! (@mumsyme). The biggest problem with communication is the misapprehension it has been understood. Everyone is under pressure so checking back your understanding is a crucial part of communication. Follow that up in writing, and look after each other. (@safernetwork)

Listen to children

It seems the most obvious thing, but our learning from enquiry after enquiry demonstrates our most consistent failure is not to “…see the situation from the child’s perspective and experience; to see and speak to the children; to listen to what they said, to observe how they were and to take serious account of their views in supporting their needs” (OFSTED – Evaluation of Serious Case Reviews).

It’s interesting this was the least populated of the discussion threads – see our resource page on listening to children. Contact us or tweet to @safernetwork to add more.

  • Listen to the voice of the child. Ask them what life is like for them. (@gailhooper58)
  • Safeguarding is ALL about seeing things through the eyes of the child. (@safernetwork)
  • Understand the circumstances; recognize the signs; listen to the child. (@pactgroup)
  • Listen to what ISN’T being said. (@PC717Sazzles) What does this tell you?

Recording and IT systems

Many DSLs commented the transition to an online system transformed the way they work. We’ve listed the ones you’ve recommended, but ensure you set them up to support the work you do, and you don’t become a slave to the machine!

Contact us for information on our safeguarding reviews covering site, policies and recording systems, culture, staff and young people.

Use recording as a tool for analysis

You should have a clear chronology of things that have happened, a note of niggles/concerns (@HeatherBarnby) and a detailed incident report when there’s a serious concern. Ensure you make a note of each concern (@suzannesmith28). Taking no action is not the same as not acting; always record your rationale for decisions made (@CarolynEyre).

  • Keep timed and dated secure notes (@RCoutaux),  document, timeline and scrutinise. (@Christi80923613)
  • Use your safeguarding records as a tool for analysis. A good structure is to record the facts, then an analysis explaining why you’re worried or not, then the actions that are needed (include by whom and by when). (@safernetwork)
  • Make sure your chronology, no matter how ‘irrelevant’ you think it may be, is documented in a manageable system. Dealing with a safeguarding issue needs as much time dedicated to documenting ‘after’ the reporting of the concern. (@MaverickMeyrick)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Show willing to get involved if you are a ‘junior’ DSL. Offer to help and shadow. Be aware things can and do happen. Keep records and notes even if it seems a ‘silly thing’. Patterns can be spotted in behaviour. Be approachable. Learn to switch off . Have never managed last one…ever! (@ally_onions)
  • My consistent safeguarding advice. Think out loud always (within boundaries of confidentiality obviously). (@nickyjanehill)
  • Keep clear records of everything. @CPOMSUK was a game changer for me a few years ago. (@RosieSel)
  • Remember- you can only work with the information you have. (@RCourtaux)
  • Start preparing safeguarding files in June for transfer in September. If using electronic recording systems, don’t forget any paper files pre-dating your system (@cath_irving). You may want handover discussions in the last half term for those children most at risk. See this TES article for just the most beautiful, heartfelt read on transition in safeguarding for all primary and secondary teachers.

IT systems include…

Look after yourself

And finally… you can’t help others if you are overwhelmed and struggling. Ensure you have the support that you need to get the job done.

Supervision is a key theme running through this. There’s a duty of care on schools to provide this and it’s mentioned in the inspection framework: “Staff and other adults receive regular supervision and support if they are working directly and regularly with children and learners whose safety and welfare are at risk”. We’ve lots more information on the background to supervision and some evidence based ideas on how to make it work on our supervision page.

Safeguarding Network offer free initial advice to members and on-going supervision, together with safeguarding supervision for schools or groups of schools. Contact us for more information.

  • “If you’re not looking after yourself, you’re not able to look after the kids.” Always keep that in mind. (@EugeneMcfadden)
  • If something bothers you, which inevitably what you see and hear will, talk it through with someone confidentially. Don’t shy away from it or you’ll burn yourself out emotionally (@Christi80923613).
  • Remember your own boundaries. Don’t underestimate the impact of disclosures on your own well-being. Remember, it’s team work. Bring in as many professionals and colleagues as needed. It’s not all on you. (@MelJaneWills_WB)
  • Accept you won’t be able to fix every child and family. Sometimes you can do everything, but it won’t be enough for social services to take action. But conversely, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and badger/raise concerns – you sometimes hold the final piece of the jigsaw. (@mrskmozza; @babyhart)
  • And always remember why your post exists – the welfare of children needs to be everyone’s paramount consideration (@suzannesmith28). That’s why there’s SLT representation and safeguarding is part of the leadership and management standard.
  • Have that person who’s your go to for advice. Always ring HR if it’s about a staff member. It’s okay that it affects you. You wouldn’t be normal if it didn’t. (@MrsWelshTurner)
  • Debrief daily, share the load. Take care of yourself and each other. Advocate so the children and young people in your care get the service they so need and deserve! (@SusanAnneJones1)
  • You don’t have to carry it alone! To be effective, you have to be in the right place. Use your team and make sure you get professional supervision (‏@oneeduc). This is about ‘working together’; the welfare of the child is ALWAYS paramount. You’re a very special professional so take care of you too! (@SAPHNAsharonOBE)
  • Make your own wellness toolbox of things you can use or see to help you to feel better in stressful times. (@coachturbo)
  • Have planned supervision– individually and as a group (perhaps at the end of term – @Ethical_Leader). Make sure you talk to someone before heading home if it’s been a tough day and share (@HT_Helen_Nelson). Supervision is a requirement in the inspection guidance, and therefore a requirement for the school. They are also expected to ensure the DSL is resourced effectively so it should be in your job description (@SaferNetwork).

Safeguarding Network provide free initial case advice for members, so we are still that ‘What if I was working with a child where…’ service. We also provide safeguarding supervision and train your staff to deliver safeguarding supervision themselves. Contact us for more information.

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