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Child Safety in Educational Settings: Best Practices

Introduction

Children should be safe, secure, happy and looked after when they go to school, nursery or other educational setting, and children and parents/carers expect this to be the case. Communities, society and the law also have this expectation. Therefore, those in charge of and working in educational settings have significant responsibilities regarding child safety.

Child safety is vitally important in educational settings, as it protects them from harm and promotes their health and well-being by providing a safe and nurturing environment. It safeguards them from others who could harm them in the educational setting and identifies if they are at risk at home. It also ensures children can focus better on their learning, which can enhance their academic success.

According to a survey conducted by the NSPCC in 2023, over 90% of teachers said that safeguarding referrals had risen, with 87% reporting a rise in neglect referrals. The latest GOV.UK children in need statistics found that, in 2023, over 403,000 children were in need, and just under 51,000 children were on protection plans. Therefore, child safety should be taken seriously everywhere, especially in educational settings.

Whether you are a governor, headteacher, teacher, nursery worker or other staff, this blog aims to provide you with best practices and strategies for ensuring the safety and well-being of children in schools and educational environments.

Child Safety in Educational Settings Best Practices

Understanding Child Safety

Child safety means protecting children from harm and promoting their well-being by taking appropriate actions or measures. It is about preventing and reducing hazards that could harm children and protecting them by preventing, reducing and controlling the risks.

Child safety in educational settings is crucial for the following reasons:

  • There is a moral obligation on educational providers and staff to keep children safe while they are in their care. Children, parents/carers and society expect safety in education.
  • Safeguarding children from harm in nursery, school, or college is a legal requirement and in statutory guidance, such as Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework. Ofsted will assess safeguarding and child protection measures.
  • It enables children to focus on their learning rather than worrying about their safety, which can enhance their academic success.

Child safety is multifaceted, meaning there are many things to consider to create a safe learning environment and ensure children’s well-being, such as:

  • Physical – the physical environment can cause harm to children in various ways if there are uncontrolled hazards, as they can increase the risks of accidents and illnesses. There can also be physical abuse, violence risks, and security risks. It is vital to assess the health and safety hazards, secure and maintain buildings, classrooms and playgrounds, and have anti-bullying policies.
  • Emotional – children’s emotional well-being is key to their learning and development. They can suffer from emotional and psychological harm because of bullying, harassment, discrimination and if they feel judged or unsafe to express their opinions and views. Educational providers and staff should foster trust, address bullying, create inclusive environments and promote positive relationships.
  • Online safety – children can be exposed to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, abuse, grooming and other online harms. They should be safe when using technology and accessing online material in educational settings by teaching them about internet safety/privacy, monitoring online activities and adding necessary protective measures.
Child Safety in Educational Settings

Legal and Regulatory Framework

Educational providers, staff, and governing bodies are responsible for ensuring compliance with statutory requirements. There are many legal and regulatory frameworks governing child safety in education, and those applicable will depend on the type of setting and where it is in the UK. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own legislation and guidance. Here are some examples:

England and Wales

Scotland

Great Britain (England, Wales & Scotland)

  • The Equality Act 2010 – protects children from discrimination because of their protected characteristics.
  • The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act (HSWA) 1974 – employers, i.e. educational providers, have legal duties to their staff and non-employees, e.g. children. Staff also have legal responsibilities. There are also associated health and safety regulations, e.g. the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Northern Ireland

There are also various Childcare and Children’s Acts and associated regulations that may apply. Educational providers, staff and governing bodies should familiarise themselves with the legal and regulatory frameworks that apply to them and their settings and country. They should also identify their responsibilities to ensure compliance with legal requirements, which are in relevant statutory guidance, for example:

Educational providers, e.g. schools:

  • Responsible for reporting incidents and maintaining accurate records.
  • Must follow guidelines set by governing bodies and relevant authorities.

Governing bodies

  • Responsible for effective governance.
  • Must ensure there are statutory policies and associated documents to comply with the law.

Educators and other staff

  • Responsible for implementing policies and procedures.
  • Must adhere to legal and regulatory requirements regarding curriculum, safeguarding, health and safety, and pupil/student welfare.

Further information

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Creating a Safe Physical Environment

An essential aspect of safeguarding is providing and maintaining a safe physical environment for children. Here are some examples of strategies educational providers and staff can adopt:

Building security

  • Create and implement a robust security plan.
  • Implement effective building controls, including lockdown capabilities and access control measures, e.g. ID badges and key cards to restrict entry.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain school buildings, doors, locks, windows and fencing to prevent unauthorised access.
  • Consider installing security systems, such as alarms and cameras.

