As the government looks to include more sport in the curriculum, Crispin Andrews looks at the safety dilemmas involved in using outside staff to deliver activities

The government wants to see every pupil doing at least five hours of physical activity by 2012; but will existing child protection policies and procedures permit the sort of mass delivery from outside organisations, necessary for schools to achieve this target without placing too great a burden on their own staff?

Three of these hours are expected to take place beyond the curriculum, either on site after school hours, or in the community in the evenings or at weekends. What is more, activities other than the traditional football, netball and athletics must be organised in order to encourage all youngsters to take part. It is the ‘non-sporty’ and ‘semi-sporty’ types who schools are being asked to provide for by arranging sessions in activities such as yoga, fencing, judo, street-dance, kick-boxing and many other non-mainstream sports. The idea is to provide – in line with national education policy – the sort of personalised experience that every child can access and benefit from.

This throws up a major dilemma for schools. On the one hand it is not reasonable to expect a school staff – particularly in a primary school – to be proficient in delivering such a breadth and quantity of activity alone; or indeed that they should be expected to give up their time to such a degree in order to do so. On the other hand policies – often devised many years ago and certainly prior to the recent educational trends towards multiagency collaboration, partnership and extended services – do not always make it easy for headteachers and local authorities to allow outside organisations and individuals to take activity unsupervised by school staff.

All too often it becomes a time-consuming and potentially risky situation to facilitate the en masse usage of outside deliverers and, as government physical activity targets are non-statutory, it is all too easy for headteachers to simply say no to externally delivered activities.

The expertise is out there in the community. School sport partnerships should by now, through networking with their community counterparts in county sports partnerships, have access to a comprehensive bank of sports clubs, private companies, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport who are considered able to deliver high-quality safe sport for children and young people. These organisations and individuals will have been quality assured to ensure the relevant qualifications, CRB checks and child protection training are all in place prior to their appearance on said list. Each national governing body of sport also has its own accreditation process for its clubs – who have to go through a rigorous quality assurance procedure based on requirements laid down by Sport England before they achieve their sport’s quality standard.

Yet, in many cases, schools are reluctant to allow such individuals to run out-of-school-hours activity or to take children off site to tournaments and festivals, without the presence of a member of school staff. Of course there are arguments that school staff know the children better, may be better trained in behaviour management and can learn from working alongside sports-specific professionals. All of these points are valid, but it is the quality of the individual and their ability to perform the role effectively which should be the determining factor, not who they are employed by.

There exists a three-pronged Mexican standoff between individual headteachers, their LEA and the government. Underlying this are two major factors:

  • Firstly, there is a fear of litigation. Put simply this is about who will get sued should something go wrong. By sticking to tried and trusted procedures that cover their backs, schools, local authorities and even government know that they are less likely to lose cases than if new, untested policies should be introduced.
  • Secondly, there is a perception that non-school staff cannot deliver activity as effectively and as safely as school staff. This fuels the intransigence many local authorities and headteachers demonstrate in failing to take seriously the claim that a quality assurance process considered adequate for delivering activity in sports clubs and in the community should also be acceptable for activity in school. There is, of course, the argument that coaches are not teachers and therefore need an understanding of what the curriculum is all about if they are to deliver PE lessons. However, many headteachers allow inexperienced staff from coaching companies to deliver PE lessons as a cheap way of covering PPA time, but do not allow more experienced coaches to take after-school clubs unsupervised. This shows that it is policy and not quality that is determining many attitudes.

Steve Boocock, director of the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) calls for policies that facilitate rather than restrict the scale and scope of activity while still providing a safe and secure environment for children. ‘Schools need to be more proactive in fulfilling their wider responsibilities under the Children’s Act,’ he says. ‘It would be extremely difficult for a school to deliver five hours of PE and sport a week on its own and, as this is essential if children are to stay fit and healthy; ways of making it easier for schools to work en masse with outside organisations must be found.’

