Steve Adams of the NSPCC looks at the sorts of training that different members of staff require and shares some ideas for successfully carrying it out

In this article I look at which staff need to be trained in child protection and what training is appropriate for each grouping. I suggest a minimum standard awareness course, based on one I have successfully used in whole-school training and I set out principles which are important for all staff to be aware of in fulfilling their safeguarding role.

Government guidance on training for education staff
The most recent education guidance document Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education (HM Government, 2006) is guidance within the terms of sections 175 and 157 of the Education Act 2002. This means that it has statutory force. It stipulates the main responsibilities of staff within all educational establishments as being to provide a safe environment for children and young people by: a. preventing unsuitable people from working there b. promoting safe practice and challenging unsafe practice c. identifying children suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and acting appropriately, by identifying grounds for concern and acting appropriately, and contributing to effective working in partnership with other agencies and organisations.

Who needs training?

The document goes on to specify who should have training:

  • New staff should have safeguarding training as part of the induction process.
  • Staff not having a lead child protection role (which, it explicitly states, must include the headteacher, where this person is not the designated senior person) should receive such training at least every three years.
  • Designated senior persons should have training every two years and, in addition, should attend multi-agency training.
  • Temporary staff, which should include supply teachers, and volunteers need to have child protection briefings.

The multi-agency guidance document Working Together to Safeguard Children (HM Government, 2006) distinguishes group A staff who ‘have regular contact’ with children from group B staff who ‘work regularly’ with children, and this seems to me to be a useful distinction to make in the education context. Group B would include teaching staff and classroom assistants, since their contact would be more frequent, of longer duration, closer and more intensive. Everyone else would seem to be in group A.

What kind of training do staff need?

Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education also refers to the responsibilities on local authorities and other agencies to provide training, as follows:

  • Local authorities should ensure that induction training for all staff includes a child protection element.
  • They should also ensure that refresher child protection training is available to all staff every three years, and to designated staff every two years.
  • The local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) should provide training in inter-agency working which designated staff should attend.

What local authorities need to do to comply with these requirements is not explicit. The wording – ‘to ensure that suitable training is available’ – does not appear to require local authorities to provide it themselves, though presumably they could. There is also no mention of who is responsible for funding the training. Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education clarifies the position of further education colleges and independent schools. Similar training is required for their staff but even though the local authority can make similar provision for them, they are allowed to charge for it, and are not obliged to provide it.

Other government guidance

Working Together to Safeguard Children, the national multi-agency guidance, requires LSCBs to provide multi-agency training with a view to facilitating shared understanding between agencies, more integrated services, better communication, and better working relationships. Poor communication and inter-agency relationships have often been cited in inquiries into the deaths of children known to agencies, so this training is crucial. At the same time, the large numbers of staff requiring training makes it extremely difficult to carry out across the whole agency. Considering there will be more than 500 schools in the largest counties, each with at least one designated senior person required to attend such training, and that there cannot be more than five or six representatives from education on each multi-agency training course, LSCBs are challenged to meet this need without over-representation at any course of any one agency. Another document to be taken into account is the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce (DfES, 2005). This requires all staff working with children to have similar training for this purpose, specifying communication with children, child development, safeguarding and promoting welfare of children, supporting transitions (such as from school to employment), multi-agency working, and sharing information. It is worth spending time listing the people who are part of the school community and who will need to have training. As well as teachers, classroom assistants, midday supervisors and technicians, there are secretarial and clerical staff, librarians, cleaning staff, caretakers, grounds and kitchen staff. In addition, schools may want to include school bus drivers, especially those providing transport for disabled children or young people. There are also members of the governing body and parents, especially those who are volunteer helpers. Management should give thought to who else might need to be included.