Playground safety

  • Design playgrounds to allow free and safe movement, and consider having zones for specific activities and equipment.
  • Regularly check playground surfaces and equipment for wear and damage, and remove or repair anything defective.
  • Establish clear rules for safe play.
  • Adequately supervise children during playtimes.

Classroom layout

  • Keep the classroom clean and tidy and free from clutter to prevent trips and falls.
  • Arrange furniture to allow for easy access and movement and secure it where there is a risk of it falling on children.
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a classroom checklist educators and support staff can use to identify hazards.

Fire safety measures

  • Conduct a fire risk assessment, which is a legal requirement. The home office has specific guidance for educational premises here.
  • Prevent fires by keeping heat, fuel and oxygen sources apart.
  • Keep fire exits unobstructed and unlocked.
  • Have adequate protection measures to reduce the risk to life and property if there is a fire, e.g. fire detection, alarms, fire-fighting measures, signage, emergency routes/exits, assembly points, etc.
  • Regularly maintain fire safety equipment.
  • Provide staff with fire safety training and refresh it regularly.
  • Educate children about fire safety and prevention.

Emergency preparedness

  • Have emergency and evacuation procedures and plans for accidents, fire, threats, e.g. security and terrorist, and other emergencies identified by risk assessments.
  • Consider those who would have difficulties in emergencies, e.g. disabilities.
  • Have appropriate first aid arrangements, e.g. trained first aiders, supplies and facilities.
  • Organise regular drills to test emergency procedures and plans so staff and children know what to do in a real emergency.

Health and hygiene

  • Maintain high standards of cleanliness and hygiene to prevent the spread of illness and infections.
  • Teach children good hygiene habits, e.g. handwashing.
  • Identify any children with allergies, prevent contact with allergens and follow allergy management plans.
  • Have procedures for administering medication, supporting children with medical needs and what to do if a child falls ill.
  • Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices.
  • Ensure fresh drinking water is available at all times.

Other safety considerations

  • Store chemicals securely and away from where children can access them.
  • Protect children from hot surfaces, such as heaters.
  • Maintain equipment properly, especially electrical.
  • Consider other hazards, such as asbestos, gas and legionella.

Educational providers should have a health and safety policy that details how they will protect staff, children and visitors, their arrangements for achieving this and who has what responsibilities. The policy is implemented through procedures, risk assessments, appropriate control measures and safety protocols.

A risk assessment is required to identify the hazards within the educational setting that could cause harm to staff, children and visitors, and employers (or proprietors in independent schools) must complete them by law under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. There are typically five steps to a risk assessment:

  • Identification of hazards.
  • Deciding who could be harmed and how.
  • Evaluating the risks and deciding precautions.
  • Recording the risk assessment.
  • Reviewing and updating the risk assessment.

The risk assessment findings will help decide on appropriate safety protocols, which will be specific for each educational setting.

A competent person should complete risk assessments. It can be someone in-house with the necessary expertise or an external organisation.

Further information

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Promoting Emotional Well-being

The Mental Health Foundation defines emotional well-being as:

“A positive sense of well-being which enables an individual to be able to function in society and meet the demands of everyday life; people in good mental health have the ability to recover effectively from illness, change, or misfortune.”

Emotional well-being refers to people’s ability to accept and manage their emotions and cope with challenges. Children can face various challenges in educational settings, such as bullying, harassment, and discrimination. They will also be going through different emotional states as they grow into their teenage years. There will be friendship and relationship dynamics, which they must navigate, and stress and worry about performing well academically. There may also be issues at home that can affect their emotional well-being.

A research report by the Department for Education on the Impact of Pupil Behaviour and Well-being on Educational Outcomes found that, on average, children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social, and school well-being have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school. They also found that children were less engaged if bullied. Therefore, it is vital to promote the emotional well-being of children in educational settings, as it is crucial for their learning and development. Here are some examples of strategies to adopt:

Collaborative and whole approach

  • Involve everyone, including leaders, staff, children, parents/carers, and the local community in promoting emotional well-being and measures to prevent bullying and discrimination.
  • Create a culture of openness surrounding mental health, bullying, discrimination and well-being.
  • Incorporate mental health and emotional well-being into the curriculum and teach children about bullying, harassment and discrimination, the impacts and how to seek help.

Anti-bullying measures

  • Educational providers must have a behaviour policy and associated procedures that cover bullying and discrimination, which staff must follow.
  • Educators must promote kindness, tolerance, empathy and respect among themselves and between students.
  • Bullying and discrimination should be addressed promptly, fully investigated impartially, and lead to appropriate consequences and children appropriately supported if it occurs.
  • Encourage the reporting of incidents without fear of judgment or retaliation.
  • Consider counselling and meditation where appropriate.

