Safeguarding & Everyone's Invited: Have I done enough to keep children safe?

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
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The Everyone’s Invited revelations and Ofsted’s subsequent review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools and colleges has clear implications for safeguarding practice. Elizabeth Rose advises on conducting an internal review of safeguarding structures around sexual harassment, violence and abuse


The Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges (2021) following the testimonies shared on the Everyone’s Invited platform has been a source of anxiety for lots of schools.

In my conversations with safeguarding leads, the overriding concern is not around whether schools have been named or whether Ofsted is going to visit, but rather “have I done enough to keep children safe?”.

From a safeguarding perspective, this is an excellent question to ask. We know that safeguarding is an ever-developing picture, with the level and type of risks faced by children changing all the time. It is a statutory requirement that designated safeguarding leads attend training regularly and keep up-to-date with new information, because we are operating in a dynamic arena and need to understand the risks that children are facing.

There have been lots of articles and points of view shared about Everyone’s Invited and the role that schools play in supporting children with peer-on-peer abuse that happens outside of school. While there are differing opinions on this, the fundamental facts outlined in the Children Act 1989 and the statutory guidance that schools operate under (DfE 2020; 2021) remain the same.

Schools have a responsibility to safeguard children, act in their best interests and take action when a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, harm. As such, I am going to consider the question that many people have been asking of themselves in recent weeks – “Have I done enough to keep children safe?” – and offer some practical tips for conducting an internal review of safeguarding structures around sexual harassment, violence and abuse.


Your policy and training

The safeguarding policy and your child protection training are the foundations of your culture of safeguarding. Conduct a review of your policy and critically consider if it is robust enough in relation to sexual abuse and, in particular, peer on peer sexual abuse.

The information about what to include in your school policy around peer-on-peer abuse is detailed in paragraph 106 of Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021) and is very prescriptive. It is important to look at this carefully and consider if you have really made it clear what your procedures are and how children can disclose if they need help.



SAFEGUARDING PODCAST: Elizabeth Rose is among the expert guests on a recent episode of The SecEd Podcast focused on effective safeguarding practice and which touches upon a range of issues, including sexual harassment and abuse. Listen for free via: https://bit.ly/3tyyY5r



The curriculum

Significant changes and modifications have been made to school PSHE curricula since the publication of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education statutory guidance for schools and colleges (DfE, 2019).

The Ofsted review into sexual abuse will be considering whether schools are in need of more support to deliver effective teaching around sexual abuse, cyber-bullying, pornography, healthy relationships and consent, and all schools can consider their approach to these issues within the curriculum and think about how effective the sessions are. Things to consider:

  • Do all staff feel confident in delivering sessions around challenging topics such as sexual abuse and pornography? Consider the training that they have to deliver these sessions and whether it needs to be strengthened to support more effective and confident delivery.
  • Do teachers differentiate PSHE lessons to ensure that all children can access them? What approaches do you take as a school to support children with SEND to understand the issues of consent, for example?
  • Have you included the voice of the child in your consultation work around the new curriculum? What do your pupils say they need to learn about in relation to peer-on-peer sexual abuse?


Mechanisms for disclosure

Throughout the pandemic, schools have rapidly and successfully embraced technology to allow them to function as normally as possible. It is really important to look carefully at the channels that children have chosen to use to disclose over the past year and think about what you can keep in place to allow children a variety of options when it comes to seeking support.

Many children like to speak to a member of staff face-to-face, but others might prefer to send an email to a safeguarding inbox, or have a virtual meeting from home with two members of staff to discuss an issue like peer-on-peer abuse in school.

Lots of schools use “worry boxes” at the back of classrooms, or outside the safeguarding office door, which still continue to be useful and valuable as a means of seeking help.

One of the key questions in the Ofsted review is: “What prevents children from reporting sexual abuse?” There will be many answers to this, but we cannot ignore the fact that 15,000 young people have reported abuse online and many of these examples cite a lack of opportunity to disclose, or being dismissed following disclosure, at school (or university).

It is important to think about barriers to disclosure and work to remove them, as far as we possibly can.


Pupil voice

There is a pupil voice dimension to the work that needs to be done around the issue of peer-on-peer sexual abuse. Many of the testimonies shared either explicitly or indirectly say that the victim did not feel listened to or understood.

As well as having an effective culture of disclosure and support, we need to hear from children to understand what their experience of their context is. When looking at provision and support for children, the biggest source of information about what will be helpful will come from the children themselves.

Mobilising and utilising pupil voice is important in understanding the issues and creating structures to help children come forward if they have experienced peer-on-peer (or any type of) abuse.

Providing children with positive opportunities to be involved in peer support, leadership and in shaping the safety and culture of their school will lead to an environment where all children can feel safe and cared for.


A culture of safeguarding

A “culture of safeguarding” begins with the compliance and professional development work – policies, training, procedures and record-keeping. But in order to be truly embedded and effective, safety, respect and tolerance needs to feature in all interactions that children have with staff throughout the day and needs to be promoted between children too.

We know that we cannot prevent every safeguarding issue from happening and peer-on-peer abuse will happen in one or more forms at some point, but considering how we speak to children, what our reactions are when they disclose what may be perceived to be “lower level” concerns, and how we manage behaviour incidents all feed into a culture that prevents peer-on-peer sexual abuse from happening. Some points for consideration:

  • Does your behaviour policy create a culture of safety? Is it robust enough to create safe environments in all school contexts and how far does it extend beyond the school gates?
  • Have staff been trained on the language to use when talking about peer-on-peer incidents relating to children of different genders?
  • Is a culture of listening and responding embedded? Is this reflected in structures from the top down and the bottom up?


Conclusion

The issue of rape culture, sexual abuse and gendered violence against women is one that has been cast into sharp relief over the last weeks and months. It is an issue that is endemic in our society and not something that will be overcome easily. However, when we work with children in schools we do have the power to influence the context that we are working in and we must listen to the voices of young people, learn about what they need and put as much in place as possible to proactively keep children safe and respond in a way that truly helps them when we need to.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Visit www.sosafeguarding.co.uk or follow her @sosafeguarding. Find her previous articles for SecEd via https://bit.ly/seced-rose


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