Safeguarding in Education

Posted by Gabriella Walshaw

 We have a new module for ebs Ontrack to support further education providers’ safeguarding, wellbeing, mental health, and behaviour teams. Following the pandemic and entering a period of financial extremes, learners are under conflicting pressures to attend study and qualify, to earn, and to support their families and communities.  Here we reflect on the current situation for further and tertiary education. 

The current situation 

Many of our colleges and councils will have welcomed Ukrainian refugees this year. Child Bereavement UK have translated resources for Ukrainian children and families, while The Open University has free beginner courses in English and Business English, mental health, and wellbeing. Across the road from our Sheffield office, where ebs is based, are education resource superheroes Twinkl.  

The NSPCC’s Together for Childhood podcast highlights the importance of community-based and place-based work to identify and prevent child abuse and neglect. Community learning is a cornerstone of provision for many of our institutions. Neglect is often referred to as a ‘boiled frog’ situation, where small signs that a person is not cared for, can be missed because they accumulate so gradually. Our colleges support vulnerable people of all ages; it is important to remember that adolescents are the second most vulnerable age group after infants. Our providers also have a secondary safeguarding role in identifying concerns about learners who are parents. 

Similar to signs of neglect may be signs of modern slavery. A learner not having access to their own documents or cash, not being able to join social or enrichment activities, stay late, or study at home, may all be signs that they are being abused, or controlled by someone else. Abusive relationships are also a risk for younger learners, with many teenagers reporting experiencing coercive control. 

The Welsh government has launched an innovative approach to improving the lifelong support of learners with additional learning needs (ALN, usually called SEND in England). The Welsh Individual Learning Plan or IDP has a standard XML format, allowing continuous transfer between providers from nursery to university. The format can be updated and added to by providers, ensuring learners’ changing needs are recorded, met, and shared securely.  

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse issued its report in October. Recommendations include the introduction of mandatory reporting where an adult suspects child sexual abuse is occurring – legislation that already exists in the US and Australia. In Wales, professionals have a legal obligation to report, but no ramifications currently exist for someone who fails to obey the law. Ofsted inspections are incisive on allegations of sexual harassment or abuse, and institutions should be prepared to demonstrate how they record, investigate, and intervene when allegations are made. 

Learners remain vulnerable to grooming, exploitation, and radicalisation in person and online. Institutions are urged to understand the threats of incel culture, especially for young men who may feel isolated or pushed to the margins of society. This form of extremism has led to several violent incidents, and groups online celebrate attacks against women. Learners are also exposed to distressing content online: under the new Keeping Children Safe in Education (2022) institutions must ensure adequate filtering and monitoring is in place for college networks and devices. While we won’t recommend a specific provider, we do suggest you ensure your provider enables you to see what words and images learners are trying to access so that you can intervene or refer appropriately. 

In New Zealand a new pastoral code of care specifically covers tertiary and international ākonga or learners. This code recognises New Zealand’s unique position as a provider of vocational, skills-based education to international learners, and Indigenous learners including Māori and Pacifica students. One of the key tenets of education policy Ka Hikitia in New Zealand is Māori wealth creation, enabling Māori communities to enjoy economic participation and stability.

Unemployment and underemployment are factors directly linked to poor mental health and low social aspiration (in societies where financial stability is a requirement for participation), so enabling communities to design and attain their own economic success has a direct impact on their wellbeing."

Decolonising education, social work, and mental health care involves recognising community-based and well-practised social justice behaviours within Indigenous communities. 

Opportunities for change 

The CSA centre offer a free Signs and Indicators Template. Most children and young people who are sexually abused don’t tell anyone when the abuse is occurring. The Signs and Indicators Template can support staff who believe they have noticed something is wrong, to connect the dots and act to protect a learner. Staff who believe there is reason to act should always refer to a social work professional rather than conducting their own investigation. 

The emotional wellbeing and mental health of our learners is vastly affected by their sense that they are welcomed, and that they belong with their peers. Guidance on inclusion includes respecting afro and Black traditional hairstyles, preventing adultification of Black children and young people, and analysing your behaviour records to understand and change how BAME learners are treated within your institutions. 

Our colleges, councils, and HEIs understand their complex responsibilities, and are specialists in creating opportunities for learners. No learner arrives with either a perfect or an impossible background: opportunities for genuinely individualised learning also provide a chance for each learner to overcome their own, unique, obstacles.  

The development of the new Safeguarding module involved in-depth conversations with institutions in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand. They told us how the legislation, intake, courses, and the local economy all affected processes. From special provision for entry-level learners, to degree-awarding organisations based in industry, what unites our providers is an absolute dedication to enabling their learners to thrive. It is our privilege to support them. 

To learn more about our Safeguarding module and how ebs can help you, click here



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