Create a safe, supportive and inclusive environment

  • Foster an inclusive and positive ethos where everyone feels safe and respected.
  • Celebrate diversity within the educational setting and classroom environment.
  • Teach the importance of empathy, respect and compassion for others.
  • Encourage children to express themselves freely without fear, ridicule or judgment.
  • Teach children the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion to promote a culture of kindness.
  • Foster positive relationships by providing activities for children to work together in mixed groups.

Help build emotional resilience

  • Equip children with healthy coping mechanisms and tools to manage stress and build resilience.
  • Encourage children to be physically active and promote healthy lifestyles, e.g. balanced diet, hydration, good sleep hygiene, hobbies and less time on devices and social media.
  • Use relaxation and stress management techniques and strategies in the classroom, such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and visualisation.

To create a safe and inclusive environment, recognising and addressing issues such as bullying, harassment, and discrimination is crucial.

  • Bullying – behaviour that is repeated, intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally and often aimed at certain groups (UK).
  • Harassment – unwanted and inappropriate conduct that makes someone feel worried or intimidated.
  • Discrimination – treating someone unfairly or less favourably because of their protected characteristics.

Educators and support staff should receive training on recognising and addressing issues such as bullying, harassment, and discrimination and must always follow statutory guidance and their organisation’s policies and procedures. They should recognise the signs that victims and perpetrators can exhibit and promptly address any concerns or reports. In some cases, incidents may need to be reported to the police, i.e. hate crime, repeated harassment or intimidation, theft,  violence or assault.

Further information

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Ensuring Online Safety

The use of technology is increasing, and children, even those in nursery settings, will access it at some point. Accessing the online world can expose children to many dangers, such as cyberbullying, abuse, grooming, radicalisation, inappropriate content (e.g. sexual and violent), identity theft and privacy breaches.

Children and young people’s safety can be put at serious risk when accessing the internet, and there have even been some cases where they have taken their own lives, mainly because of cyberbullying and suicide glamourisation. Therefore, ensuring children are safe online is vital and is also required by law and statutory guidance.

Educational providers and staff have responsibilities to ensure online safety. Here are some examples of strategies for teaching digital literacy, safe internet use, and responsible online behaviour:

Follow statutory and non-statutory guidance – follow the EYFS, KCSIE and Teaching online safety in schools to help understand responsibilities regarding internet use and online safety. Also, the Prevent Duty will apply to educational settings to safeguard children from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists.

Have policies and procedures – all educational providers should have policies and procedures on internet use and online safety. Staff, children and parents/carers should be aware of them and their responsibilities.

Integrate digital citizenship and literacy into the curriculum – educators should:

  • Teach children about their online behaviours and etiquette and how to evaluate content.
  • Educate them about online safety, including identifying risks, understanding and maintaining privacy and avoiding cyberbullying and abuse.
  • Assist them in developing IT and internet skills.
  • Have sufficient knowledge and skills to teach children about staying safe online.

Create an open environment – educators should encourage children to openly discuss, ask questions and share experiences regarding online safety and any challenges they have faced. They could create activities where children look at the benefits and risks of the online world.

Use age-appropriate resources – children should only access online information and resources that are relevant to their age and developmental stage. Internet Matters has some free online safety teaching resources here.

Monitor internet use and online activity – educational providers should have appropriate filters and monitoring systems to prevent children from accessing harmful content and quickly identify concerns. They could also use password protection to prevent unauthorised access.

Collaborate with parents/carers – educators could involve them in digital literacy education to help them discuss online safety with their children. They could share resources and arrange parent/carer workshops.

To keep children safe online when using IT systems and accessing the internet in the educational setting, implementing effective internet filtering, monitoring, and privacy protection measures is essential. How educational providers choose to do this will depend on their type of setting and risks. UK Safer Internet Centre has further information on implementing measures here.

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Training and Development for Staff

Firstly, educational providers should develop and implement safe recruitment policies, procedures and practices and conduct the necessary background checks to ensure the staff they hire are competent, suitable and safe. Staff should have appropriate qualifications and competence to protect children and promote their well-being.

Everyone working in an educational setting with children must understand safeguarding and their responsibilities to protect children from harm, do what is in their best interests and the actions to take if there are any concerns. Therefore, staff training and development in safeguarding and child protection is crucial. It is also a requirement in statutory guidance, such as KCSIE and EYFS.

