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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools investigation report


G.2: Safeguarding training for staff in schools

Initial teacher training

3. Teachers in maintained schools or in non-maintained special schools in England must have a teaching qualification which confers ‘qualified teacher status’ (QTS). Initial teacher training may be provided via an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification course. Teachers in academy schools and in the independent sector do not have to have QTS.[1] This means that teachers in these schools may not have undergone any teacher training and may not have undertaken any safeguarding training until they have staff induction training at school.

4. There are no national standards or minimum content for the safeguarding component of the initial teacher training curriculum, which leads to considerable differences of approach.

5. Mr Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said that all areas of initial teacher training are under pressure and all require greater depth of time, including safeguarding.[2] Ms Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), identified a need for “national oversight of the standards expected and the level of training that should be within the initial teacher training programme”.[3] The NEU considered that initial teacher training had an insufficient focus upon safeguarding and that there was wide variation across providers, with some devoting as little as one hour to safeguarding.[4] Representatives of the NAHT and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) were in agreement that oversight of initial teacher training was needed. Mr Whiteman said that “national consistency and quality to training around these areas would be of great benefit”.[5]

6. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) told the Inquiry that it will inspect initial teacher training under a new inspection framework which had not yet been brought into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[6] Ms Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills, stated that this new framework will give a “better handle on what it is trainees are being taught about safeguarding and will help to iron out unevennesses that we know exist between providers at the moment”.[7]

7. Nick Gibb MP, then Minister for School Standards, said that the Department for Education was doing “quite a lot of new work” on initial teacher training, including introducing a core framework to ensure that trainees are fully aware of their duties in respect of safeguarding and drafting a new set of national professional qualifications with a strengthening of safeguarding content.[8]

Training requirements for school staff

8. The statutory guidance for schools in England, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE), provides that all new staff should have the “systems within their school or college which support safeguarding” explained to them during their induction, including the school’s safeguarding policies and the role of the designated safeguarding lead (DSL).[9] All staff must read the general guidance contained in part one of KCSIE.

9. There is a requirement under KCSIE that “All staff should receive appropriate safeguarding and child protection training” which is “regularly updated”. This includes any staff who work on a part-time or self-employed basis providing specialist music, sporting, drama or other enrichment activities, or who may provide pastoral care and support. All staff should receive safeguarding and child protection updates “at least annually”, and should receive training in order to understand the early help process, how to refer matters to children’s social care and what to do if a child tells them they are being abused or neglected.[10] Other than requiring staff to have read the relevant parts of KCSIE, the statutory guidance does not set out a minimum level of training or specify any requirements as to the content of safeguarding training that teachers and other school staff should undertake. The headteacher of Southlands School spoke about the importance of ensuring that staff have fully understood KCSIE and how that school had devised a “challenging” questionnaire to test staff knowledge and understanding of the guidance.[11]

10. The government considers that the requirement in KCSIE for training to be “appropriate”, without further detail or prescription, is designed to give schools “flexibility” because of the different needs of staff depending upon their role and the nature of the school.[12]

11. Local authorities provide some safeguarding training for staff and governors of maintained schools. Independent schools and academies may also purchase this training or may use alternative providers. At Headlands School in 2001 and 2002, the headteacher Mr Anthony Halford did not take up safeguarding training for headteachers, which was offered by the local authority but was not mandatory. Local authorities now undertake annual audits to monitor whether all schools, including academies and independent schools, are complying with the requirement to ensure staff receive appropriate safeguarding training either delivered by the local authority or by other providers.[13] These audits do not evaluate the content and quality of training delivered.[14]

12. Effective training goes beyond the minimum of ensuring staff have read and understood the relevant parts of KCSIE and the school policies and procedures. Staff should have a clear understanding of the safeguarding risks which could arise in their school and how to be alert to signs of abuse. Mrs Helen Bennett, the former DSL of Wells Cathedral School, explained that she adapted and supplemented the training materials provided by the local authority to address particular aspects of a residential music school and used real-life examples to emphasise the importance of safeguarding: “I just didn’t really hold back on the dangers that were out there”.[15] Mrs Bennett said that face-to-face training took place on a frequent basis, with training sessions tailored to different staff roles, including ancillary staff such as boarding house cleaners,[16]to keep child protection and safeguarding a bit of a buzz in the school, because I wanted people to be part of a team. I wanted everybody to be involved”.[17]

