Keeping Children Safe
By Matthew Burgess, General Secretary - Independent Schools Council.
Today, we submitted our consultation response on the government’s proposals to slim down safeguarding guidance to schools. Thanks to all those who took the time to call or write in with their comments.
We have three main concerns with the draft guidance which was out for consultation:
The law in this area has become almost unworkably complex. Sir Roger Singleton described a ‘thicket’ of safeguarding regulation five years ago, and whilst we've seen a pruning, this remains a blighted regulatory area. So the first aim of this document must be to provide a clear guide to what the law actually is and what it requires of schools, their staff and governors. This guidance sets out to deliver this, but doesn't succeed.
In its laudable attempt to shorten and simplify (and it certainly achieves the former, condensing 122 pages of safer recruitment guidance into 19) the draft concentrates on summarising the law at the expense of providing practical or helpful guidance. Teachers looking for wisdom, practical advice, exemplar case studies, lessons learnt or even just answers to FAQs will need to look elsewhere.
The stated aim of the reduced guidance is to eliminate tick box compliance and return autonomy to front line professionals. But the unintended consequence is likely to be that, in this high stakes area of child welfare, schools will simply look elsewhere for certainties. Much is made, in the draft, of the need to work in harmony with local safeguarding authorities and it’s likely that these will become more significant arbiters of best practice. So greater variation in practice across different authorities is predictable. Equally, greater subjectivity and discretion will creep in on inspection. What might be considered good practice at one school could be branded as regulatory failings at another.
As we say in our consultation response, it is easy to be wise after the event. The role of government safeguarding guidance should be to ensure that those taking decisions in real time are wise before the event.