What is safeguarding?

John Woodhouse, a director of Safeguarding Network, looks at what this word that is used multiple times a day actually means for teachers and support staff in schools.

June 2019

Innovate and Safeguarding Network Collaboration artworkSafeguarding Network are pleased to announce a collaboration with innovate (@innovatejournal).

The Innovate Journal has a wide range of content, all contributed by teacher-writers from around the world! 2019’s research focus is ‘stretch and challenge’ and there are reflections and results shared through articles as well as a range of regular features showing how multi-faceted the world of education is.

Safeguarding Network’s first article is reproduced below – a link to the full edition of the journal can be found at the bottom of the article.

Keeping children safe in education – what is safeguarding?

This is the first in a series of articles for Innovate, beginning with ‘What is Safeguarding’, working through creating a safeguarding culture in your class or setting and concluding with reflections on how we work effectively together.

Safeguarding Network is a specialist education safeguarding company providing a range of free resources alongside a comprehensive set of in-house training materials for schools. We cover every area in Keeping Children Safe in Education – visit our resources for more.

Teachers are amazing. It takes most people seconds to think of a great teacher from their childhood, an inspirational teacher who significantly affected their lives. Children grow up in all kinds of places with positive and more challenging experiences. It’s hard for them to see what is ‘normal’, they see only their own experience until moving through adolescence. Great teachers build relationships with them on the way, broadening their horizons, raising their aspirations, and beginning to understand something of their inner world. Children depend on them.

There is perennial discussion about whether teachers should focus on teaching rather than social work (NFER, 2014). It is crucial children feel safe and secure, free from abuse and neglect, to meet their potential in the higher order achievements of learning and self-actualisation. Children who are hungry don’t concentrate well, children fearing others might downplay their knowledge and understanding, others might overcompensate to please others or find a way out of their situation. The teacher’s role in identifying and understanding blocks to learning is key to safeguarding children from abuse and neglect. Teachers often find themselves stepping in to make a vital difference: 45% of teachers report buying essentials for young people such as food or clothing.

Safeguarding network see safeguarding as an attitude and value base, rather than a training course. It is about getting to know your learners well, seeing the world through their eyes, and creating the opportunities to enable them to develop. Sometimes it is about recognising and speaking up when things are going wrong, having courageous conversations with parents to catch problems at the earliest stage: Billy’s not keeping up with his peers – how is he learning, is there a learning difficulty, is he hearing ok, are things ok at home? Teachers should hypothesise about a broad range of causal factors when assessing children’s learning needs and consider what early support can be put in place before the problem becomes too significant and has its own ramifications.

We should also listen not just to what is said, but to the whole range of communication we receive from children. Surprisingly for children’s professionals, the most consistent failure where children have been seriously injured or killed is 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). Children can’t always put feelings into words, so listening includes seeing their behaviour as communication (often identified as verbal and non-verbal communication).  Non-verbal communication is significant in all communication and for many is the most important aspect. Children who are unable or unwilling to verbalise (e.g. due to young age, physical impairment, stress or active decision) communicate through body language and actions about how they feel and think. This might come across as poor behaviour and it is important that classrooms are kept as safe spaces. However, great teachers also wonder what the child is communicating by their behaviour, consider why the child saw the behaviour as their best option and really focus on listening to children in their class.

So, safeguarding is about:

  • building and holding an awareness that the life of many children (and their families) is difficult;
  • recognising signs and indicators of abuse and neglect (see our resources for tips) and truly listening for these concerns;
  • knowing what to do, and making sure child protection procedures are followed; and
  • always keeping the child’s welfare at the centre of everything they learn and everything they do, from breakfast clubs to preparing for exams.

Next term we will look at some positive aspects of developing a safeguarding culture in schools.

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  • Training resources for Safeguarding Leads to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handouts for school staff summarising each topic;
  • Quizzes to test staff understanding.
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