Page 10 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 10

Safeguarding – and the
challenges of preparing for IICSA
that face independent schools
Independent schools, particularly those with boarding facilities, are likely to come under renewed scrutiny in the coming months as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) turns its attention to the Residential Schools strand of its investigation, writes Ben Harrison.
Whilst some establishments may already have received indications that they are likely to form part
of a case study, all independent schools must be aware of potential reputational damage.
Even if the focus of IICSA does not fall squarely upon them, the impact of scrutiny on the sector as a whole will at best raise questions among concerned parents.
And, at worst, it may have a negative effect on student numbers across residential and, perhaps, independent schools generally.
The question of how to deal with this challenge has many dimensions - but the underlying bedrock is that the safeguarding policy at each school must be sound and must be operating in an effective manner.
Safeguarding Policy
Every school’s safeguarding policy must be a living document which is the focus of constant scrutiny, evolution and development.
It is not enough to merely have
a safeguarding policy which is consulted when a problem arises. The policy must adapt and provide a guide for avoiding risk, as well as dealing with serious incidents.
The safeguarding policy (and its implementation) should, where possible, be benchmarked either by reaching agreements with other schools to informally inspect one another, or by periodically commissioning an independent expert to conduct an audit and make recommendations.
Relations with the Statutory Authorities
The statutory authorities are
any school’s key dialogue partners in ensuring the effective implementation of a solid safeguarding policy.
It can be extremely effective to arrange regular conferences with the police and local authority,
so that those with safeguarding responsibilities in the varying institutions have a good working relationship.
Trust is a crucial aspect of a school’s relationship with the statutory authorities and it follows that the better your relationship, the greater the degree of trust between you and the local authorities.
Some schools will inevitably have faced safeguarding challenges in their distant or recent histories. And it is easy, when presented with a safeguarding incident, to lose all concept of partnership with the statutory authorities and to begin to feel that you are under attack.
It is in these situations where longstanding goodwill between a school and the statutory authorities can often be beneficial by adopting an approach of full transparency and sharing everything with those tasked with investigating the incident.
For those who find themselves
in situations where they discover historic incidences of abuse that have not been thoroughly dealt with, the best policy is to consult
with the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) and the police.
It’s also vital to share with them any and all documents in the school’s possession which concern the suspicion.
Equally, where suspicions arise that documents concerning historic allegations of abuse have been destroyed, this information should be shared with the statutory authorities and they should be given whatever relevant documents remain.
Reporting requirements must be born in mind whenever an incident arises; whilst there is currently no obligation to make a report of suspicions of abuse in criminal law, that position
is likely to change once IICSA begins to make recommendations (particularly following its case study in the Roman Catholic strand of investigation).
Those with safeguarding responsibilities who fail to report in the future could well find themselves subject to criminal prosecution.
As a final note of caution on reporting, in the haze of a crisis it is all too easy to forget the number of bodies to whom reporting obligations are owed.
Aside from reporting to the local statutory authorities, it is essential that serious incident reports
are also made to the Charity Commission where relevant.
Failures to report in this area can
lead to statutory inquiries and catastrophic reputational damage.
Preparations for IICSA
Aside from ensuring that safeguarding policies are kept under constant review and that any incidents are meticulously recorded in conjunction with the statutory authorities, for the majority of independent schools the most important issue will be to plan with your public relations professionals.
For many, PR consultants will
only be employed to deal with the promotion of the school’s brand and to project the best possible image of the school to the outside world.
PR consultants though must also be engaged to deal with crisis management and addressing media questions and concerns.
Those with ‘good’ safeguarding histories will likely still need to be prepared to answer questions from parents and/or local media about the steps the school takes to ensure the safety of the children in its care.
This can, of course, be used as a positive opportunity to promote the school.
Those with more colourful safeguarding histories will need to be prepared to explain how they have changed and how those in charge differ from their predecessors.
In both cases, a comprehensive, living safeguarding policy will be the key starting point for all schools.
Ben Harrison is a Solicitor working with Milners Solicitors’ Litigation and Public Law Department; he would welcome any questions or enquiries and can be contacted via email at Ben.Harrison@Milnerslaw.com or by telephone on 0113 245 0852.
10 Independent Schools Magazine
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