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Seeing what you mean and learning to look

Just before Easter a head-teacher at a Midlands primary school had his registered teacher status withdrawn for five years. Not because of any offence he had committed, but for the fact that he failed to act on reports about safeguarding concerns when they were brought to his attention. In one case, a little girl died at the hands of family members. Concerns noted at school and information received about her were apparently not acted upon, nor passed on, and this may in fact have contributed to her death. Media reports suggested that teachers at the school had not been trained properly and that there were systemic failures of the school’s safeguarding system. Teachers were unclear what to report and to which agency.

Methodist safeguarding training is all about reminding people about their responsibilities to pass on concerns and be confident about reporting and referral routes. Our mantra is recognise, respond, record, report and refer. It’s a simple message but one well worth repeating at every opportunity. But does our training always help us to recognise what we see, and appreciate the significance of it?

How many of us have encountered a situation that causes us to be concerned but we don’t know why? Maybe what we see is to all intents and purposes an innocent looking scenario, but we are not convinced. This may not even be a safeguarding matter, but perhaps a financial one or something about trust. Something doesn’t look or feel quite right. At the same time we don’t want to raise the alarm, or cause a fuss, or be identified as a troublemaker in some way. This column has previously focussed on the personal cost of whistleblowing.

So it can’t be emphasised too strongly that whatever you see or hear about, and you have a worry, then in the first instance talk to the person who is your local safeguarding lead, and if you feel that you are not being heard, do contact your District Safeguarding Officer for advice.

Although reference was made to changes in procedures, it was not clear how the head-teacher reported above found his school and himself in the situation that developed. At his disciplinary hearing he was quoted as saying ‘I hold my hands up. I should have put safeguarding at the front of my thinking. I was passive’. As Methodist safeguarders, our job is to aim to put safeguarding at the front of our church life and the training we offer underpins this. But perhaps there is some scope for developing our thinking about how we look at things and appreciate their significance. If we don’t know how to look we won’t see what’s really happening.

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