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Safeguarding in schools – It’s time to take Ofsted out of the process

It doesn’t seem right that a school’s safeguarding provision can go unaudited for as long as five years, says Vic Goddard – but changing that will mean having to rethink the role that Ofsted currently plays in the process…

Vic Goddard
by Vic Goddard

It would be fair to say that the safeguarding leads and teams at our schools have had a somewhat challenging last 15 months.

What’s become screamingly obvious to all of us is the role that we, and the education system as a whole, currently play in keeping young people safe, simply by seeing them five days a week.

The culture of safeguarding we all look to create in our schools means that staff notice things. Not just the big, obvious signs like black eyes and broken bones, but also the smallest, easy to overlook indicators that can help to fully fill out the picture of a young person’s life.

Too late

During lockdown, teachers across the country carried out doorstep visits, video calls and other home checks, because we knew that if we didn’t, then who would?

Some young people were, and continue to be supported by social care services, of course – but the ability of agencies to check in on families was desperately limited, simply because the job was too big.

The fact is that when safeguarding goes wrong and a young person suffers, it becomes big news, warranting front page headlines, and rightly so. So how is it that we’re still stuck with a system that allows schools to go for many years without first-hand scrutiny of its safeguarding provision through an Ofsted inspection?

Some will correctly point out that most Las will ask schools to carry out a safeguarding audit every couple of years. But how happy are we that a self-evaluation, of one of the most important parts of our job, can be the only check taken at some schools for five years or more?

As our safeguarding lead at Passmores says, “It’s vital that no school finds out what they don’t know, or what they aren’t doing, when it’s too late.”

‘Too late’ in this context could amount to a heartbreaking incident involving a child, as well as Ofsted coming in and a school failing an inspection within minutes of it starting. The long-term impact of such events will be life-changing, one way or the other.

Safeguarding plus

In an ideal world, then, what would we want from our government so that we could feel not just monitored, but also helped to improve – before it’s too late?

Like many schools, we get that support and guidance by paying for it from an external provider.

We subscribe to the excellent service provided by safeguarding expert Andrew Hall at SafeguardingPro, which enables us to check our compliance against statutory requirements, and also start looking at how we might carry out ‘safeguarding plus’.

That is, not just doing those things we have to do, but also begin doing other things that will develop the strong safeguarding culture we all want to see as being commonplace in schools.

It’s vital that safeguarding be given it’s own sense of importance, away from inspections. The danger of the current setup is that safeguarding is seen as something to ‘get through’ when the inspection team arrives, and that the important part of getting at least a Good rating begins once we’ve passed that hurdle.

This is surely the wrong message. It seems to me that the best organisation to assume responsibility for checking safeguarding and improving it would be our LA.

We’re lucky that the safeguarding manager for Essex is excellent at her job and has been a great source of support, but she has far too little in the way of resources to be truly proactive.

Shared care

Safeguarding must become an annual and developmental part of school accountability and improvement. Having support in place that can feed into our planning and signpost best practice elsewhere is the very least our young people deserve.

Taking this beyond mere checklists and compliance to an in-depth understanding of need will require a greater investment of time.

If safeguarding is seen more as a hurdle to clear, rather than an ingrained part of the school’s ethos and practice, then we risk making mistakes.

Implementing the change I suggest would provide a real opportunity to move past the competition of Ofsted grades and league tables, and into a space of true collaboration and shared care for the communities we serve.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99).

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