An apt sub-heading of the children’s green paper Every Child
Matters could have been “As Does Every Professional”. It wasn’t
just children’s well-being that the document placed at the heart of
the government’s agenda, but also the role of the professionals who
work with them.
Without question, that includes the teaching profession. By
virtue of their job, teachers are ideally placed to notice whether
a child is neglected or abused. But, with longer school hours and
heavier workloads, how involved can teachers be in child
Last autumn, the Department for Education and Skills published
guidance on the arrangements that local education authorities,
school governing bodies and head teachers should have in place to
protect children. Safeguarding Children in Education states that
all staff working with children need to have child protection
training “that equips them to recognise and respond to child
The detail and depth of this training should vary according to
the nature of the staff member’s role and the extent of their
involvement with children.
As it is, teachers are required to study child protection during
their initial training and, after qualifying, refresh their
On top of this, since 1988 every school has had a teacher with
designated lead responsibility for child protection. These teachers
have been trained in interagency procedures to help them work
effectively with other professionals. Refresher training for
teachers with this responsibility should occur every two
However, despite the training, teachers are not always in a
position to spot signs of abuse. “Teachers have enough on their
plates with their workloads and dealing with pupils in the
classroom, so it can be difficult for them to identify issues,”
says Patrick Nash, chief executive of the charity Teacher Support
In an ideal world, all teachers would receive ongoing training
in child protection, he adds. However, time constraints often
prevent this. Nash says: “Teachers are increasingly facing growing
demands on their time and energy and increased responsibilities
with regards to education, support and caring for young
Once they are working in schools, the quality of the child
protection training on offer to teachers depends on local
partnership arrangements. According to David Hawker, chair of the
Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services, the
best child protection training for teachers is provided through a
multi-agency programme. He says although some places can provide
this under the auspices of area child protection committees, this
is not always the case.
But should teachers be expected to pick up on child protection
concerns when their job is to educate?
Stephen Meek, the Local Government Association’s programme director
for children and young people, says the children’s agenda is not
about turning teachers into social workers, but about enabling them
to intervene and refer children on when necessary.
“In complex child protection cases you don’t want teachers to
act in someone else’s professional capacity,” he says. “It is about
having greater awareness of being part of an integrated partnership
system so it makes it easier, if they have concerns, to engage with
appropriate services and professionals.”
The government has made clear its intentions to extend the
services that are available in schools. Will the wider range of
professionals on the school site improve communication about child
David Coulter, the NSPCC’s policy adviser for employment and
education, believes it will. The children’s charity operates advice
and counselling services in 150 schools in England, Northern
Ireland and Wales. Coulter says staff in these services can pick up
on the more subtle signs of problems at home.
To an extent, social care professionals have a role to play in
helping their education counterparts understand child protection,
and closer working is inevitable.
“If we are to deliver better outcomes for all children and young
people we need to make sure this happens,” says Meek. However, Nash
argues that the pressure on teachers to take on child protection
responsibilities must result in the government and employers
allocating more time and resources to the issue.
As education and social care become more integrated,
professionals from both sectors will have to work together on child
protection. But the adaptation process could take some time.
As Hawker says: “We have to be patient with it as it’s not going
to happen overnight. The revolution is under way but it’s not a
very swift one.”
- Safeguarding Children in Education, Department for Skills and
Education, September 2004.
Delicate Information is Disclosed
John Wilson is head teacher at Westwood Community Junior School
in March, Cambridgeshire. He is also the school’s designated lead
on child protection.
If Wilson is absent, the school’s special needs co-ordinator,
who has also undergone training in this area, takes over. The
remaining 48 staff have also completed child protection training to
varying degrees, depending on their involvement with children. This
includes the dinner ladies because children trust them and
sometimes disclose information, says Wilson.
Child protection has gained such importance that Wilson deals
with concerns every day. Sometimes he spends as little as an hour
on it, although it can take the whole day.
Wilson thinks that the issue of child protection has grown more
acute in the 34 years since he qualified as a teacher. As a result:
“There is more awareness of child protection now and greater
demands are placed on all professionals.”
Wilson says teachers are routinely given delicate information by
a child or about a child and they have to act upon it. “If this
isn’t followed through, should anything happen the implications for
the child and the professionals would be very serious.”
The school has 380 pupils aged seven to 11. Since the start of
the year Wilson has attended five case conferences about child
protection, including one where a dozen professionals went to the
school for a meeting.
As one-third of his time is spent teaching, Wilson has had to
hire supply teachers to cover him while he attends these
conferences. At £150 a day for a local supply teacher and
£180 for a teacher provided by a recruitment agency, he says
the school has spent more than £700 on cover so far, a figure
which is likely to rise. This is money that needs to be found from
within the school budget, as no additional resources are available
for addressing child protection issues.
If the plans to extend the school day go ahead, more staff will
need to be employed and trained in child protection, says Wilson.
“This cannot all be put on to teachers.”