4 essential building blocks for successful safeguarding

Monitoring systems play a vital role in helping schools successfully fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities.

09 Dec 2019. Written by Dan Worth for Tes.com in partnership with eSafe.Successful safeguarding in school

Keeping children and young people safe from harm, and promoting their welfare and wellbeing, is a fundamental part of a school’s remit yet can be challenging for leadership teams.

However, with the right foundations in place, a proactive, whole-school approach to safeguarding can create a safe, positive and nurturing culture that helps students thrive.

The safeguarding specialists at eSafe, the UK’s leading digital monitoring service, have defined the 4 essential building blocks needed for highly effective safeguarding:

1. Visibility of safeguarding risks

You’ve got to see the risks, and the underlying issues in your school, in order to be able to do something about them and conduct effective interventions.

This visibility is only possible when all intelligence streams are being consolidated and interpreted correctly: it’s a complex jigsaw and if any piece is missing then the safety we all desire for our young people can be compromised.

The early warning signs of a threat to a young person’s safety, welfare and wellbeing comes from a long list of intelligence sources, including teachers, parents/carers, social workers, health practitioners, educational psychologists and other external agencies with a safeguarding responsibility. And the digital environment has to be appreciated as a rich source of behaviour markers, given how much time young people spend online (according to Ofcom, January 2019, 5- to 15-year-olds spend just over two hours online each day).

For more than 1,500 schools in the UK, eSafe provides the watchful eye that’s needed on school-owned devices, looking for safeguarding risks in the digital environment.

Analysis of safeguarding incidents captured at FE level suggests around one-third of all markers of the risks are detected in the digital environment by the eSafe digital monitoring service. Furthermore, as Polly Harrow-Wright, Head of Student Services at Kirklees College & Chair of NAMSS, observes, without eSafe some of these safeguarding risks would otherwise remain hidden as they are based on outside activity, such as serious domestic violence, abuse, drugs, forced marriage and gang activities, and are only evident within the digital environment.

Samantha Gunnarsson, wellbeing and safeguarding manager at Bridgend College, also outsources her college’s digital monitoring to eSafe as it detects the early warning signs of risks in both online activity and offline applications – such as Word documents – that may need to be reviewed by tutors or wellbeing staff.

“It brings up things that we need to be aware of so we can decide how we need to act. This might be something where we just engage the student’s tutor and ask them if they are happy to have a word, or would rather we get involved, or if it’s especially serious we will pick it up directly.”

She says the fact the eSafe service can monitor a raft of communications, including those conducted in offline applications, is a huge bonus. Staff and students are always made aware that monitoring is in place, and that this itself also promotes a safe environment.

2. Consolidated safeguarding intelligence

While having the visibility of safeguarding concerns is crucial, consolidating the intelligence to better understand each risk – so the underlying issue can be defined and responded to – is just as important for successful intervention planning. 

This requires centralised record-keeping that provides a single view of students, enabling all risks markers to be considered together and an accurate picture built.  For example, excessive toilet trips, unusually subdued behaviour and erratic outbursts observed by a student’s tutor, plus signs of anxiety picked up by eSafe through their online behaviour (“I want to feel better”) may indicate self-harming behaviour, while knowledge of a breakdown in the student’s parental relationship may uncover issues around control as well as depression. 

CPOMS is the market leader in this provision of centralised intelligence for tracking the full range of safeguarding, pastoral and welfare issues.  Staff members report any concerns that they may have in the centralised repository, and the genuine incidents detected by eSafe in the digital environment are also fed directly into this. When an incident is recorded, the relevant staff members are alerted immediately. In this way, the chronology around a student is built automatically and patterns of behaviour are easy to spot.  The leadership team can also produce reports on vulnerable students for case conference meetings, child action meetings, the governing body and the inspectorate at the touch of a button.

3. Timely and appropriate intervention

When safeguarding risks are visible and have been considered and assessed accurately, timely intervention is possible. Yet it’s only when trained and attentive staff deliver the intervention plan that successful outcomes are achieved.

Gunnarson says her organisation trains all staff to level 2 safeguarding, with over 500 members trained in the last two years. She says using real incidents the college has dealt with is a good way to get staff to think critically about the sorts of situations they may encounter and consider best practice responses.

“We discuss an incident, what you would do in this situation, what actually happened, what we think we have learned from that and so forth, and that helps staff identify if it was dealt with in the correct way or where there are other things that should have been done at that time.”

“When I joined the team as a wellbeing officer, it was quite a reactive safeguarding service – and tutors were quite fearful about safeguarding and making the wrong decision, or sharing information and then it is turned into a referral and they would lose their rapport with students."

"So there was lots of concern around a whole initiative but over the years we have given that reassurance and positive feedback about the importance of communications, and it has helped people feel a lot better and more confident."

4. Effective and accountable governance

A key role of the school’s governing body is to get involved with serious safeguarding issues and to manage effective liaisons with the relevant contacts within the local authority.

Ceri Stokes, Assistant Head (DSL) at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire, explains that having governors aware of the issues staff are facing and the support they need can be crucial: “If governors are involved in the incident management then they can support at the toughest time, [whether or not] after reviews with outside services or inspections, and they will understand your reports and be aware of what you are talking about.” 

Ms Gunnarsson adds that it’s also important to provide reports on the issues being faced by senior staff so they are aware of what is going on and how it’s being dealt with across the school.

“My line manager is the vice principal responsible for learner journey but also a designated safeguarding lead so every year he presents a safeguarding paper to the board of governors to give insights on what we have been dealing with,” she says.

“From this, we can see how we need to amend the service accordingly to mitigate against that next year so we all know what the challenges are and what we need to do to address them in the next term.”

This top-down and collaborative approach to safeguarding paves the way for an all-school focus that’s needed for a healthy, nurturing culture where students feel safe.