We're all in this together – a holistic approach to safeguarding in UK schools: Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022

Article 30 September 2022 Experience: Education

KCSIE is the primary piece of statutory guidance that governs how schools and colleges (referred to here as ‘schools’) must carry out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This guidance is updated at least once every two years by the Department for Education (‘DfE’), the latest edition being KCSIE 2022 which has been issued this term and can be found here. Guidance in KCSIE is divided into: 1) what schools must do to comply with the law; and 2) what schools should do, unless they have good reason not to.

What’s new in KCSIE 2022?

KCSIE 2022 reiterates and expands the broadened concept of safeguarding issued under KCSIE 2021. KCSIE 2022 adopts a ‘whole school approach to safeguarding’ and restructures its guidance to reflect ‘the crucial role of preventative education…in the context of a whole-school or college approach that prepares pupils and students for life in modern Britain’.

Emphasis and clarifications have been added to reiterate that policies, procedures and staff training must be updated and rethought to comply with what is now a more encompassing and co-operative approach to safeguarding.

Schools are reminded of the need for obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA 1998’), the Equality Act 2010 (‘EA 2010’), and multi-agency safeguarding arrangements to permeate safeguarding approaches and decisions at all stages. Safeguarding should involve co-operation with parents, appropriate adults and statutory support agencies and should impact decisions in all areas of school life, from IT systems to staff recruitment, student curriculums and the school’s management structure.

KCSIE now also consolidates guidance from a number of related areas and recommends additional resources to help schools navigate safeguarding in practice. Most notably, the ‘Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between children in schools and colleges 2021’ guidance is now found from paragraph 219ff of KCSIE 2022.

1. Updating training: Part 1 KCSIE 2022

It will be familiar to most that schools must ensure all staff are familiar with the safeguarding procedures and any other relevant part of the school’s policies. These policies should be covered during staff inductions and may include policies on student behaviour, safeguarding and staff code of conducts. In particular KCSIE 2022 requires that staff codes of conduct should be updated to include information on how to handle low-level concerns, allegations against staff* and whistleblowing.

Staff should be aware that, per paragraph 73 of KCSIE 2022, safeguarding concerns or allegations made against a member of staff which do not meet the harm threshold should* still be reported*. Schools should therefore also have a low-level concerns policy which sets out the procedure for reporting such concerns and allegations, in compliance with Part 4 of KCSIE 2022.

Training for staff should be updated with these policies and to raise staff awareness that:

1. children may feel embarrassed, scared, unable or unready to discuss their experiences but that this does not mean staff should ignore their concerns. Staff should consider how to identify these concerns and how to best facilitate communication with such children; and

2. children can experience and witness domestic abuse in the home and in their own relationships; staff should be made aware of the issues and of the long-term impact such experiences can have, including on a child’s development and ability to learn.

Leadership and other relevant staff should also be aware of the IT filtering and monitoring systems.

Further all staff should be reminded about the importance of communication with parents, which should include informing parents about sites which students will be asked to visit outside of school, and which, if any, staff members will contact students online.

Training for governing bodies, proprietors and trustees should be updated to equip them to:

  • provide strategic challenge to test the school’s safeguarding procedures and policies; and
  • assess the effectiveness of the school’s approach to safeguarding in ensuring the ‘delivery of a robust whole school approach’.

Training should be provided at induction and updated regularly. It may include training in person or online and should continue to cover regulatory obligations under the HRA 1998, EA 2010 and under multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.

2. Updating safeguarding management: Part 2 KCSIE 2022

2.1 Legal obligations

Part 2 of KCSIE sets out in detail how the HRA 1998, the EA 2010, and obligations under multi-agency safeguarding arrangements apply to safeguarding. In particular schools should be aware of the role safeguarding plays in protecting a child’s HRA 1998 right to:

  • freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3);
  • respect for private and family life (including protection of physical and psychological integrity (Article 8));
  • education (Protocol 1 Article 2); and
  • have their HRA 1998 rights protected and applied without discrimination (Article 14).

