Ensuring that effective safeguarding procedures are in place is a key priority for all FE colleges, not only to promote a safe learning environment but also to avoid an inadequate rating from Ofsted.
The latest version of Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) comes into force on 5 September 2016. This is the statutory guidance for colleges on what they should do and the legal duties with which they must comply, to keep young learners (under the age of 18) safe.
It is important that colleges are aware of the changes to KCSIE and have updated their own policies and procedures accordingly.
The main changes are:
All staff are not only required to read Part 1 of KCSIE but there must be evidence that they understand it. Part 1 must be provided to new starters as part of the induction process.
The new guidance imposes a responsibility on colleges to ensure that mechanisms are in place to assist staff to understand and discharge their role and responsibilities in relation to safeguarding young learners.
In an attempt to make Part 1 a more manageable source of information, DfE has moved some of the information relating to specific safeguarding issues into an annex which is required reading for college leaders and those staff who work directly with learners under the age of 18 (young learners).
DfE has emphasised that it is a matter for colleges to decide for themselves who is classed as working directly with young learners although “if in any doubt, colleges should always err on the side of caution”.
Annex A includes information on children missing education, child sexual exploitation, so-called ‘honour-based’ violence, including FGM and forced marriage and Prevent/Channel.
KCSIE will also require all staff members to receive appropriate safeguarding and child protection training which is regularly updated, and safeguarding and child protection updates (for example, via email, e-bulletins and staff meetings) as required, but at least annually to provide them with relevant skills and knowledge to safeguard young learners effectively.
As there are no longer any national guidelines or accredited training programmes/providers, guidance from your Local Safeguarding Children Board on the content of safeguarding training will be important, although KCSIE is a good reference point.
While advances in online technology provide greater access to information and learning opportunities for young learners, they also created a platform that facilitates harm with the use of social media, chat rooms and mobile devices becoming a significant factor in many safeguarding issues. Child exploitation, radicalisation and sexual predation often begins online.
The new KCSIE contains more guidance (set out at Annex C) on expectations around online safety.
Colleges are expected to establish an effective approach to online safety to protect and educate the whole college community in their use of technology, with mechanisms to identify, intervene and escalate any incident where appropriate.
Governing bodies are required to do “all that they reasonably can” to limit young learners’ exposure to harmful and inappropriate online material, with appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place; although the guidance also cautions against ‘overblocking’ and imposing unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regards to online teaching and safeguarding.
Governors should consider a whole college approach to online safety, which will include a clear policy on online safety and the use of mobile technology in the college.
There is greater emphasis on ensuring procedures are in place to handle allegations of peer-on-peer abuse. Staff must be able to recognise that young learners are capable of abusing their peers.
The new guidanceacknowledges the role of mobile technology and the internet in this form of abuse and recognises ‘sexting’ as a specific safeguarding issue.
Colleges should ensure that child protection policies are updated to include procedures to minimise the risk of peer-on-peer abuse, set out how allegations the abuse will be investigated and dealt with, and how victims will be supported.
The policy should reflect the different forms peer-on-peer abuse can take, make clear that abuse is abuse and should never be tolerated or passed off as ‘banter’ or ‘part of growing up’.
Referrals to children’s services
The new KCSIE is also clearer about the circumstances in which referrals should be made to children’s services and the role of the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). The difference between a concern and a child in immediate danger, and the required action in each case, is clarified and a new referral flowchart included.
Whilst the consultation did not focus on Part 4, KCSIE contains a useful clarification that staff may consider discussing any concerns about a colleague with, and make any referral via, the DSL.
Alternative routes to blow the whistle
Under the current guidance, staff members who are concerned about the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements are directed to raise their concerns via the college’s whistleblowing procedure.
Previously, the guidance stated that alternative whistleblowing channels may be available to staff who feel unable to raise an issue, or feel that their genuine concerns are not being met.
In the amended guidance, an alternative route is provided to staff members in the form of the NSPCC whistleblowing helpline.
Young learners with SEND
In relation to young learners with SEND, the revised KCSIE acknowledges that additional barriers can exist when recognising abuse and neglect in this group and expects colleges to address these challenges in their policies and procedures.
The question of whether colleges involved in host family arrangements are engaged in regulated activity has been a complex one ever since the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.
Helpful wording has been included in KCSIE since 2015 to clarify that, where parents either make the arrangements themselves “or take the responsibility for the selection of the host parents themselves”, then this is a private matter between parents, and the college is not considered to be a regulated activity provider.
Unfortunately, the revised KCSIE removes the words highlighted. Our discussions with DfE indicate that the department’s policy position has not changed – and of course the underlying legislation, section 53 of the Safeguarding and Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, is also unchanged.
So whilst this is unlikely to be a new area of focus on inspection, given the reputational and other risks involved, not least the criminal offences in the 2006 Act, we recommend that colleges carefully reconsider the scope of arrangements they make, and those made by parents, to form a view as to whether the hosting falls within the regulated activity definition or not.
If the college is a regulated activity provider, KCSIE requires that it should request a DBS enhanced check with barred list information to help determine the suitability of the hosting parents.
What should my college do?
It is essential that colleges review and update their policies and procedures to reflect the changes to KCSIE. Failing to do so could render safeguarding arrangements ineffective.
Particular attention should be paid to updating child protection, online safety, whistleblowing and social media policies as well as reviewing the code of conduct for staff.
In addition, induction programmes should include consideration of Part 1 of KCSIE and regular safeguarding training must be undertaken.
Whilst this article has focused on the latest version of KCSIE, colleges should also be mindful of their safeguarding responsibilities towards vulnerable adults and ensure that their policies and procedures specially covers this group of learners, as different consideration will apply in accordance with the local safeguarding adult board requirements.
Government guidance in relation to adults is contained in the document ‘No Secrets’ and the previous Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) guidance (now Adult’s List guidance).
Good practice guidance is also available through the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) publication – Safeguarding Adults: A national framework of standards for good practice and outcomes in adult protection work.
However, it is important to be aware that following amendments to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, adults are no longer deemed vulnerable because of their personal attributes, characteristics or abilities.
An adult is considered ‘vulnerable’ if they receive a health, personal or social care service from a professional. Personal services would include, for example, help with financial matters, feeding, washing or dressing.
Jane Byford and Jo Oliver of Veale Wasbrough Vizards