Record keeping is an essential part of a school’s role in child protection; it is vital that it is done accurately and managed carefully and securely

At the time that you have to do it, record-keeping can be a real nuisance. You’re supposed to be back in class, there’s a queue waiting by your desk and you never got that coffee during break time. The last thing you want to consider is writing the incident down. However, there are two good reasons why you must.

Firstly, you have to. Evidence has played an increasing part in inspections and legislation requires the maintenance of certain statutory records. It just isn’t good enough to say what you did, you have to be able to prove it.

Secondly, you will forget. Every inch of the incident might be crystal clear at the moment but you can guarantee within a few days it will have been replaced by a number of other events in your anecdotal memory.

What is most important is that you have a system that fulfils your recording responsibilities whilst also being manageable for you to work with. It’s no good dealing with the incident in the office and the record is five minutes down the corridor in the head’s room. For this article, we’ll consider two types of record-keeping. The formal record that must be kept in a school in order to support effective child protection and safeguarding and the informal record that is for your benefit and can provide you with the information you need when you need it.

The formal record
This article does not intend to try and cover all the registers and records that schools are required to keep. Instead it focuses upon those you need to have in place in relation to child protection and safeguarding. A general point about all records is that they should be objective and accurate, be clear about names, dates, places, etc, also distinguish clearly between fact and opinion. As a minimum schools should have the following:

Record What it must contain
Record of bullying and harassment incidents A record of each incident, witnesses and the actions that have been taken. A governor should be monitoring this at intervals, although identities should be kept anonymous from governors.
Record of racist incidents A record of each incident, witnesses and the actions that have been taken. A governor should be monitoring this at intervals, although identities should be kept anonymous from governors.
Record of disclosures and referrals made to social care • Name and DOB of the person concerned• Date and time of the disclosure/ concern • Place and context • Important facts• Witnesses• Subsequent actions

• Signatures

Record of concerns This might include referrals from members of staff and concerns that you have followed up within school.
Record of incidents This might include records of:• violent outbursts against staff• times when a pupil has had to be restrained

• any act of aggression – such as a fight between pupils.

Single Central Record (staff)  This must include reference to:• qualifications• identity check • references• CRB/ List 99 • right to work in the UK• overseas criminal record checks (where appropriate)

• ISA registration.

You need to devise a system which:

  • is easily accessible for those who need to use it
  • can be supervised without it being intrusive
  • is clear for others to interpret
  • fulfils the need for data protection and confidentiality.

In some cases only limited access is necessary, eg Single Central Record, but in others any member of staff might be required to add to it, eg record of incidents.

It is beneficial if you can organise a locked cabinet, or as a minimum a drawer in a cabinet, which can house all the records and registers for child protection. This might include your confidential files on children who are known to social care as well as your records of racist incidents, bullying and harassment, log of referrals and contacts with social care.

Beware the ‘Can I just take this away to read it?’ request. You will need to have a clear policy on the removal of files. If members of staff are allowed to remove documents there are two major risks, firstly that they don’t replace them correctly (putting them back in the wrong place can be nearly as bad as not returning them at all) and secondly that they do not treat them confidentially.

Staff need to be given contextual information to help support pupil welfare. However, the private details of families and their individual circumstances should not be staffroom chatter. You cannot guarantee that staff won’t talk between themselves. However, you might provide some basic restrictions that indicate to staff the existence of professional parameters. For example, you might require that:

  • records can only be read within certain areas – eg a table in the office, the headteacher’s room
  • a specified member of staff must be informed if files are being taken to a meeting and/or into a secure area for reading
  • any returned files are given to an agreed member of staff for returning (the same one who is told about their removal) – this way they should be replaced correctly and it helps to keep a check on their return
  • a log is kept of those removing a file with the reason why, the destination and a signature and date.

You will need to consider whether the same restrictions apply to all staff in the school, including the headteacher.

Informal records
Although there is no official requirement to maintain a log of your day-to-day contacts with social care and other agencies, it can be extremely beneficial to devise a system for doing this. It is expected that all agencies are proactive in making referrals where they have concerns about a child and check up on any referral that is made. You cannot do this unless you keep a clear log of dates, times and conversations.

This record will act as a prompt for you, making sure that you follow up your referrals and are given a satisfactory answer to any concerns you might have. It can also help provide detail in case of an enquiry or if, unfortunately, a serious case review needs to be held.

The detail of how you do this will depend on your own preferences. Ring binder, lever arch, manila folder, transparent pockets, exercise book. It’s not the format but the routine you establish that’s important. It could be beneficial to include:

  • a reminder at the front of the timescales and stages involved in making a child protection referral
  • a section for keeping your own notes where concerns have been brought to you (if you are the designated person) and what you have done. This does not replace the need for official records but will act as a quick prompt and reminder for you when you are speaking to social care
  • a general page – for those incidents and concerns which may just need noting at this point but are not at the level of referral
  • a log of contact with social care – it is sometimes the case that it’s difficult to gain access to the people you would like to when you would like to. It is important that you keep a record of your attempts and the times you have left messages, etc. In the end if you continue to be unsuccessful always seek to take it higher – speak to the local authority child protection officer if necessary
  • a log of contact with parents – this is particularly important when you are seeking permission from a parent for a referral to take place – failure to contact a parent should not preclude contacting social care where you have concerns.

Remember that your informal notes can be requested as evidence and whatever you write, you should be aware that at some point they might be viewed by another audience. Abbreviations are fine and handwriting and presentation will not be marked. However, objectivity and professionalism should always be kept in mind when recording.

In the same way as for the formal records, confidentiality is an issue with informal records; all such records should be locked and access to them restricted.

It takes time and it’s an additional strand to the work you do, but for everyone concerned, you mustn’t cut corners on your child protection record keeping.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

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