Helping schools face the challenge of evolving safeguarding risk

  • Safeguarding is a very different challenge for schools than it was 20 years ago
  • New threats have emerged – many linked to digital technology – and the support networks that schools have traditionally relied on are not as strong as they were
  • Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, discusses how schools can respond to these challenges, and how our Safer Schools App can help

Schools today face an uphill battle to manage an increasingly complex set of safeguarding risks.

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, explains: “In my day, the threats students faced were a lot simpler. Now, with digital technology, there are dangers 24/7, and they are changing all the time.”

Tilden, who is also a primary school vice-chair of governors, with specific responsibility for safeguarding, adds: “Schools have been on a journey over the last 20 years on safeguarding. The big challenge is that the environment is constantly changing.

“Schools are at the frontline of many societal issues, but the support network around them is diminishing, with funding for police and social services being cut back. The backdrop of austerity is a massive issue.”

And the understanding of what constitutes a safeguarding risk is also evolving.

“When safeguarding as a topic first emerged, it was largely about physical abuse,“ says Tilden. “There is now greater understanding about neglect – for example, children coming into school malnourished – but also a host of other risks that weren’t widely understood ten years ago, such as FGM and radicalisation, and risks associated with digital technology, such as online abuse,”

The importance of sharing information

In order to better respond to these risks, Tilden says schools should become part of an information-sharing network.

“If you are a small primary school, you may only have one or two people who specialise in safeguarding as part of their role. The only way you can keep on top of these emerging risks is by being part of a network.

“It’s about sharing information not just with other schools, but with other agencies. Our primary school, for example, has just completed a joint training session around Prevent. Who would have thought 20 years ago that our teachers would have needed radicalisation training?”

The importance of evidencing safeguarding decisions

Documenting the steps your school has taken to protect children from abuse and neglect is also key.

Tilden says: “You can have the right policy documents and you can offer staff training, but how can you prove that safeguarding is embedded and taken seriously, and that children know who they can talk to?

“At our school, we do a survey of pupils. We ask them if they would know what to do if they were not feeling comfortable, and who to go to if they were in trouble. When you get 99% of children saying they would know what to do in these kinds of situation, then you feel more confident that you have created the right environment and that children will speak out.

“If you do identify issues, then you need to be able to show you’ve acted on them, and that means documenting everything. You also need to have clear escalation processes to ensure that any concerns, including any referrals to your local authority, are followed up.”

Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy

While digital technology poses new safeguarding challenges, it can also help to improve understanding and management of risk.

Zurich has partnered with independent safeguarding organisation Ineqe to develop the Safer Schools App – a risk-management tool that helps schools better understand and manage their safeguarding responsibilities.

Available to all education customers, the app offers a range of resources, including training materials and up-to-date, credible and relevant information about emerging risks – particularly relating to social media.

Tilden says: “Following the recent Momo scare, for example, the app enabled us to push out notifications that it was in fact a hoax. Getting quick access to accurate information and expertise is key.”

We have also just published a new whitepaper, The evolving safeguarding risk landscape, which outlines the support we can offer to help schools manage emerging and evolving risks.

Our whitepaper includes a useful checklist to help organisations ensure their safeguarding policies are fit for purpose.

You can also find a wealth of safeguarding information, including content specifically for schools, in our Safeguarding Risk Resource.