Steve Boocock sees two key factors if this situation is to be brought about. Firstly, to grow confidence both within education and the public at large as to the capacity of individuals and organisations within community sport to deliver physical activity in an equally effective and safe manner as school staff. Secondly, to grow a similar level of confidence in the quality assurance and child protection procedures in place within community sport.

Since 2001, the CPSU has been working with sports organisations to help create a safe sporting environment for children through the promotion of good practice and by challenging practice that is harmful to children. It has established national standards for safeguarding and protecting children in sport and developed an extensive training programme and resource bank to help sports organisations improve their practice towards these standards. Sport England has made working towards achieving the standards a condition of grant aid and they are mandatory for English governing bodies and county sport partnerships.

It would be logical to have one set of procedures that cover the whole of community and school sport – but with government still seemingly unwilling to provide a strong lead towards this; in the interim Steve Boocock believes that it must be made a relatively simple operation for headteachers to quality assure an outside coach. He says: ‘With the proliferation of such individuals and organisations and the practical impossibility for school and county sports partnership networks to keep tabs on everyone operating in their area, headteachers must have at their finger tips a simple set of guidelines to help them ask the right questions about whether a particular individual is suitable to work within their school.’

The CPSU has piloted such a set of guidelines within 10 local authorities. Due to be rolled out nationally this September, it contains criteria against which headteachers can judge the capability of clubs, community organisations and their staff (see box, bottom). Steve Boocock says: ‘We would like to see child protection officers from clubs and community organisations meeting with the relevant person at the schools they are working with to go through these guidelines and facilitate the sort of open sharing of information necessary to adequately safeguard the welfare of the children taking part in the activity.’

Unfortunately, while many school policies would actually disbar this sort of information sharing on data protection and, paradoxically, even child protection grounds themselves, until the government is prepared to take a strong lead, one of the major barriers to the attainment of five hours of high-quality physical activity a week and a healthy lifestyle for all will remain unchallenged.

The CPSU’s guidelines

1. Child protection/safeguarding policy

  • Is there evidence of the existence of a child protection and safeguarding policy that all involved in the activity are required to adhere to?
  • Does the policy reference and meet the requirements of the sport’s national governing body, local authority, county sports partnership or school?
  • Is the policy publicised and promoted to all stakeholders?
  • Has this policy been endorsed by any local external child protection agencies?

2. Do procedures contain clear instructions on:

  • what to do in the event of an allegation, incident or suspicion of abuse or poor practice against those involved within the organisation/club?
  • what to do in the event of suspicion about the welfare or protection of a child arising outside the sport/activity?
  • recording concerns about the welfare or protection of a child, the organisation’s response and reasons?
  • reporting concerns where appropriate to agencies such as children’s social care or police and partner agencies as well as internally through the organisation’s management structure?
  • complaints and disciplinary procedures to manage concerns about the behaviour of staff, coaches, volunteers.

Is there information about how support can be accessed following an incident?

3. Prevention – are there:

  • staff with designated responsibility for safeguarding and protecting children and young people?
  • procedures for recruitment and selection of staff and volunteers including safeguarding checks (CRB) for those working with children and young people?
  • codes of conduct and ethics for staff, coaches, volunteers, and participants?
  • operating procedures in relation to the organisation’s duty of care to children and young people (registers, emergency contact details, medical consent, etc)?

4. Communication and partnership:

  • Have all stakeholders, including children, young people and carers been informed about the policy and procedures?
  • Do all stakeholders know how they can raise concerns?
  • Are there processes for holding and sharing information?

5. Education and training

  • Are all those working with children and those with responsibility for running activities provided with opportunities to learn about safeguarding and protecting children and young people?
  • Are staff and volunteers appropriately skilled and qualified to undertake their role?

6. Review and monitoring. Is it clear:

  • when and by whom the policy was formally adopted on behalf of the organisation/club?
  • how, by whom and when the policy and its implementation will be monitored and reviewed?

Also, where an organisation has been identified as needing to undertake work in specific areas in order to meet the criteria, resources and signposting information will be available.

Crispin Andrews is a former teacher and sports coach and has written extensively on issues relating to PE and sport

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