How I’ve made my school a safe space for students to share problems

Writing in the Guardian, headteacher Yvonne Powell says schools shouldn’t let worries about causing offence stop them tackling issues like sexual exploitation and gang violence…

If there’s one thing that Yvonne Powell is clear on it’s that when leading a school in a challenging area – where gang violence, sexual exploitation and poverty are big issues – you have to tackle problems head on. She believes that too often schools are concerned about how to address topics like sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation (FGM) because they worry they’ll cause offence.

“Unless we tell people that they’re wrong and protect children, change views, and create a culture where pupils feel safe to tell us, then we’re not going to change the situation,” says Powell.

Since becoming head of Walworth Academy in south London two years ago, Powell and her team have tried to build an environment where students feel comfortable about sharing sensitive information. She has worked hard to make sure students know who the safeguarding officer is and introduced “Tell Us” boxes so students can discretely report issues. “Every week we have disclosures [of some kind],” she says. “And I’m proud that our children will tell us.”

You have to be values focused – as well as attainment driven – to create this culture, according to Powell. “We call ourselves a family, and that’s how we value each other,” she says.

As soon as she joined the academy, Powell set up an information-sharing group so that key members of staff know what’s happening with children and families outside of school. A police sergeant who covers a local estate, a housing officer and youth club workers are among those who attend group meetings…

More at: How I’ve made my school a safe space for students to share problems


Lots more insights in Yvonne Powell’s full article but what do you make of the core thesis that too many schools avoid dealing with issues like sexual exploitation and FGM because they worry they’ll cause offence?

Is it a valid point and, if so, how can schools start to change their approach most successfully? 

Please give your feedback and insights in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Leadership, Safeguarding and Secondary.


  1. Sensible ideas – pity the article became a plug for ARK academies because of their ‘no-excuses attitude when it comes to attainment’.   Exam results aren’t the only way to measure the education on offer in a school (they’re actually unreliable).  But if ARK wants Walworth Academy judged on its results then it should perhaps wonder why these have dropped every year at Walworth since 2011.

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