Is it time for safeguarding to be made a full-time role?

Written by: Dai Durbridge | Published:
Dai Durbridge, education lawyer & safeguarding expert

The DSL is on the verge of becoming a full-time role in schools, while the need for consistent and high-quality safeguarding training for all staff is only going to increase, says Dai Durbridge

The designated safeguarding lead (DSL) is an integral part of our schools. It is a role that has increased in profile in recent years, becoming more burdensome to the degree that it can subject those who undertake it to emotional stress.

And as each year passes the expectation on schools and by extension the DSL continues to increase.

Each new incarnation of statutory guidance tends to include an additional responsibility to safeguard children; a trend which some schools would say has increased as funding to other agencies has suffered. With additional burden and expectation comes an additional resource requirement to fulfil the role.

While the workload of a DSL and deputy DSLs varies from school-to-school, there are many that have made the DSL role full-time and many more who are considering following suit. I expect this trend to continue, even with the funding challenges schools face.

If that is correct, is it time for the sector to acknowledge that in many cases the DSL is a full-time role and to create support mechanisms and reporting structures around it?

The increased burden on DSLs brings with it other challenges, including the emotional strain that comes with managing the various safeguarding and child protection matters that arise at a school.

One area of potential weakness in our current approach is the lack of support that is offered to the DSL to address those emotional challenges.

Some schools are ahead of the curve and do offer time and resources to support DSLs in this way, but for most it is an area where we need to make some improvements.

Whether or not the role becomes full-time, considering the emotional impact of undertaking the role and considering how best to support your DSL would be a good step forward.

Perhaps the development of multi-academy trusts (MAT) creates an opportunity to address these issues.

An average size MAT may well have seven or eight DSLs and deputy DSLs working across the academies and this would allow the MAT to create a clear structure for those DSLs that would include who they report to and seek supervision and from as well as who they can go to for emotional support on a regular or as-needed basis.

Drafting job descriptions to set out the role of the DSL would also assist in adding some clarity, both to the role and how it is discharged, but also in the reporting and support structures available.

While this may be easiest in MATs (and many larger MATs are doing this already), there is no reason why all schools cannot review their approach to the role of the DSL to see how it could be improved. The role of the DSL will get no easier, so there may be no better time to change.

Outcomes-based training

While guidance does not make it the responsibility of the DSL to ensure staff are appropriately trained and provided with regular safeguarding updates, more often than not the DSLs are expected to lead on it.

This makes sense. After all, they have the skills and abilities to know what the training and updates should cover and are best placed to source them.

Where they face a challenge is the quality and consistency of the training and updates available to them.
Sensibly, guidance has moved away from requiring schools to take specific training packages from specific providers, instead leaving it to schools to ensure that the right training is received and for schools to provide relevant updates in a manner that works for them and their staff.

To get this right, schools and DSLs need to focus on the outcomes they want from the training and updates and how they can then evidence that the staff have been trained and, crucially, that the training had a positive impact.

Following these four steps can help schools do this easily and effectively:

  • Engage with staff on how they like training to be provided – workshops, webinars, FAQs, case studies, long documents, etc. By understanding how your staff best learn you can better provide training and updates.
  • Ensure reliability by performing basic due diligence on providers. Be it training or updates, knowing that providers are suitably qualified and engaging in their style means you can be assured that the update or training will be of a high standard. Look for recommendations from other schools.
  • Measure outputs not inputs. Focus on how well staff absorbed and understood the training. There are many ways to do this and I know of schools that hold an annual pub quiz on safeguarding and DSLs that will stop staff in corridors every day and ask them safeguarding questions. Both examples provide you with the tools to test understanding and the opportunity to analyse knowledge gaps and take steps to address them.
  • Evidence your process – the approaches detailed in the previous three points provide you with excellent evidence as to how you ensure staff are appropriately trained and the steps you take to identify and plug knowledge gaps. This is excellent evidence to have to hand during an inspection.
  • Dai Durbridge is an education lawyer & safeguarding expert.


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