13. At some of the schools examined, however, safeguarding training was not so extensive or effective. Ms Nicola Laird, the local authority designated officer (LADO) for Bristol City Council, considered that at Clifton College around 2014–2015 the headteacher, the DSL and the designated safeguarding governor all lacked appropriate knowledge and expertise.[18] Mr Peter Crook, former headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians, said that he did not receive any training from the DSL, and considered that he kept up to date with safeguarding by reading bulletins from the professional associations of which he was a member.[19] Evidence showed that he lacked the safeguarding knowledge and awareness that would be expected of a headteacher. Mr Christopher Hood, former headteacher at Hillside First School, said that he had little understanding of how to deal with allegations against staff, claiming that he discussed the concerns with the member of staff because that was what other headteachers he worked with had done in such cases.[20]

14. The teaching unions considered that the emphasis upon flexibility for schools, without a specified minimum level of training, had led to inconsistency in training and uncertainty as to expectations and requirements. Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, identified the need to ensure that there is an adequate entitlement to continuing professional development, because “safeguarding and child protection is critically important”. Dr Roach said that safeguarding should be a national priority within an education service, and with that, it should follow that the government should also be clear about what it expects to see in relation to workforce development”.[21] Ms Chris Keates, former general secretary of the NASUWT, considered that the current approach set out in KCSIE, “which involves little more than exhorting schools to provide training, is completely inadequate”.[22] Ms Keates identified that more detailed guidance on training which was set out in the statutory safeguarding guidance prior to the introduction of KCSIE has been “stripped away”.[23] Mr Whiteman emphasised the need for national “consistency and quality” in safeguarding training for school staff.[24] Ms Brown told the Inquiry that for “many years” the union has highlighted concerns about the absence of a specific child protection training requirement for teachers and other school staff. There is no quality assurance of the training which is delivered, and the NEU raised concerns that some training providers may not be familiar with local procedures and processes.[25]

15. Evidence from the NASUWT’s surveys indicated that teachers believe that the extent and quality of their safeguarding training is inadequate. The NASUWT considered that the lack of a contractual right to continuing professional development means that the ability of teaching staff to insist on such training is limited.[26]

16. There is not a set of national standards or any guidance on the content of safeguarding training for school staff. Schools can choose who they wish to provide the training. Many of those who gave evidence made reference to ‘level 1’ or ‘level 3’ safeguarding courses. A ‘level 3’ qualification is equivalent to an A-level, a level 3 diploma or a level 3 NVQ.[27] The level of a safeguarding course may be ascribed by the training provider but there is no accreditation, certification or national standards for safeguarding courses set by the Department for Education or any other body.

17. Mr Dale Wilkins, director of safeguarding standards and training at the Boarding Schools’ Association, noted that cuts in funding over the past decade have meant that local authorities have reduced the provision of training for schools in their areas, including independent schools. Schools are increasingly having to source safeguarding training and materials from other providers, with considerable variation in content and quality.[28]

18. In June 2021, Ofsted’s Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges[29] presented evidence from a number of local safeguarding partnerships (LSPs) which reported that independent schools may commission external safeguarding training rather than accessing partnership training. This made it difficult for LSPs to know and understand the training being delivered in these schools. Both LSPs and some school DSLs said that centralised training for DSLs from LSPs was useful.[30]

Training for the designated safeguarding lead

19. KCSIE specifies that the DSL and any deputies should undergo training to provide them with the knowledge and skills to carry out this role, with the training updated every two years. Alongside this, KSCIE sets out that the DSL should regularly update their knowledge and skills, at least annually, to keep up with developments relevant to their role.[31] Annex C of KCSIE includes a section on training which specifies that the DSL must undertake training every two years, and must receive at least annual updates. The guidance sets out specific areas of knowledge and understanding which training should provide.[32]

20. Despite this level of responsibility and the requirement for specific knowledge and skills, there is no DSL qualification. This contrasts with the requirement for all state-funded schools to have a special educational needs coordinator with a specific postgraduate qualification for the role.[33]

21. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) stressed the importance of training for all staff in schools. It told the Inquiry that, in the absence of guidance as to the content and quality of the training for DSLs, there is a risk that those appointed to the role lack the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to carry out their responsibilities effectively.[34]

22. The Department for Education considered that there is not a need for a specific DSL qualification because of the wide range of settings and situations in which DSLs operate.[35]

