Keeping children safe in Education

Astrid Schön

Sunday, 2 September 2018

As Child Protection and Safeguarding officer at one of the largest pupil referral units in this country, myself and my colleagues in mainstream as well as alternative provision have seen a surge in youth violence.

This rise in youth violence correlates with the most recent events we hear about regularly in the media, from unprecedented numbers of stabbings, shootings, child sexual exploitations to gang membership and associated crimes.

Our referrals to childrens’ social services have risen significantly in recent months and the number of child protection meetings have increased exponentially since the beginning of 2018. This includes child in need meetings, youth offending meetings, strategy meetings for those at risk of sexual exploitation as well as urgent strategy meetings following near fatal attacks.

"...referrals for students with significant educational needs have also risen, which means we now have more vulnerable students with extreme behaviour needs to care for than ever before."

As an educational organisation that works with some extremely challenging but highly vulnerable children, we need to be acutely aware of the difference between safeguarding and the pro-active measures we take.

Only then can we ensure that all systems and policies in our establishment minimise risk of harm to all children and the action we take to protect a child who may already have come to significant harm is beneficial.

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All staff have to be aware of the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect in order to be able to recognise them and take appropriate action.

By law, this must be the case for everyone working in any school – it is our legal duty to look out for any signs that make our alarm bells ring and ensure the children we care for are kept safe from harm.


The types of abuse we encounter is the type outlined in government guidance:

Physical

This includes all forms of physical chastisement, from hitting, punching, smacking, throwing, scalding. This means we have to question every mark we see on our students’ bodies and ensure that the story we get is plausible. If not, we refer to social services.

Emotional

This is a huge area that includes anything from making the child feel worthless, unloved and inadequate. It includes humiliating a child, exposing them to experiences which are beyond their developmental capabilities and not allowing them to have age appropriate experiences.

This can also be the complete opposite, such as being over protective and preventing them from accessing education and any other activities that other children their age have and enjoy.

This also includes frightening children, bullying them, allowing them to see ill treatment of others (such as domestic violence) or exploiting and corrupting them.


Sexual

This includes all sexual activity with a child, whether they’re aware of what is happening or not.

This may consist of non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

It can also include the grooming of a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).


Neglect

This is the most common form of abuse we tend to see. Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and /or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.

Neglect means failure to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing &,shelter, including exclusion from home or abandonment
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • Ensure adequate supervision including the use of inadequate care givers 
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

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All school staff have to be extra vigilant and our lines of referral have to be genuinely tight.

Staff frequently overhear conversations where students are discussing stabbings, planned attacks, rivalries and possible conflict between gangs or other groups of young people in conflict.

"Our teachers and support staff understand that not reporting a concern can mean the difference between a child living or dying, between a child being sexually exploited or knowing how to keep themselves safe."

It is essential that these are reported to the child protection and safeguarding officer immediately. As a school with some of the most vulnerable young people in the country, we work closely with many outside agencies.

This includes Childrens’ Social Services, the Youth Offending Team, the police, the Child Sexual Exploitation Team as well as support agencies that help families to stay together and parents to keep their children safe and out of trouble.

The importance of the 'Keeping Children Safe in Education' document cannot be underestimated and it is essential that all people working with children have read and understood the guidelines and statutory duties we all have to safeguard the children in our care.

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About our Community Expert

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Astrid Schön
Community Expert

With 15 years of experience in mainstream schools and over four years in alternative provision, Astrid has worked with the most able as well as the most disadvantaged students in London.

She is currently the Deputy Head at London East AP, the pupil referral unit in Tower Hamlets, one of the largest in the UK, leading on many teaching and learning initiatives to address underachievement of students in both mainstream and AP. Astrid also leads on curriculum development, assessment and strategicdevelopment of the pupil referral unit.

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