New staff should have induction training, where they are made aware of safeguarding support systems. It should include information on key policies, such as child protection and behaviour, and responses to any safeguarding issues. They should also be informed of who the designated safeguarding lead is and the details of any deputies.

Educational providers may choose to have an external organisation or internal personnel to conduct the training. Whichever they choose, the trainers should be competent, i.e. have the training, knowledge, experience and skills in safeguarding and child protection. Some examples of the topics that may be covered in training include:

  • Information about relevant policies and procedures.
  • The applicable legal and regulatory frameworks.
  • Introduction to safeguarding and child protection and responsibilities.
  • How to keep children safe online.
  • Types of abuse and examples of abusers.
  • Recognising the signs of abuse, exploitation or neglect and how to respond.
  • Responding to disclosures, i.e. reports of abuse, exploitation or neglect from children, parents/carers or staff.
  • Procedures for reporting any concerns.
  • Process for making referrals to local authority children’s social care.
  • What happens post-referral.

Governors and staff with additional safeguarding and child protection responsibilities, e.g. designated safeguarding leads, should have more in-depth training to ensure they carry out their roles effectively.

Educational providers may want to assess staff’s understanding of safeguarding and child protection to ensure effective training delivery. Safeguarding training should also be regularly reviewed and updated, as it is a vital part of staff’s professional development and an ongoing process to ensure the safety of children in education.

Training should be implemented, and educational leaders should promote a culture of vigilance and accountability among staff members. They shape the safeguarding culture and must lead by example, model the required attitudes and behaviours and uphold their responsibilities. Staff should fully understand policies and procedures and their duties regarding safeguarding and prioritising children’s safety. It should be at the forefront of everything they do.

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Partnership Working with Parents and Carers

Working in partnership with parents and carers is vital to promote child safety. Parents and carers know their children better than anyone and can provide valuable knowledge and insights into their health, well-being, challenges, behaviours, strengths and overall needs. Collaboration can help identify issues that could put children at risk and implement more effective safety measures.

When educational providers and educators work with parents/carers, it can also ensure that safety measures are consistently applied in the setting and at home. It also encourages and empowers parents/carers to play an active role in their child’s safety and well-being and can provide them with the support they need to create a safe environment in the home.

If educators openly communicate and work with parents/carers, it can foster trust and help build positive and strong relationships. It can make it easier to share information and advice and address and resolve any issues and concerns regarding children’s safety. It also helps identify potential risks and intervene early to prevent harm, essential in safeguarding.

Strategies for communicating with parents, sharing information, and involving them in safeguarding initiatives:

Be welcoming, warm and approachable

  • Create a warm and welcoming atmosphere; parents/carers are more likely to communicate if they feel comfortable approaching, talking and discussing things.
  • Learn parents’/carers’ names, ask questions, and find out more about their general backgrounds to increase openness and build trust.
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in their children’s education, safety and well-being.
  • Have an open door policy and encourage parents/carers to visit.

Use open, clear and honest communication

  • Keep parents/carers informed by sending regular updates, e.g. via email, text messages, newsletters or social media.
  • Ask them what their preferred method of communication is for receiving information and resources.
  • Use two-way communication instead of giving directives or just sending emails.
  • Regularly meet with parents/carers to discuss safeguarding concerns/issues and their children’s progress.
  • Be honest and transparent with parents/carers if there are any issues.
  • Be mindful of cultural differences and ensure communication is inclusive and respectful.
  • Actively listen to what parents/carers say and their opinions and concerns, and be fully attentive without judgment.

Involve parents/carers

  • Hold parent-teacher meetings (conferences) throughout the year.
  • Organise various classes, workshops and events for parents/carers on topics such as online safety, mental health awareness, bullying and recognising the signs of abuse.
  • Encourage parents/carers to volunteer for events, clubs, activities and initiatives.

Get feedback

  • Hold feedback sessions to discuss children’s progress, any issues or challenges, and other topics where necessary. It can be a useful forum to give feedback to parents and receive it from them.
  • Ask for parents’/carers’ ideas or opinions via interviews, focus groups and surveys. Also, encourage them to share their own experiences, stories and challenges in education and what improvements they would have liked to have seen.

Collaboration between parents/carers and staff is essential regarding child protection issues. If parental concerns are raised, staff should know how to respond without being defensive or blaming others. They should follow their employer’s policies and procedures, e.g. safeguarding/complaints.

