Schools across the UK started implementing newly updated statutory guidance this week to safeguard children, but what does this update mean for your child’s wellbeing?
The Department of Education’s Keeping children safe in education document now heavily draws on guidelines from Working together to safeguard children, published in July 2018.
There are many reasons for updating the guidance – the first is to ensure schools offer more support for bullied children. Though bullying is an age-old problem for any school, the way they approach the issue can vary dramatically. Adding robust policies will help parents and governors hold schools to account. It will also highlight the need to support the bullies themselves; when a child becomes a bully, they act out to disguise their own mental distress. They may be repeating behaviour they’ve seen in or out of school, or they may lash out at others as a misguided coping mechanism.
Last year, The Psychologist published a major feature that explored anti-bullying studies across Europe. It suggested there needs to be more of a focus on reducing prejudice in general to reduce the likelihood of bullying. It will be interesting to see how many schools choose to strongly tackle prejudice in their strategies.
Protecting Children from Sexual Violence and Harassment
Meanwhile, growing awareness of sexual violence and harassment between students has meant there is now extensive risk assessment guidance for staff, with directions on how to handle a report and support the victim. The 2017 Girlguiding Girls’ Attitudes survey found that 64% of girls aged 13-21 have experienced sexual harassment at school in the past year.
Additionally, young people face peer pressure to get involved in sexting, which can then lead to harassment and humiliation. The issue of consent is interlinked with this, and educating children about consent is vital. The government’s separate advice document for schools about child-on-child sexual violence and harassment states that every school must clearly communicate its sexual violence and harassment policies to parents. If you don’t feel your child’s school has been clear on this, you may want to raise the issue.
Groups at Risk
The report also acknowledges the increased risk of bullying, isolation and communication issues faced by children with special educational needs, such as autism. It can be noticeably harder for children with additional needs to explain how they have been bullied, or for them to understand if a bully has exploited or manipulated them whilst pretending to be their friend.
Children from other vulnerable groups, such as young carers, should also be given earlier interventions to help tackle problems at school, as the report states. By letting problems escalate, schools perpetuate distress for pupils and create a bigger issue for parents, guardians and the school itself to deal with.
Taking Action Against FGM
One major new addition is a mandatory regulation to report cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). When a teacher suspects FGM may have taken place, or may be a prospect for a child, they should speak to the school’s designated safety lead. If they are certain the child is a victim of FGM, they have a legal obligation to report this to the police.
Between April 2017 and March 2018, nearly 4,500 new cases of women and girls with FGM were reported in the UK. If a victim has undergone FGM as a baby or toddler, they may not be aware of it until decades later, which can cause trauma and distress. If the victim is over five years old at the time of FGM, they are most at risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At any age, an FGM victim faces a range of physical complications besides the mental processing of the incident, which is often perpetrated by family members or family friends.
Behind the scenes, school staff must deal with the impact of GDPR and treat your data carefully. The guidelines also suggest a school should have more than one emergency contact number for your child which, in this day and age with most of us having mobiles, work phones and landlines, makes perfect sense.
Your child doesn’t need to be wrapped up in cotton wool to thrive, but knowing this statutory guidance is in place can reassure you that there are strategies in place should something happen.
Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).