Training for staff in boarding schools

23. There is no compulsory training specifically for boarding school staff in England or in Wales. Diploma and certificate courses in boarding education are provided by the Boarding Schools’ Association, a voluntary membership organisation which represents the majority of boarding schools in the UK. However, member schools are not required to ensure staff undertake Boarding Schools’ Association courses.[36]

24. Research commissioned by the Boarding Schools’ Association into safeguarding children in boarding schools from sexual abuse, which included surveys of staff, pupils and parents, found a strong link between the effectiveness of staff training (in the view of staff) and the tendency to report concerns.[37] The report concluded that, due to the increased potential risks for child sexual abuse to occur in boarding settings, specific safeguarding courses tailored to staff roles in boarding schools were required. This included a recommendation for nationally recognised level 3 qualifications for leaders and for DSLs in boarding schools.[38]

Special educational needs and disabilities

25. The majority of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are educated within mainstream schools, where they receive specific SEND support. The most common primary need for children with an education and health care plan in 2019/20 was autistic spectrum disorder.[39]

26. KCSIE recognises that those with special educational needs can face additional safeguarding challenges and that additional barriers can exist in recognising abuse and neglect in this group of children.[40] However, the guidance does not require any specific or additional safeguarding training for staff working with children with SEND in mainstream or special schools.

27. The National Autistic Society maintains that the requirement in KCSIE for schools to “consider” additional pastoral support for children with SEND is not sufficient and that a specific requirement for autism-trained pastoral support in every school should be included in KCSIE.[41]

28. Those who worked in residential special schools described staff training as “key[42] and also emphasised the importance of having governors trained in the particular issues raised by residential special schools and their cohort of children.[43]

29. Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, described the workforce in special schools as “undertrained”. She identified that, since 2008, specialist guidance has been put in place about safeguarding children and there have been several recommendations for the need for specialist training to safeguard disabled children.[44] Nevertheless, Dame Christine Lenehan said there are “bits and pieces” of safeguarding training specifically for staff working with disabled children but “what you have not seen is a consistent approach to what is different about safeguarding disabled children”.[45]

Harmful sexual behaviour between children

30. Ofsted’s Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges[46] in June 2021 revealed the prevalence of sexual harassment and online sexual abuse among children in schools, with girls disproportionately impacted. It identified that, while leaders had good insight into the scale of the issue, many school staff lacked awareness of the context, prevalence and impact of harmful sexual behaviour. Ofsted found that staff training on harmful sexual behaviour between children was “piecemeal” and often constituted just a small part of a general safeguarding training session.[47] Ofsted recommended training to ensure that staff and governors are able to:

  • better understand the definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including online sexual abuse;
  • identify early signs of peer-on-peer sexual abuse; and
  • consistently uphold standards in their responses to sexual harassment and online sexual abuse.

31. In the same review, Ofsted identified that Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 (which was the version in force at the time of the review) used outdated terms that are not understood by children, such as “sexting”. Ofsted considered that statutory guidance must be updated to reflect the language used by children.[48] The review gave an example of a school which used an anonymous questionnaire to ask pupils what the issues for their age group were and what language they used to describe them. Responses were built into staff training and helped build a culture where pupils, leaders and teachers had a shared understanding of harmful sexual behaviour.[49]

32. The NSPCC stated that a significant proportion of harmful sexual behaviour referrals to multi-agency processes are from schools. It identified that schools need clear guidance to assist them in identifying harmful sexual behaviour and how to manage and support the children involved. All staff should receive up-to-date information, research and guidance on this subject, because “Where knowledge, awareness and confidence are low, cases of [harmful sexual behaviour] can be either ignored or subject to a disproportionate overreaction”.[50]

33. Professor Simon Hackett, professor of child abuse and neglect at the University of Durham, identified that training for staff on harmful sexual behaviour amongst children with SEND is often inadequate and that there is a need to share expertise on these different areas:

we have not been very good in our professional system at sharing expertise or expert knowledge between different systems, so the child protection system and the field of harmful sexual behaviour has typically – has knowledge around harmful sexual behaviour but not necessarily knowledge around disability and, vice versa, the disability field maybe doesn’t have the more kind of forensic knowledge around harmful sexual behaviour. We really need to be integrating and bringing together these different service strands in terms of supporting and pooling knowledge and then disseminating that through training.[51]


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