KCSIE makes clear that being subjected to harassment, violence and abuse may, depending on the nature of the act, breach these rights. Schools are advised to consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (‘EHRC’) guidance which can be found here.

KCSIE 2022 further clarifies that, in addition to complying with their legal duties under the EA 2010, schools should be considering how to provide support to their pupils in respect of their protected characteristics. This may include (but should not be limited to) taking positive, proportionate steps to address disadvantages a student may face due to their characteristic(s). One example is KCSIE’s guidance in respect of LGBT students which states that staff should now endeavour to provide safe spaces for LGBT students to speak to staff, ideally in the form of a ‘trusted adult with whom they can be open’. The government has produced further guidance to assist schools in thinking through the EA 2010 which is available here.

Significantly KCSIE has also been updated to include detailed guidance on the Public Sector Equality Duty (‘PSED’), a key duty imposed by the EA 2010. The PSED aims to improve student outcomes through identifying and addressing key issues of concern. In particular KCSIE 2022 highlights the importance of schools being aware that, within their student body, some students will be disproportionately vulnerable. For instance, holding certain protected characteristics may place students at greater risk of discrimination or bullying. The PSED is a holistic duty: while schools may already be familiar with considering the PSED in respect of their policies, they may not be aware that this must also be considered in all ‘exercise of their functions’. The KCSIE holds this as applying to all protected characteristics and requires:

‘due regard [to be given] to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation (and any other conduct prohibited under the Equality Act), to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between those who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not’.

Schools are further reminded that:

‘whenever significant decisions are being made or policies developed, specific consideration must be given to the equality implications of these.’

These may seem like daunting areas to address, particularly if it represents a large-scale shift in how decisions are made within a school. To assist schools in complying with their PSED, the EHRC has produced detailed guidance which can be found here.

2.2 Updating safeguarding structures

2.2(a) Designated Safeguarding Leads

Schools will be familiar with the role of the Designated Safeguarding Lead (‘DSL’) from previous KCSIE guidance. Their role includes leading the school’s safeguarding and child protection and should be explicitly included in their job description. DSLs must be ‘an appropriate senior member of staff’ who sits on the school’s leadership team and, following KCSIE 2022, must not be the school’s proprietor. Paragraph 103, KCSIE 2022 expands this for schools who have a sole proprietor in lieu of a governing body: a key requirement when selecting their DSL is for the proposed DSL to have sufficient independence from that proprietor.

DSLs are also referred to the statutory guidance in ‘PACE Code C 2019 – Appropriate Adult’ and must be familiar with the DSL specific guidance at Annex C, KCSIE 2022.

2.2(b) IT systems

In respect of the risk IT systems pose to children, schools will already have monitoring and filtering policies in place as part of their existing safeguarding arrangements. KCSIE 2022 places additional responsibilities on governors and proprietors who must ‘be doing all that they reasonably can to limit the children’s exposure’ to the risks posed by being online. Governors and proprietors will need to review their school’s current filtering and monitoring systems to ensure they operate effectively. This will include ensuring staff are aware of procedures and are comfortable operating them.

2.2 ( c ) Virtual school heads

Virtual school heads have additional obligations under KCSIE 2022. The existing statutory obligations remain in place; however from June 2021 virtual school heads also have a non-statutory responsibility for the ‘strategic oversight of the educational attendance, attainment, and progress of children with a social worker.’ This will include identifying and engaging with key professionals, such as social workers, DSLs, headteachers and governors, helping them understand the impact their roles will have on the children in their care. Further guidance on this role and non-statutory responsibilities can be found here.

3. Updating Recruitment: Part 3 KCSIE 2022

KCSIE 2022 reiterates and clarifies its previous guidance, reminding schools that:

  • CVs alone are insufficient to provide adequate information for safer recruitment and should always be accompanied by an application form;
  • online searches should be carried out on shortlisted candidates to identify publicly available issues which may cause concern and which the school may want to explore further with the candidate; and
  • when hiring agency or third-party staff, written confirmation should be obtained confirming the same checks have been carried out as the school would complete if hiring that individual directly.