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Responding to Safeguarding Concerns

Educators may face various safeguarding issues. They may see signs of abuse or neglect or have allegations of abuse reported by staff, children themselves or parents/carers. If they receive safeguarding concerns, they should:

  • Understand their responsibilities for raising safety concerns, recording incidents, and reporting them internally and externally.
  • Take all reports extremely seriously and act promptly.
  • Follow their whistleblowing policy if their concerns are not taken seriously or addressed.
  • Make a written record of the concern, including the date, time, observations, disclosures and people present. Document everything, as the information will be crucial to the investigation process.
  • Follow the organisation’s child protection and safeguarding policies and procedures consistently and take appropriate actions.
  • Report immediately to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or make a referral to the police or children’s social care if there is an immediate risk of harm or danger to a child’s safety.
  • Provide support and reassurance to the child (if they are reporting) and actively listen to them without judgment. Let them know they have done the right thing by raising the concern.
  • Seek further advice and guidance from the DSL or local authority designated officer (LADO).

Near misses are also important and should be taken seriously, as they can prevent incidents from occurring. Capturing valuable information about what could have happened is essential in safeguarding.

Regardless of what the concerns or allegations are, it is crucial to maintain confidentiality, sensitivity, and professionalism throughout the process. It is a legal requirement under the Data Protection Act 2018 and UKGDPR to handle people’s personal information confidentially and only share information with others with consent or if needed to protect children’s safety.

CPD Online College has further information on reporting and recording safeguarding concerns here.

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Continuous Improvement and Evaluation

Ensuring child safety and compliance with the law requires more than writing policies and procedures down. It requires them to be fully implemented, monitored and reviewed where necessary. According to the NSPCC, “safeguarding and child protection is a continuous process”.

There is always room for improvement regarding child safety in educational settings, especially if there have been near misses and incidents. Continuous improvement and evaluation in promoting child safety are critical to maintaining high standards, improving performance and enhancing child safety in educational settings.

Reviewing and updating policies, procedures, and risk assessments is essential to assess what is or is not working and improve safeguarding practices. Here are some examples of strategies that educational settings can adopt:

Have procedures and criteria for review

  • Follow a clear and structured process for review to ensure consistency.
  • Consider using a clear and measurable rating system for assessment.

Identify who needs to be involved in the review

  • The DSL should lead and include all relevant people.
  • Consider including internal and external stakeholders, e.g. key staff, parents/carers, local authorities, partner organisations, etc.

Consider what needs reviewing and why

  • Look at the policies, procedures and risk assessments and determine the documents that require a review and why, e.g. changes in law, feedback from stakeholders and statutory guidance or occurrence of incidents and near misses.
  • Assess whether staff are following current policies, procedures and risk assessments and identify any gaps.

Learn from concerns

  • Use all safeguarding concerns and reports as opportunities to learn lessons and make improvements to reduce future risks.
  • Analyse data from reports and investigations to inform any changes.
  • Consider the causes behind the concerns and how they could have been prevented.

Communicate updates

  • Inform staff, parents/carers and children of any changes and updates.
  • Update staff training where necessary.

Educational providers should encourage feedback from internal and external stakeholders to understand their views and address any concerns they may have. They could use various methods, such as one-to-one meetings, surveys, questionnaires or focus and discussion groups. Implementing lessons learned from incidents or near misses is also vital to identify what went wrong and the actions needed to prevent a recurrence.

Soliciting feedback consistently and as early as possible and learning lessons from incidents or near misses can lead to better-informed and more effective policies and procedures. It can also improve safeguarding practices and enhance child safety and protection within the educational setting.

Further information

Child Safety in Educational Settings

Conclusion

Child safety is of utmost importance in educational settings, and there are moral and legal reasons for protecting children. Many things can put children at risk, from unsafe buildings, equipment and environments to things that can negatively impact their emotional well-being and online safety risks. Keeping children safe is vital to provide an optimal learning environment and increase the chances of academic success.

Governors, leaders, headteachers, educators and support staff should familiarise themselves with the legal and regulatory frameworks that apply to them and their settings, understand their roles and responsibilities, implement best practices, and prioritise child safety in their educational settings. They must effectively and openly communicate, collaborate and work with parents/carers to ensure effective policies and practices.

Staff should have safeguarding training appropriate to their roles and responsibilities and know the actions to take if they receive reports of any concerns or if they have their own concerns about a child and seek further advice if they are unsure of what to do. They should follow their organisation’s policies, procedures, and risk assessments – which should be evaluated and reviewed regularly to ensure continuous improvement.

Everyone in and out of the educational setting has a duty to protect children and keep them safe from harm while they work towards their education. Educational providers and educators should always remain vigilant, proactive, and committed to creating a safe and nurturing environment for all children.

Child Safety in Educational Settings
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