Ensuring children and young people’s safety and welfare in the work setting is an essential part of safeguarding. While children are at school, practitioners act in ‘loco parentis’ while their parents are away. As part of their legal and professional obligations, practitioners hold positions of trust and a duty of care to the children in their school, and therefore should always act in their best interests and ensure their safety – the welfare of the child is paramount (Children Act 1989). The Children Act 2004 came in with the Every Child Matters (ECM) guidelines and greatly impacted the way schools look at the care and welfare of pupils.
Children and young people should be helped to learn and thrive and be given the opportunity to achieve the five basic outcomes: be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being. Children are vulnerable and depending on their age and level of development, do not see danger or recognise risks. They do not know when or how to look after themselves and need adults to protect them and ensure their safety, whilst encouraging their independence in an age appropriate manner.
All organisations that employ staff or volunteers to work with children need to use a safer recruitment practice. In March 2005, following the Soham murders and the subsequent Bichard Inquiry, the DCSF – Department for Children, Schools and Families – (previously the DES and the DoH) proposed that Recommendation 19 of the Bichard Inquiry should be carried out:
‘new arrangements should be introduced requiring those who wish to work with children, or vulnerable adults, to be registered. The register would confirm that there is no known reason why an individual should not work with these clients.’
As a result, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 was passed, providing the legislative framework for the new Vetting and Barring scheme. This Act established the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) to make decisions about who should be allowed to work with children, the elderly and other vulnerable adults and to maintain lists of those who are barred. Under the Act, it is an offence for an employer to employ a barred person in a role with children. It is also an offence for a barred person to apply for such a role. Employers must also advise the ISA if an individual harms a child whilst working for them. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 merged the ISA with the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) to form the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services). It also differentiated between supervised and unsupervised activities.
Schools should have policies and procedures for safer recruitment practice, which should be applied at every stage in the recruitment process, from advertising, references and pre-interview checks, to the selection of candidates, interviewing process and the offer of appointment. As part of the process, every adult wanting to work with children or vulnerable adults must have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services) check. There are three levels of DBS disclosure:
-Basic disclosure: details relevant information about the individual, together with any convictions (spent or in force), cautions or warnings that the individual has received.
-Enhanced disclosure: includes the same as the basic disclosure, plus any additional relevant information held by the police.
-Enhanced disclosure with Barred List Check.
Schools must also ensure that any adults (including cleaners and caretakers) or volunteers in the workplace do not have unsupervised access to children unless they have been DBS checked.
Schools need to ensure that they provide children and young people with a happy safe environment to learn and develop, with trusted and supportive adults. Practitioners need to actively promote the well-being and welfare of every child. This includes providing a wide range of activities to promote development through play as well as formal learning. These activities should include age appropriate toys and games that meet the Toy (Safety) Regulations 1995 and are in a good state of repair. Practitioners should check for Kitemarks and CE markings. Kitemarks are symbols that show products have been tested and meet the British Standard Institute requirements. CE markings show that products meet European standards as set out by the European Community.
Children also need to communicate and socialise with their peers, children from other age groups and other adults. They need to feel safe and secure in their environment so that they feel able to speak to adults about any concerns they may have, or to ask questions and seek help without fear of embarrassment. They need good role models who can help them extend their decision making skills and develop independence appropriate to their age and development level. Practitioners have a further responsibility to provide additional support to children who may have special educational needs.
This may be through individual sessions within the school, liaison with external services such as educational psychologists or through the CAF (Common Assessment Framework) process. The CAF process was developed to gather and assess information in relation to a child’s needs in development, parenting and the family environment. It is a service that should be offered to children (and their families) whose additional needs are not being met through universal services within the school. Practitioners also need to protect any children who may be at risk of significant harm because of their home life and personal circumstances.
There are a number of policies and procedures that should be in place in schools to ensure children and young people’s protection and safety:
•Working in an open and transparent way – adults should make sure that another member of staff is always aware of where they are working, especially if they are alone in a room with a child, there should always be visual access or the door should remain open.
•Duty of care – adults should always act in the best interests of the child and ensure their safety – the welfare of the child is paramount (Children Act 1989).
•Whistleblowing – staff should understand their responsibilities to raise concerns of malpractice. Staff will be deemed to be failing in their duty to safeguard children if they do not act.
•Listening to children – adults relationships with children should always be professional, caring and respectful. Children need to feel valued and listened to.
•Power and positions of trust – adults working with children hold positions of trust due to their access to the children in their care, and relationships between pupils and staff will always have an unequal balance of power – these positions should never be abused.
•Behaviour – teachers should behave in such a way as to safeguard children’s well-being and maintain public trust in the teaching profession.
•Physical contact – staff should ensure that any contact with children is entirely professionally appropriate.
•Off-site visits – staff must take particular care to ensure that clear boundaries are maintained and full risk assessments must be carried out prior to a visit.
•Recording of images – there must be age-appropriate consent from the person or their parents or carers.
•Intimate personal care – all children have a right to safety, privacy and dignity when intimate care is required.
•Sharing concerns and information – highly confidential information about children and their families should only ever be shared on a need to know basis, and anonymously wherever possible.
•Security – school premises should be made secure with fencing, gates and locking doors with secure access codes to prevent unwelcome visitors and to stop children from leaving the premises unaccompanied. There should be clear locking and unlocking procedures and stringent rules for visitor access to the buildings. Contractors should be LA approved or selected using safe selection procedures and should have carried out appropriate risk assessments in advance. They should be given information to enable them to follow the school’s safety procedures.
The three main areas that address the protection of children from harm in the work setting are: child protection; health and safety, and risk assessments.