4. Clarifying advice and concerns: Part 4 KCSIE 2022

KCSIE 2022 adds further guidance on reporting low-level concerns. Guidance focuses on encouraging an ‘if in doubt, refer’ approach to low-level concerns, rather than setting out prescriptive procedures. In a similar vein, the learning lessons guidance has been clarified, reminding schools that lessons should be learnt from all cases, not just those where allegations were found to be substantiated.

5. Reviewing responses to child-on-child violence and harassment: Part 5 KCSIE 2022

Previous KCSIE guidance is reiterated with further emphasis being placed on supporting and encouraging children to come forward. As such schools must make sure all victims know that:

  • regardless of the abuse’s type, location or the time elapsed since its occurrence, they will be supported and kept safe;
  • all abuse is taken equally seriously;
  • the law is there to protect them, not criticise; and
  • they should never feel ashamed for making a report.

Staff should also understand students exposed to sexual abuse will respond in a wide variety of ways, varying from displaying no obvious signs to displaying very clear signs of trauma. Schools should be aware of the challenges in identifying these different responses and should show equal sensitivity to the student’s needs, regardless of how obviously the trauma is expressed.

The guidance on what staff should consider when responding to a report of child-on-child abuse has also been updated to reiterate staff must not take a narrow approach. In addition to factors such as the victim’s wishes, age and developmental stage, consideration should be given to the wider harm which may have been caused. Examples of this wider approach includes considering the ‘importance of understanding intra familial harms and any necessary support for siblings following incidents’.

A similarly cohesive approach should be taken by schools, DSLs and statutory safeguarding partners in discussing and co-ordinating safeguarding arrangements.

6. Other changes and reminders

The DfE has introduced definitions for victims and perpetrators and has updated other terms including:

  • peer-on-peer abuse (now referred to as child-on-child abuse);
  • clinical commissioning groups (now called Integrated Care Boards); and
  • Public Health England which has now been replaced by the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

KCSIE 2022 includes cognitive understanding in the examples of additional barriers which children with special education needs and/or disabilities may face and notes this may include ‘being unable to understand the difference between fact and fiction in online content and then repeating the content/behaviours in schools or colleges or the consequences of doing so’.

Schools should ensure their child protection policies cover these additional needs.

Schools are reminded of their obligations to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR.

7. What does this mean in practice?

While KCSIE 2022 sets out significant guidance and requirements for schools, there is no prescriptive answer as to how schools and governing bodies should implement these changes. Schools should therefore consider the KCSIE 2022 in full. However, a few key points to take away are:

  • Schools must review policies and procedures in respect of the HRA 1998, EA 2010 and the PSED, ensuring a holistic approach is taken and that these obligations are considered whenever significant decisions or policies are being made. Such a review may also be an opportune time to review and update staff code of conducts to reflect changes in terminology and to address how low-level concerns, allegations against staff and whistleblowing are handled. In addition, recruitment policies must be checked against recruiting good practice (including updated guidance on application forms and the inclusion of online searches against shortlisted candidates).
  • All staff must be aware of their obligations and the school’s safeguarding guidance and procedures from their induction. In any event, existing staff training should be updated to raise awareness of changes to school policies following KCSIE 2022, including highlighting the importance and purpose of the trusted adult and appropriate adult roles.
  • Virtual school heads have additional non-statutory responsibilities for strategic oversight in respect of children with social workers.
  • DSLs who are their school’s proprietor must be replaced by an independent senior member of staff as a matter of urgency.

Additional resources provided in KCSIE 2022:

The following additional resources signposted by the DfE and KCSIE 2022 may be of welcome assistance to schools reviewing procedures, policies and staff awareness in light of KCSIE 2022:

Contacts