What an indictment of the often-repeated statement from schools that the safety of our students is paramount.
If this situation is not serious enough to illustrate the necessity of safeguarding and, in this instance that of safer recruitment, then I am not sure what is.
Despite this, I am confident that almost all educators are in agreement as to the necessity and importance of safeguarding. But it is essential that every school board, headteacher and staff member makes sure that safeguarding is at the heart of what they do.
I would argue that all schools should undertake periodic safeguarding audits, examining and evaluating their policies, processes and procedures. It is only by embedding regular and robust reviews that schools will be sufficiently confident that they exemplify a safeguarding culture and environment that is fit for purpose.
Safeguarding: where should leaders look for guidance?
One of the major challenges for international schools is a lack of one clear set of regulations.
Whilst there are certainly local, national and federal rules and regulations that schools must adhere to, as well as international accreditation and inspection bodies such as the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) for British Schools Overseas, there is no universal set of regulatory international requirements.
For leaders looking for a starting point, there is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), although it should be noted this does not directly bind schools.
There is also the International Taskforce on Child Protection (ITFCP), which now has some 90 volunteers and includes leaders of international education organisations, school leaders, counsellors and teachers, working collaboratively across professions with law enforcement officials and the medical community.
As educators, we should at least encourage all school boards and leaders to sign up to a reputable international accreditation and/or inspection body, one that will provide a rigorous and robust audit and review of safeguarding and by doing so provide some degree of reassurance that all schools are serious in their commitment to the safety and welfare of children.
What to look for when conducting your audit
So, if I were to provide a guide on how school leaders can get this right, what would be my priorities? I’ll use the simple mnemonic, PECT: policy, education, communication and training.
The starting point for any school is a clear, accessible and up-to-date policy, understood by all the community. Policy, after all, drives practice.
This should encompass documents carefully linked to safeguarding: anti-bullying, equal opportunities, staff code of conduct, attendance and punctuality, supervision, whistleblowing, health and safety, tutoring and SEND.
Use every opportunity to educate your board, staff, students, parents and wider community of the importance of safeguarding. Ensure that they are aware of the latest developments and best practice.
It is vital that all students and staff know who they can speak to about safeguarding issues. The safeguarding team should be well known by all, with many schools using assemblies, websites and display boards to publicise to the wider community membership of these teams.
A challenge, particularly in an international school setting, is educating local staff and parents on what safeguarding issues do and can exist, which often conflict with what can be perceived as normal situations in that home country.
Regular communication with all stakeholders is invaluable. Ensure that safeguarding is part of the everyday conversation around school, that it is on the agenda at weekly meetings, in bulletins, newsletters, student council agendas and parent information forums. There should be relentless reminders.
A vibrant safeguarding culture must include student involvement; students should be aware of the safeguarding measures put in place to protect them and understand the reasons for those measures. Safeguarding should be spoken about and the policy should be translated into child-friendly speak.
Finally, seize the opportunity and avail yourself of the most up-to-date training both online and face-to-face; training should be tailored to the needs of all stakeholders: governors, school leaders, teachers, student leaders, counsellors, support staff and volunteers.
Training should be regular and effective, and focus on preventative safeguarding, not old-fashioned reactive child protection.
Furthermore, members of the school community must know what safeguarding and child protection is; this is often achieved through regular in-house and online certified training.
In addition, make sure all staff are properly trained and retrained in safeguarding and as many as possible with training that helps with safeguarding (eg, mental health first aid and first aid).
What all of this should add up to is ensuring that there is an environment whereby students and staff feel safe and that they are confident and secure to report any issues of concern.
Michael Clack is regional head of schools at Orbital Education