Safeguarding in Education: The critical synergy between educators, data and technology
In UK schools and colleges today you will find a huge range of technology supporting almost every aspect of teaching and learning – but not always so for safeguarding. Indeed, in some cases the processes underpinning a school’s most fundamental duties – to safeguard its pupils – is still being managed in four ring binders and filing cabinets (both invented in the 1890s!). This lack of technological support for safeguarding seems extraordinary given the requirement to handle safeguarding data securely and safely for extended periods, to share information with other agencies and to analyse safeguarding data to support the prevention and reduction of harm.
Where schools and colleges have moved away from paper for the recording and management of child protection and wider safeguarding concerns this has been a slow and incremental process, initially moving to email and spreadsheets which are now giving way to bespoke safeguarding recording systems. While this is a significant step forward, safeguarding recording systems are not an end in themselves - people do safeguarding, technology supports them. It also has to be remembered that these are evidential systems containing information that may be required immediately or many years hence in care proceedings, court hearings and for many other purposes; security is paramount and access to the data has to be strictly controlled. Furthermore, the safeguarding requirement extends well beyond simple incident recording to case management, multi-agency working, integration with complementary systems (such as school Management Information Systems) and analytical tools that will turn data (on both a push and pull basis) into actionable information that will prevent and reduce harm. The need for technology to support safeguarding also extends to tools for safer recruitment (including the Single Central Record) and the monitoring of IT systems and networks for threats and risks, all of which can be key enablers in preventing and reducing harm and all of these are important elements of an effective and strategic approach to safeguarding.
What does good look like?
The ultimate test of any effective safeguarding strategy is whether it prevents or reduces harm. This test assumes the existence of a strategic approach to safeguarding, which must be the starting point for any improvement journey, along with clear definitions of the outcomes sought. As with any endeavour of this nature, a number of essential building blocks are required:
- The establishment of a safeguarding culture through a combination of governance, leadership and management, with leaders taking responsibility for the delivery of an effective safeguarding regime and having ultimate accountability for its outcomes.
- An approach to safeguarding based on preventing and reducing harm; this requires an open and effective system for recording safeguarding concerns and case managing them through to conclusion. The case management process has several important aspects, not least record keeping, maintaining chronologies and team working, both within and between agencies. This means that information management – data protection, information sharing, information security and the use of data – is of critical importance.
- Strong support for the people and teams responsible for safeguarding, including their recruitment, training, development and supervision. A key element of this is the provision of high quality professional and emotional support; safeguarding can be complex, professionally challenging and personally difficult for those involved and they need to hear and experience the support they require to perform their roles.
The final component of an effective approach to safeguarding is how good it is at driving continuous learning and improvement in a way that contributes to the primary purpose of safeguarding – preventing and reducing harm. One of the principal ways in which this can be achieved is through a thorough and timely ongoing analysis of the data derived from the safeguarding process, enabling early intervention and preventative strategies that protect victims. The data that serves to create this rich picture should be a major strategic asset that supports decision making about safeguarding interventions and the investment of resources, turning data into tangible learning that drives action. This, alongside the learning from your own professional practice and the good practice you identify from outside your organisation (whether local, regional or national) can then be used to power the continuous improvement of your safeguarding strategy.
Investment in the right systems and processes for safeguarding ultimately reduces both the human and financial cost of harm. Technology also can do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of data, not least in respect of the constant demands of local authorities for detailed information about safeguarding in their annual safeguarding audits of schools; these can run to over 100 pages (often with different questions across different local authority areas, which for multi-academy trusts can make life incredibly difficult). However, effective safeguarding also needs technology tools that support analysis and prediction, automatically investigating the data to trigger early help that prevents harm or halts its escalation. While there is much yet to be achieved in this regard this is where the real value lies.
The people who do safeguarding deserve nothing less than our very best technology to support them in the daunting challenges they face. This is not always headline grabbing (unless it goes wrong) or eye-catching - but the potential rewards are priceless.
In his 38-year career as a police officer Martin worked in five very different police forces in London, Wales and the South West of England, in both patrol and in detective roles, and in every rank from Constable to Chief Constable. During his career Martin had personal responsibility for child and adult safeguarding in a variety of contexts within policing and in multi-agency settings, including the management of high-risk offenders. For the past 15 years Martin has held a number of roles in education governance and in 2014 he co-founded of One Team Logic, the makers of the MyConcern safeguarding software.