Give safeguarding a standard training framework and NPQ

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What can be more important than safeguarding our children? Arguably, this comes before all else. It is not merely a duty but a moral and social responsibility.

Yet in a system rightly focused on the professional development of leaders in a broad spectrum of roles, there is no nationally accredited framework of training for designated safeguarding leads (DSLs).

This means that despite the critical nature of this role, there is a glaring gap in professional development for DSLs, leaving many ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of safeguarding effectively.

Time for a safeguarding NPQ

This is why a nationally accredited framework for DSL training should be created as a matter of urgency, and, ideally, a National Professional Qualification (NPQ), too.

After all, the statutory Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance gives an exhaustive list of responsibilities shouldered by DSLs, ranging from managing referrals to children’s social care to fostering multi-agency collaboration.

These duties underscore the pivotal role that schools play in identifying early indicators of distress, and providing necessary support and protection to vulnerable children.

What’s more, updates in statutory guidance, such as the emphasis on schools as “relevant agencies” in Working Together to Safeguard Children, further highlight the indispensable role of education in safeguarding.

No benchmark of quality

However, currently DSL training falls short of ensuring exceptional standards across the board. While training is mandated every two years, there exists no universal framework dictating its duration, quality or list of approved providers.

Consequently, DSLs undergo training of varying standards, influenced by factors like cost and accessibility, leading to inconsistencies in knowledge and practice.

The absence of a training framework also perpetuates a fragmented approach to safeguarding: schools in different jurisdictions or with disparate resources may provide inconsistent levels of support and protection to children.

Of course, robust safeguarding cultures do emerge from investments in ongoing professional development for DSLs, but this is inconsistent from one school to another and from one multi-academy trust to another.

Given this, the government should review the current myriad DSL training courses and consolidate and align them with the rigours of other NPQs – such as is happening with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) roles.

The SEND comparison

Currently Sendcos have three years to complete the National Award for SEN Coordination (NASENCo), which is taught at a master’s level. The NASENCo will be replaced with a new, mandatory Sendco NPQ this September.

This move is being touted as “improving the expertise and leadership” so that staff are “well-placed to sit on a senior leadership team and inform strategic direction”.

This focus for SEND pupils is absolutely right – and the same should apply to DSLs.

As such, introducing an NPQ for leading safeguarding would offer senior colleagues the opportunity to acquire comprehensive knowledge of legislation and guidance, and a skillset rooted in evidence-based practices, ensuring a consistent standard of safeguarding across the sector.

Time to act

In a landscape rife with evolving risks and adversities, the need for adequately trained safeguarding professionals has never been more pressing.

By giving all DSLs, rather than just the fortunate few, access to quality training, we can ensure that they have the requisite tools, knowledge and skills to safeguard children effectively, and signal our commitment to prioritising young people’s safety and wellbeing.

We need to act now and push for standardised DSL qualifications to ensure that no child falls through the chasms of inadequate safeguarding.

Heather Fowler is head of safeguarding and welfare at Endeavour Learning Trust

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