Minimum standards: suggestions for a short safeguarding course

To provide adequate training, a school ought to make a full day available for training staff in child protection. Child protection is a suitable topic for team-building for the whole staff because everyone has responsibilities, and some staff – midday supervisors are a good example – are especially well placed to notice when something is wrong and to be someone to turn to for children and young people and so they have particular responsibilities. An essential starting point is a health warning. Staff who have not discussed these issues before may find them particularly distressing. Any who were abused as children – and there are likely to be some – may find that the training brings the experiences very forcibly back into focus. Participants need to be told that they can leave for a period if distressed, and that a listening service, even if only an nominated member of staff, is available. Training should begin with some awareness of child abuse itself. Understanding that it is something which is likely to impinge on most people’s lives is essential; unless people appreciate this they will not recognise it when the signs are there. Often, this work can be based around what people already know, since a lot of useful learning can be gained from examining the truth that lies behind some of the sensational headlines. It is also following a good educational principle – of starting where the students are at. It is essential for school staff to recognise that they are not expected to investigate cases of abuse, so there needs to be an account of the part played by the investigating agencies – local authority children’s social care, the police and the NSPCC. All other agencies and organisations provide a monitoring service, and are required to refer when necessary to children’s social care. They also play an important role in assessment and in supporting the child.

The core of a training course in child protection needs to be an understanding of what constitutes a cause for concern. Rather than approaching this from the categories of abuse, it can be more helpful to start from the signs, which are:

  • physical injury
  • presentation or physical appearance
  • allegation
  • behaviour.

Concentrate on contrasting what happens normally – eg, when the injury is the result of an accident – with what happens when there is some form of abuse or neglect. At this stage, staff should hear the message that if you are concerned that a child may be being harmed by someone, you must share your concerns with the designated member of staff. It also needs to be stressed that you have the right to know what happens next, and that if you believe that insufficient action has been taken, you have the right to bypass the designated person. Staff should then have the opportunity to consider some case examples, which will help them to practise decision-making and will give an appreciation of the range of experiences included in child abuse. This is a very important session. You should collect examples that give an idea of the range of concerns possible in school. They should not be sensational, but should help to show what abuse can be. Working in pairs or small groups to establish agreement will help to give staff confidence. A feedback session is important. If you can involve a social worker from the local children’s social care office, they can explain what would be done in response to a referral, and why. They can also answer questions and place the theory in a real context. It is important to get a flavour of how staff have responded. The acid test is how they respond to real concerns, but evaluation sheets are informative – and participants need to be able to express their views. It can also give a staff member who has been affected by any aspect of the training a chance to express this.

Principles of child protection

Those who work day by day in child protection practice absorb these principles without noticing, but they practise them regularly and rigorously. When you are trying to explain child protection (and, even more, safeguarding as a whole), they may need to be spelt out.

  • Child abuse exists – Everybody will say they believe it, but do they believe that it happens in their own street, workplace or family? If you’re going to believe it when you meet it, this is essential.
  • Child protection is a multi-agency operation – We have to trust other professionals to do their job and not think ‘I can protect this child better myself.’ Everybody who works with a child knows something which no one else knows – so share anything you know, even if you’re thinking ‘Someone else must have told them this.’ Victoria Climbié would perhaps still be alive had everyone followed this principle.
  • No one should make decisions about child abuse on their own – There are too many aspects of child protection which are tied up with personal attitudes and values to allow decisions to be made by a single person – however well qualified. If in doubt, share your concerns with children’s social care. This is the failsafe (or the nearest we’ve got to one).
  • Most parents have a right to know what is being discussed. This is a more recently adopted principle, but most of the time it’s a very necessary one.

Final note Some designated staff will feel that they would not be sufficiently certain of their own knowledge, or perhaps of their skills as trainers, to put together a course for their own school or college community – though some do so extremely effectively. Many local authorities employ trainers for the purpose and it is worth investigating this provision first of all. Other local authorities employ outside agencies, such as the NSPCC, for the purpose. Beyond this, there are training films or other materials that may be available through your local authority. Currently, we at the NSPCC are developing training materials for exactly this purpose, which will be available later this year. Ring Suzanne Ferrar or Jane Collingham on 0116 234 7223 for further information.

Steve Adams is a senior consultant for the NSPCC, working both in the preparation of learning resources and in the delivery of training, with a particular brief for the education service.