Gill Jones, deputy director of early years at Ofsted, issued a reminder of the guidance and some commonly asked questions about safeguarding shortly before Christmas. This is a useful update, although, as so often with Ofsted, it is not always quite as straightforward as first appears.

The basis for the safeguarding requirements is the Statutory Framework of the Early Years Foundation Stage and applies to all who provide early education and care from birth to the 31 August following the child’s fifth birthday. This sets out five basic requirements:

  • Providers must have and implement a policy and procedures to safeguard children. These should be in line with the guidance and procedures of the Local Safeguarding Children Board and must include the way the setting deals with allegations against staff members and it must cover the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting.
  • There must be a practitioner with lead responsibility for safeguarding.
  • Staff must be trained to understand the safeguarding policy and procedures, including an up to date knowledge of safeguarding issues.
  • Providers must have regard to the government’s statutory guidance “Working together to safeguard children”.
  • Providers must ensure that people looking after children are suitable and there must be an enhanced criminal records disclosure for every person aged 16 or over who works directly with the children, lives on the childcare premises and or works on those premises (unless they do not work there during the times when children are present).

In addition, inspectors will look at particular aspects of evidence when inspecting safeguarding. These include:

  • How effectively leaders and governors create a safeguarding culture in the setting.
  • Arrangements for staff recruitment and vetting.
  • The quality of safeguarding practice.
  • Arrangements for handling serious incidents and allegations.

One important distinction between schools for over 5s with nurseries and other EY providers is that the schools are covered by the DfE’s guidance on “Keeping Children Safe in Education”, KCSIE, (NB the September 2016 version applies here – there have been several updates). Other EY providers who do not have children aged over 5 are not covered by KCSIE, but it does contain useful guidance on what checks on staffing need to be made. Similarly the requirement for a single central record of staff checks does not apply to preschool settings. However these settings must be able to show that DBS checks have been made on all relevant staff. This can make things complicated where settings employ a large number of staff and the recent Ofsted guidance suffers from not being clear about what might be best for different sizes of setting. For larger employers a single central record – a spreadsheet detailing the possible checks and those which have been completed for each member of staff – may be the easiest and clearest way of making sure everyone has been through the relevant checks. The alternative is to have individual staff files which contain evidence of the possible checks and those which apply to the particular member of staff. An Ofsted inspector would need to look at these for the relevant evidence.

Your policy can still be called ‘safeguarding’ and not ‘child protection’, so long as it meets the EYFS requirements. One important point not understood by a number of settings is that there is no requirement to renew safeguarding training every two years, but staff will need to have an up to date knowledge of safeguarding. As with the single central record, it may be easiest for the safeguarding lead to update training every two years, although experience suggests that the PVI sector often comes at the end of a long queue for such training.

The designated safeguarding lead does not need to be on the premises at all times, but they do need to be accessible and staff need to know how to contact them. Where the lead is out of the setting for a long period, such as due to illness or holiday leave, a temporary designated officer should be appointed – and you would need to ensure that any inspector understands the temporary nature of that role. There is no requirement for a deputy designated safeguarding person, but again someone needs to be in place to cover when the lead is absent.

So where does this leave EY providers? In terms of checks to be made before employing a new member of staff, a lot depends on the person being employed. Everyone should have an enhanced DBS check/ certificate before taking up employment. If they have been working in a school, whether state or independent, employers may also wish to make a check on prohibition from teaching as the move into EY may be to avoid this check which is compulsory for schools to make. For people who have lived or worked outside the UK, European Economic Area (EEA) teacher checks should be followed up. Similarly checks on professional qualifications (that is, seeing any certificates) should be made. Over the New Year there has been a clamp down on bogus degrees and the Higher Education Degree Datacheck provides a service to local authorities trading standards as well as other providers. Finally a check on the right to work in the UK might be needed.

Obviously personal files should also contain details about proof of identity, medical checks and references as well as the statutory pre-employment checks. A useful link on checks, although designed for schools, is http://www.safeguardinginschools.co.uk/complete-prohibition-checks-including-s128-check/ This has a brief video explaining the checks for schools.

In practical terms, this means either creating a standard spreadsheet or form which could go into each employee’s file with indications about which checks have been made, or having a single central record. Clearly the Ofsted guidance cannot be seen as applying to all settings regardless of their size. Similarly the guidance on safeguarding training is helpful, but the sting in its tail is that staff must be able to show up to date knowledge of the statutory requirements. If the lead practitioner has been on a course in the last two years you should have:

  • evidence in staff meeting records of this being disseminated to all other staff,
  • updates for new staff,
  • brief reminders for all staff of local authority contact details and your procedures in between training sessions focused on safeguarding,

you ought to be fully covered in this area. Above all, make sure your procedures are rigorous. In some recent cases, staff have considered that procedures are adequate, parents have agreed and the children say they feel safe when inspectors ask them. But Ofsted has concluded that the procedures are not sufficiently strong, often where aspects of checking children in and out of the setting are not able to show how many and which children have left and which remain – a clear safety issue.

If you have any issues about your safeguarding procedures, MSA can help, and your local authority should be able to provide guidance.

Happy New Year!

Martin Bradley

Chair Montessori Schools Association