What can schools do?
As a result of the Ofsted review and the recent statutory guidance developed by the Department for Education, schools should be preparing themselves for a heightened analysis of safeguarding policies and understand what is expected of them in the circumstances.
We recommend that schools consider amending their safeguarding policies (if they have not already done so) to provide the safest environment for the community. This may include ensuring safeguarding information is visible around the school, providing anonymous reporting systems and implementing consistent and robust policies in relation to mobile phones.
Whilst it is unclear at this stage what the effect of the government review will be, there is speculation that a mobile phone ban could be implemented as early as January 2022. In such a situation, the Department for Education will likely provide specific guidance as to how schools and colleges should enforce these policies. Nevertheless, the following factors may serve as a starting point if your school or college is considering such a ban as part of its heightened safeguarding policies:
There needs to be clarity in relation to what the policy will entail, and it is necessary to pre-empt any questions or concerns staff, children and their parents may have. In particular, is the policy a ban, or does it focus on how and when mobile phones are used?
It is vital to communicate the impending change in policy in advance of implementation. In particular, it is important that the decision is formally shared with staff prior to being released to parents and pupils.
In addition, you may wish to consider how the school will communicate the decision to parents. This may include letters home, messages shared via the school account on social media, and prominent announcements on the school website. In these communications, the school should additionally highlight the benefits of the policy, particularly underlining the behavioural aspects to such a ban and any advantages related to safety.
A significant area referenced throughout the Ofsted report was the importance of the effective training of staff, the designated safeguarding lead and Governors of the school.
As such, we would recommend inset training at the start of the academic term to explain the behaviour policy to the staff in the first instance, so that it is applied consistently across the board and to ensure that they take a considered and appropriate response. Staff should be able to answer key questions regarding the policy, the new policy’s interaction with other existing behaviour policies and any sanctions in place.
In addition to understanding the policy and potential sanctions, all staff should better understand and be able to identify early signs of peer-on-peer sexual abuse, including online and via mobile phones. The Department for Education’s report on ‘Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges’ published on 1 September provides useful resources and tool-kits for training in relation to harmful sexual behaviour and effective safeguarding practices.
Schools and colleges should ensure they review and reflect on the policy at regular intervals, requesting feedback from staff, parents and students.
In particular, schools should consider the impact of the ban on young people with additional needs and pupils who are learners of English as an additional language.
Author: Lily-May Austen, Trainee Solicitor
The findings from the Department of Education’s call for evidence are due to be released over the coming weeks. We will continue to monitor the findings from the call for evidence and will be providing further updates on this topic in due course.
For further information in relation to the recent update to the statutory guidance for Keeping Children Safe in Education 2021, please see our article “boys being boys” cancelled: Keeping Children Safe in Education (‘KCSIE’) 2021.