Recent news events are giving disturbing details of systematic failures to keep our children and young people safe. The abuse of power in preventing some enquiries moving forward or an unwillingness to see and accept the dangers, particularly for young girls, are just staggering.
A potential response mooted has been the prosecution of teachers who fail to follow disclosure procedures. This after the event, reactive action isn’t the best way forward.
Safeguarding is high on Ofsted’s agenda. Its ability to effectively identify safeguarding issues is questionable given earlier inspection reports of school later embroiled in the Trojan Horse investigation. It is arguably unreasonable to expect an inspection team to deal with the whole Safeguarding agenda within an inspection of a day and a half. It is even more unreasonable in the short inspection process due to be implemented from September 2015.
Dangers of Tick Box & Self-Assessment Safeguarding
There is always a danger when Ofsted are involved that school leaders become obsessed with getting through inspection. A limited check on Safeguarding procedures every three years is too little too late. Safeguarding requires an every moment of every day approach deeply embedded within a school’s culture. Safeguarding must be for our children and young people not for Ofsted.
As we formed the Multi Academy Trust we discussed what controls we needed to build into our systems. As a company there is a requirement for regular, external, independent financial audit, of our systems and use of public money, but not for Safeguarding. What does this say about what we value and want to keep safe? So, we decided that as a Trust we wanted regular, external, independent audit of our Safeguarding policies, systems, procedures and processes.
I’m usually a vocal advocate of self-assessment but this field is so specialised, multi-disciplinary and sensitive that external scrutiny is essential. There is a danger that schools and school leaders don’t know what they don’t know. As such self-assessment is potentially dangerous. For example, have you amended your Child Protection Policy in light of the release of ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ in April 2014? Did you know it had been released? What about checking that at least one person sitting on each interview panel has current Safer Recruitment training? This needs to be renewed every three years.
Moving to External Audit
At our request Blackpool Local Authority constructed a Safeguarding audit tool and established an external audit team. The team consisted of school improvement officers and HR professionals. They also had access to social service professionals if required. The original audit tool proposed consisted of over ninety criteria but I reduced the number of criteria by half. There was an element of overlap and repetition between sections that were easy to remove. Some more peripheral elements were also removed to ensure greater focus on the most important, high impact criteria. In the review meeting, with the team after the audit, it was agreed that the shortened audit tool had been useful with some of the elements removed being asked as follow up questions where required. The audit tool includes a self-evaluation element which we chose not to use for the reasons explained above.
The trial audit was conducted in a morning at St. Mary’s Catholic Academy with the afternoon spent completing the report. The Head teacher provided a file containing Safeguarding & Child Protection Policies and generic documentation; there were discussions with him, the safeguarding lead and the person responsible for maintaining the Single Central Record; a discussion with students and there should have been a discussion with a group of staff. We found this more difficult to organise during the school day. The process wasn’t intrusive and I we insisted on this being an audit not an inspection.
Safeguarding Audit Tool
The audit consists of ten sections but there is an inevitable degree of overlap between them:
- Policy & Procedures
- Management Responsibilities
- Monitoring & Evaluation
- Recruitment & Selection of Staff
- Training & Support
- Involving Children & Families & External Partners
- Safe Environments
- Identification, Assessment & Referral
- Information Sharing, Confidentiality & Record Keeping
- Curriculum & Learning
The audit was extremely thorough and professionally carried out. As ever our students delivered and the team were glowing in their reports about the depth of their understanding, politeness and good manners and support for the Academy. In reviewing the audit we realised that there was need for the team to meet the Head teacher again, to gain additional information and fill in any gaps, prior to pulling together the report. Overall we were delighted with it. I sleep better at night knowing our Safeguarding policies, systems, procedures and processes are secure.
Thank you to the Blackpool Local Authority team who drew up the audit tool and carried the audit out. As a Trust we like it that much we have decided to invite them into all three of our academies in June 2015, and then on an annual basis, to conduct external Safeguarding Audits. The safety and well-being of our children and young people matter.
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Safeguarding Audit Tool
Following the Audit we determined to revise our Safer Recruitment Policy: