Prioritising safeguarding in education

Schooling plays a central role in children’s lives, and the impact is far-reaching. Not only does it provide them with an academic education, it also nurtures their mental and physical well-being. Unfortunately, safeguarding shortfalls have occupied education headlines across the UK, and with a recent Ofsted report warning that “ineffective safeguarding judgements remain high”, it is evident that institutional introspection needs to take precedence if students are to be properly supported by the education system.

Notwithstanding efforts that are being undertaken to mitigate these issues, through duty-of-care training programmes, greater strides need to be taken to address systemic failings. The magnitude of this challenge earns its place at the top of the agenda – the range of issues is expansive. Sexual violence, harassment, radicalisation, mental well-being, substance abuse, equality and diversity, bullying, and online safety barely scratch the surface – and contextualising these threats only increases the complexity of safeguarding best-practice.

It’s also sobering to consider how the consequences of ineffective safeguarding are just as extensive. Ranging from poor attendance and social isolation to criminal behaviour and, in some cases, suicide, the risks of poor safeguarding are too great to bear. Additionally, with increased media attention, it’s important to ensure that ‘safeguarding’ avoids the pitfalls of buzzwords and doesn’t become empty rhetoric. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed beyond the practical solutions – investigation needs to address why schools are failing to adequately protect students. Is it a lack of awareness, institutional loopholes, or perhaps a lack of incentive?

Given the formative role education plays in students’ lives, there is a responsibility to improve harm prevention and the early identification of vulnerable students. While the challenges faced in early years, primary, secondary, and further education will be nuanced, the fundamental principle remains the same – education can no longer isolate the academic experience from the greater well-being of students. It’s a paradigmatic shift that expands the role of academic institutions beyond classroom instruction to holistic student support, and empowers educators to fulfill this duty.