It is the responsibility of all adults in the setting to actively safeguard children and young people and to prevent abuse or neglect. The setting should detail how the policies and procedures should work on a daily basis and outline current legislation in this area (see Task A). The policy should describe the responsibilities of the setting as well as those of individuals. It should include a summary of the possible signs of abuse or neglect for staff to refer to (see Task D1). Staff are required to respond to any concerns in an appropriate and timely manner. There should be clear guidelines on how staff should proceed when there are concerns, or allegations have been made, including the role of the designated CPO (Child Protection Officer) (see Task D2).
Staff should also be made aware of the procedures if the allegation concerns another member of staff or the head teacher (see Section 2 below). The policy should detail external services that may be required, including names and telephone numbers etc. There should be specific guidance about how to behave if a child or young person makes an allegation of abuse. The policy should detail other procedures and policies that support staff responsibilities in this area, such as the behaviour and anti-bullying policies (see Task E) and the whistleblowing policy (see Section 3 below).
•Health and Safety.
Schools are legally required to have a Health and Safety policy to ensure that there is a plan for how health and safety is managed in the setting and that all staff are aware of all their responsibilities. This policy should be read and implemented by all staff and it should form part of the induction process for new members of staff. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 were designed to protect everyone at work. The employer in a school must take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and pupils are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. This applies to activities on or off school premises. The employer is required to carry out regular reviews of the school, its premises and activities. There should be a designated health and safety representative at every setting who is responsible for the reviews and any subsequent action.
The reviews should involve regular walks around the school as well as safety checks on equipment. All electrical items should be checked annually by a qualified electrician. Fire extinguishers should also be checked annually. Staff should ensure that they use any safety equipment provided and store it safely. All materials and equipment used in schools should meet recognised safety standards. Practitioners should check for Kitemarks and CE markings. Kitemarks are symbols that show products have been tested and meet the British Standard Institute requirements. CE markings show that products meet European standards as set out by the European Community. The Workplace, (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 deal with physical conditions in the workplace and require employers to meet minimum standards in relation to a wide range of issues, including: maintenance of buildings and equipment; lighting; provision of drinking water; temperature; ventilation; rest rooms; toilet facilities; room dimensions and space; cleanliness; condition of floors and traffic routes.
The School Premises (England) Regulations 2012 apply to all maintained schools in England, and came into effect in October 2012. This legislation works in conjunction with the Workplace Regulations, but applies specifically to school standards, which are often more stringent i.e. the provision of a medical room for pupils, or a lower maximum temperature for hand washing in children’s toilet facilities. To protect children and young people from harm on the premises, the school should consider the following:
•Safety of the indoor and outdoor play equipment, including water and sand play.
•Safety in the school kitchen, including the storage, preparation and cooking of food.
•Fire safety, including maintaining clearly marked exit routes and doors.
•Appropriately sized furniture and equipment for the children.
•Safe storage of hazardous materials under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002.
•Appropriate adult-child ratios at all times.
•First aid training for staff, with sufficient numbers of first aid trained staff on the premises at all times.
•Safety in the dining hall, including hot food, spillages, choking risks etc.
•Vigilance in challenging unidentified adults.
•Procedures for cleaning up bodily fluids, vomit or faeces.
•Hand washing facilities and practices.
•Adaptations where necessary for children with special needs or disabilities.
•Safety of outdoor play areas, including access, space and floor surfacing.
•Safe storage and supervision of medicines.
•Implementation of procedures for children and staff with illnesses, i.e. remaining away from school for 48 hours after sickness or diarrhoea.
•A nominated person for asbestos and legionella competency.
•Tidiness and safety of traffic routes around the premises.
Off-site educational visits have additional issues that could affect children’s safety. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires full risk assessments to be carried out prior to a visit. Employers must assess the risks of activities, plan measures to control the risks and inform employees of the measures. Staff must follow school and Local Authority regulations, policies and guidance, which include: evidence of parental permission; emergency procedures; first aid kit and trained staff; appropriate clothing and equipment; qualified staff for activities; adult to children ratios; special educational or medical needs of the children; approval of volunteers (including DBS checks); age and competence of the pupils and transport arrangements. Health and Safety arrangements also require members of staff to keep colleagues/senior staff aware of their whereabouts and movements.
It is a legal requirement for all employers to carry out risk assessments. Risk assessments are a formal examination of things that could cause harm to people. The Health and Safety Executive guidance sets out a simple Five Steps to Risk Assessment:
Step 1: Look for the hazards and risks. A hazard is something that can cause harm. A risk is the likelihood of harm together with the consequences should it take place.
Step 2: Decide who could be harmed and how.
Step 3: It is necessary to differentiate between hazards and risks and then to prioritise them, dealing with the most serious risks first. Decide whether the existing precautions are sufficient. If not, decide what other precautions should be introduced and ensure that they are put in place.
Step 4: Record your actions and findings.
Step 5: Review the assessment at regular intervals, or if circumstances change, and revise if necessary.
Risk assessments should be used within the school setting e.g. for a new climbing frame or for outdoor water play, and also for off-site visits regardless of their duration. The head teacher is usually responsible for risk assessments and should sign and date them after they are completed. If existing precautions are not satisfactory, then activities may have to be restricted or stopped until changes are made. Changes may involve staff training or additional equipment. Risk assessments will also need to be carried out for individuals with special needs or disabilities and specialists may come to the school to carry them out. Other individuals may require a risk assessment in certain circumstances, i.e. a pupil on crutches or temporarily in a wheelchair. Ofsted inspectors would expect risk assessments to be available as part of their inspections.
Risk assessments should form part of a school’s management processes and help to formalise working practices and arrangements. They are a valuable tool for identifying problems and potential problems, monitoring situations and ensuring precautions are taken to keep children and adults safe from harm.