Safer Recruitment and Safer Working Practices... Getting it right.

November 2017

As a parent, I’m sure that I am not alone in holding a high expectation that school is a safe place for my child to be. As a professional working in the field of safeguarding, I know that sadly, this is not always the case. Creating an ongoing culture of vigilance is a term that is often used when we talk about safer recruitment and safer working practices, but words are easy. Getting it right in practice, is the real challenge.
The most recent statistics based on data provided by local authorities in England in 2011 by the York Consulting Group on behalf of the DfE, suggest that one in five schools will deal with an allegation against a member of staff every year. Whilst safer recruitment is just one strand of safeguarding, it’s the one that will help to deter, reject and identify those who may pose a risk to the children in our care and it needs to be at the heart of HR procedures.
DfE, Keeping children safe in education (2016), states that at least one member of a recruitment panel must have undertaken safer recruitment training. Part three of the guidance describes the required background checks that must be undertaken when recruiting staff, volunteers and governors. Some schools have not been aware of the more recent additions to this, such as the Prohibition from teaching checks and for academies and independent schools, Prohibition from management.
Of course, undertaking vetting and background checks alone, do not safeguard children. HM Government, Working together to safeguard children (2015) sets out additional measures. Creating a culture where children are respected and listened to is at the heart of the guidance. The importance of supervision and child protection training for all staff, ensuring effective policies and procedures are in place are also highlighted as key elements. A recent Ofsted inspection of a previously rated outstanding school was found to be lacking in these areas and subsequently placed in special measures. Background checks undertaken by the school did not meet the statutory requirements, child protection policies had not been updated, cleaners and lunch time organisers had not received child protection training and mandatory safeguarding checks on staff and governors were incomplete.
Further statutory guidance for schools, DfE, Keeping children safe in education (2016), requires that there is clear guidance on staff behaviour or more commonly referred to as the code of conduct. Amongst other things, this should address acceptable use of technologies, staff/pupil relationships and communications including the use of social media. A useful reference for those reviewing or developing their policies, is the Safer Recruitment Consortium, Guidance for safer working practice for those working with children and young people in education settings (2015). Having such clear guidance in place leaves little room for naïve practice or misunderstandings and will help to protect both children and staff. It is estimated that twenty percent of allegations against staff relate to child sexual abuse, given our knowledge of under-reporting, it is likely to be far more prevalent than the figures suggest. Sexual abuse in schools isn’t just perpetrated by those seeking out opportunities, but often occurs when ‘opportunities’ arise due to poor guidance and lack of challenge by others. It’s important to state that not everyone who is ‘tactile’ or ‘touchy-feely’ wants to, or ever will, sexually abuse children, but we know that boundary violating behaviours are often a feature of perpetrator behaviour.    
‘It can happen here’ and ‘think the unthinkable’ are all messages that have emerged from serious case reviews. They also apply to creating an ongoing culture of vigilance. Staff need to be aware of how to keep themselves safe and how to prevent misunderstandings or placing themselves in a vulnerable position. Importantly, they need to know how to recognise and respond to unsafe practice. High profile cases such as Jeremy Forrest and Nigel Leat are just some examples of what can happen when this is not in place. All staff must be aware of the whistle blowing procedures in their school and how to escalate where appropriate. Last summer, the NSPCC launched a national whistleblowing hotline for professionals – this should also be referred to in school policies.
Dealing with allegations of abuse is a distressing experience for everyone involved. There is no doubt that rigorous safer recruitment and safer working practices will reduce the risk and help to create a safer environment for both staff and children.
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Visit our resource page where you can find all of the safeguarding guidance referred to in this article. Read Safeguarding Guidance
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