Keeping children safe in education – analysis of the latest update

Written by: Sara Alston | Published:
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Once again, the statutory safeguarding guidance Keeping children safe in education has been updated ahead of the new school year. Sara Alston looks at what has changed in the new guidance


At the end of February, the Department for Education issued a consultation on Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) 2020. However due to the Covid-19 crisis, this was suspended. Nevertheless, on June 17, the DfE issued an update of KCSIE, which as ever is to come into force on September 1 (DfE, 2020).

The changes lack the scope and ambition of those included in the consultation document, but even so there are a number of significant updates which schools will need to reflect in their policies, practice and training in September.

The document states that the only changes included are those required by legislation, mainly relating to the new relationships, sex and health education curriculum (DfE, 2019), or those which add helpful information or clarification – however having scrutinised the new documents, I would say that not all the changes necessarily fall into these two categories.


Mental health

Reflecting wider government policy and concerns, mental health is given increased emphasis throughout the document starting with an updated definition of safeguarding so it now explicitly includes mental and physical health (paragraph 4). The link between mental health and safeguarding concerns is emphasised.

It is identified that mental health issues may be an indicator of abuse, neglect or exploitation. There is consideration of the long-lasting impacts of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and abuse.

It is clear that while teachers should not attempt diagnosis, their observations of behaviour may indicate a problem. There is consideration of the needs of children requiring mental health support and the importance of schools’ role in this, including accessing advice to help identify children in need and working with external agencies. There is a promise of training for senior mental health leads available to all state schools by 2025 to support this (paragraphs 113-116).


Extra-familial abuse

Although the concept of Contextual Safeguarding is not specifically named in the guidance, there is an increased emphasis on the risks of extra-familial abuse. There is a clear linking of child criminal exploitation (CCE), county lines, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and serious youth violence. There is an emphasis on the risks of CCE and CSE coming from individuals and groups, from men and women, and from adults and other children.

Further, it states (paragraph 28) that: “Abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse. It can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence.”

The CSE definition is extended to include explicitly both male and female victims, 16 and 17-year-olds, contact and non-contact offences and those which occur without the child’s immediate knowledge, e.g. online offences.

The explanation about county lines is much clearer and more detailed. It now includes information about the use of phone lines, how children and vulnerable adults are exploited to move and store drugs and money, including the use of “plugging”, the role of coercion, intimidation and violence, including sexual violence, to ensure that victims remain within these networks, as well as the targeting and recruitment processes, including the creation of “drug debt”.

The links to episodes of children going missing from home or school are emphasised. These fuller definitions and information will be useful to clarify staff understanding and provide a basis for training.


Domestic abuse

Another key emphasis is a focus on domestic abuse. More information is included about the different forms of abuse and their impacts, for both victims and witnesses. There is detailed information about Operation Encompass and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. We need to remember that this will be a growing concern for schools following the increase in reporting of domestic abuse incidents during the Covid crisis. Also worth a look, the Home Office has just published updated guidance for how victims of domestic abuse can get help during the Covid-19 pandemic (2020).


The role of the DSL

The consultation document contained significant changes to the role of the designated safeguarding lead (DSL). Most of these have not been included in the finalised document. Sadly, this includes the commitment to supervision for DSLs. However, the new role of the DSL to promote educational and wellbeing outcomes of pupils open to social care has been included.

The guidance now states that the DSL should: “Help promote educational outcomes by sharing the information about the welfare, safeguarding and child protection issues that children, including those with a social worker, are experiencing or have experienced with teachers and the school and college leadership staff.

“Their role could include ensuring that the school or college, and their staff, know who these children are, understand their academic progress and attainment and maintain a culture of high aspirations for this cohort; supporting teaching staff to identify the challenges that children in this group might face and the additional academic support and adjustments that they could make to best support these children.” (page 100).

The word “could” leaves a lack of clarity over the DSL’s role here and the expectations being made of them. There are confidentiality issues, too – should all staff know which children are open to social care?

Further, there are logistical problems of how to track and monitor a constantly changing cohort of pupils and the implications for the DSL’s workload. Many of these children will already be within focus groups in school, adding them to a further group may confuse issues while reducing the DSL’s capacity for their key safeguarding role.

In Annexe B, there is the addition that local authorities should inform the school when a child has a social worker (paragraphs 109-112) and there is a reference to DSL training to ensure they understand the roles, processes, procedures and responsibilities of other agencies, including children’s social care.


Child-on-child abuse

Child-on-child abuse is included alongside peer-on-peer abuse (page 91). However, there is a discrepancy in the language of child-on-child sexual violence and harassment (Part 5) and sexual violence and harassment between children (summary in Annexe A).

More importantly, we have lost some key changes proposed in the consultation document, including changing “perpetrator” to “perpetrator(s)”, emphasising that often more than one person is involved in incidents of sexual violence and harassment.

We have also lost the reminder that disclosures of abuse may not be immediate – yet, this will be particularly important for schools to be aware of as children return to school sites. Many children who have experienced abuse during this time will need to rebuild relationships with staff before they can share their experiences, including disclosures of abuse. If we disregard or devalue sharing of past abuse, we are at risk of doing irreparable harm.


Changes in Part 4

In Part 4 on managing allegations there is clarification about the management of allegations against supply staff, emphasising the need to follow through allegations against supply teachers including the involvement of the LADO and the employing agency (paragraph 214-217).

The agency should be fully involved and co-operate, but the school will need to lead the investigation as the agency will not have the necessary access to information, staff or children. When employing agency staff, schools should inform them of the processes for managing allegations.

There is an implication that many schools manage these allegations by ceasing to use individual supply staff. This makes it clear that this is not acceptable. However, there is an interesting loophole if schools use supply staff who are not teachers. It is likely to increase with lockdown “catch-up” programmes using tutors, so the guidance needs to apply to them too.

There is an additional bullet point for paragraph 211 in Part 4 that extends the guidance about managing allegations to adults working in schools, including volunteers and supply teachers, who have “behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children”.

The notes on substantial changes in Annexe H (page 116) makes explicit the link to “transferrable risk” and to incidents outside of school, not involving children but which could have an impact on the individual’s suitability to work with them. It gives the example of domestic abuse and the risk that a child could trigger the same reaction. All this is left unsaid in the main text which is not clear without the information from Annex H. Nevertheless, this will need to be included in staff codes of conduct and contracts.


Other changes

There is an important language change from honour-based violence to honour-based abuse. This highlights that abuse is abuse, even where it does not include physical violence.

A definition of terrorism (page 89) has been added to the section on preventing radicalisation. This section also includes risks within the home which is particularly important given children’s experiences during lockdown. There is an emphasis on the importance of the DSL being aware of local procedures for Prevent referrals, including the Channel panels and how they work.

There is a clear reminder that the Covid safeguarding guidance remains in force and should be considered. This includes guidance about learning online at home (paragraph 92) which will remain an issue into the new year, particularly if we face local lockdowns.

All in all, there is much that will need to be included in policy and training in September and then embedded into school practice.


  • Sara Alston is an experienced SENCO and safeguarding lead who also works as a SEND, inclusion and safeguarding consultant and trainer. Visit www.seainclusion.co.uk. Read her previous articles for SecEd via https://bit.ly/3koprd8


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