The importance of proper safeguarding practice in schools


Safeguarding is the fundamental foundation of every school, for if children and young people feel, or are, unsafe, then they are far less likely to engage fully in school life and the curriculum. As a result, the development of their knowledge and their skills for now, and for the future, will be impaired. This underlines the importance of proper safeguarding practice in schools.

There are a number of reasons why schools play such an important role in safeguarding children and young people.

  • schools see their pupils more often, and for longer periods of time, than many or most other places. Sometimes, children and young people will spend more time in school than they spend with their families or carers.
  • schools are well placed to listen to pupils and to hear their views about staying safe, or to help them if they are experiencing particular difficulties or threats to their well-being.
  • schools have a good capacity to keep in touch with the local community and with other agencies. This enables them to learn about particular safeguarding concerns in the area and to take steps to safeguard their pupils in light of this. It is crucial that pupils feel safe in school.
  • schools are centres of education and their key purpose is to teach children and young people, therefore they are well placed to provide them with the essential knowledge and skills required for a healthy and safe life now, and in the wider world.

If we consider what constitutes proper safeguarding practices, there are a number of elements. These include:


One key element is the school’s documentation and whether this is reviewed regularly and kept up to date. This will include the safeguarding and child protection policy and making sure that it reflects the current position. Sometimes, there will be a multi-academy trust policy, but there is still a need to make sure that this reflects the school’s specific situation and personnel accurately. It is also important to make sure that there is clear reference to recognising signs of abuse and that staff have received relevant training and updates which reflect current concerns and that this is recorded, including for any staff who perhaps undertook the training at a later point. Not only should schools maintain a single central record (SCR), which is complete and up to date, but this should be checked regularly, and governors and trustees should check that it has been checked. Many schools use CPOMS (Child Protection Online Management System) or similar electronic systems for recording any safeguarding concerns and incidents. The benefits of such systems are that all relevant information can be collated in one place and can be analysed to identify patterns, pupils, concerns and trends, especially in terms of records for those who are, or might be, vulnerable. Similarly, the school’s records of low-level concerns around staff are another key piece of documentation. Should concerns escalate, as they sometimes do, a lack of clearly recorded evidence will bring into question the extent to which the school has protected its pupils from harm. Documentation also relates to posters and information for staff, visitors and pupils about who the DSLs (designated safeguarding leaders) are and what to do if they have concerns or need help. All of these things become crucial should there be any safeguarding incidents. The school would be found wanting if there are any gaps in the documentation and records.

Procedures and processes

If the documentation is secure this will help to secure staff’s confidence in the processes and procedures to follow. If proper safeguarding practices are in place, staff will recognise signs of abuse and will know what to do if a child expresses a concern or if they are concerned about the behaviour of a colleague. Similarly, pupils will know what to do and who to go to should they have concerns of their own or if they are worried about a friend. Staff and governors need too to understand the roles of other agencies and staff will be clear about the routes to follow to contact them, for example, when it is appropriate to contact the local authority designated officer (LADO). Pupils’ absence from lessons or from school is another major safeguarding risk. Most schools, especially post-pandemic, have tighter procedures for checking absence and this includes absence from particular lessons or occasional absence from school as well as longer-term absence and children who become missing from education. Where procedures and processes are correct, this enables the DSL and other senior leaders to undertake a close and joined-up analysis of safeguarding incidents and of all potentially related factors, and to follow with suitable actions and checks on the impact of these actions.

Communication and information

Clear information must be given to staff and to the pupils. Sometimes the provision of information is masked behind a cloak of confidentiality, but it is crucial that staff receive the information they need to respond appropriately. This does not mean that confidentiality is breached but that judicious decisions are made about who needs what information, about whom. Regular safeguarding updates mean that staff receive the right information about the pupils and about current safeguarding concerns in the school, in the local area and regionally and nationally. It is also important that staff have a clear understanding of multiple vulnerabilities and of how these might affect particular pupils.

Safeguarding curriculum and sensitive teaching

There has been much in the press and media lately about what has, or has not, been included in particular schools’ delivery of relationships and sex education. A key feature of proper safeguarding practice is that the curriculum for safeguarding is age-appropriate, need-appropriate, and is covered in an age- and need-appropriate way. While some aspects of the safeguarding curriculum require specialist teaching by confident and trained teachers of PSHE, there are also excellent opportunities to cover safeguarding issues in the different subjects of the curriculum, especially through English literature, humanities, religious education and science. This is most effective through a planned and coherent whole school approach to covering the key and essential elements and where coverage is audited. However, there are also times when the curriculum needs to be flexible to respond swiftly to current issues and to local incidents. This will help to allay pupils’ concerns and also to keep them safe from harm and from rumour and speculation. Teachers and other staff also need to be highly aware of which pupils may be affected negatively by certain topics and events, and to approach this with great sensitivity.

The culture of the school

This is probably one of the most significant elements of proper practice because it underlines the importance of safeguarding through the way in which all stakeholders act on a day-to-day basis and how this permeates the life of the school. Pupils and staff will know that they are cared for and will feel safe and that they can share their concerns confidently. Clear messages will be given and understood about respecting all people including those with one or more of the nine protected characteristics. All pupils and staff who have these characteristics will feel they have a voice. There will be absolutely no tolerance of discriminatory behaviour or derogatory language. In this school, positive and diverse role models are promoted, and differences are celebrated. Although none of this comes about by accident, its manifestation appears as a natural and embedded aspect of everything the school does.


These are some of the key elements of proper and effective safeguarding practice. Having all of these elements in place cannot eliminate safeguarding incidents and concerns, but it will help concerns to be recognised and acted upon in a swift and supportive manner. Effective and proper practice will ensure vigilance and a recognition that safeguarding issues ‘can happen here’, wherever that might be.


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