The children’s commissioner is appealing to teachers to accept more responsibility for spotting signs of child neglect. This is from the Guardian…
Dr Maggie Atkinson might have started out as an English and drama teacher, but she’s now clearly a politician, and one who fights strategically for the children she represents as children’s commissioner for England.
Her current message is that schools need to act earlier and in a more concerted way to pick up on signs that children are being neglected or abused. While praising primary teachers for the “very finely tuned radar” many have developed, Atkinson now says that even more needs to be done by teachers, simply because they are in the front line and there is often no one else. And as welfare and council cuts take hold, children’s vulnerability is likely to increase.
Today sees the publication of research specifically commissioned by her office as a result of her concern about rising child poverty levels. The research was carried out by the NSPCC with co-operation from schools that have “outstanding” safeguarding procedures. It looks at best practice on child protection in primary schools. The report, You Have Someone to Trust, is accompanied by a handbook called Practical Tips for Schools. Recommendations for schools include making sure staff are easily available to parents who want to talk, regular monitoring of recorded concerns, and designating time for training on safeguarding.
Teachers must be the first responders, spotting and handling the signs that pupils might be in trouble, says Atkinson. It is not always wilful neglect or abuse they need to be looking out for, but signs that poverty is overwhelming families so that some parents are no longer coping. “Primary school is a very consistent experience in the life of a child. School is a haven, a place of solace and a place where there are adults to whom you can talk,” she says.
Many heads argue that social services are already raising thresholds for their intervention ever higher when there is concern about a child and that they have to argue very forcefully for intervention when it is obvious a family is not coping. But Atkinson argues that they don’t always need to call on a social worker. “Social workers are very specialist, very high-end members of staff in a local authority or any other agency,” she says.
“What you actually need is to respond to the child at a far earlier stage.” Schools will need to get better at building a picture of their concerns about a child using, for example, “cause for concern” forms on which any member of staff can enter a worry about a child, no matter how small.
Though some schools, even in areas of high deprivation with all the other demands on teachers that implies, do demonstrate fantastic practice on safeguarding and early intervention, Atkinson believes there can be no excuses – every school should be outstanding when it comes to protecting their pupils.
“What’s the first issue that you notice? Are their shoes not clean, is their uniform dirty, do they look exhausted? Have they always done their homework? Are they suddenly aggressive with their playmates when they never have been before? That’s not social work. That’s really good children’s services work. Before you hit the need for social workers.”