Safeguarding Pupils: Legal Responsibilities of Schools

Keeping pupils safe from harm and abuse at school is a responsibility that everyone working in the education sector bears. When you come into contact with children, you play a role in their safeguarding.

Schools don’t just have a moral duty to create a safe learning environment, but have legal responsibilities to take the necessary precautions to prevent any harm coming to their pupils. According to the The Education (Independent Schools Standards) (England) Regulations 2010, Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) guide and OFSTED safeguarding policy schools must have arrangements in place that help safeguard and promote the welfare of their pupils.

Roles of school teachers and support staff

Some of the more important legal responsibilities of teachers and non-teaching support staff include:

  • Schools and colleges are expected to work together with social care, the police and health services to help keep children safe from harm and safeguard their welfare.
  • In every school or college, a safeguard lead should be appointed who aides other staff in fulfilling their safeguarding duties and who collaborates closely with services such as social care.
  • According to The Teachers’ Standards, any teacher has the responsibility to safeguard their pupils’ welfare and uphold public trust in the teaching profession.
  • School and college personnel are responsible for providing a safe learning environment for pupils. They also bear the duty to identify children whose welfare is being harmed or who are at risk of suffering. When such a pupil is identified, the staff member is obligated to take suitable action to safeguard the student from harm.

Safeguarding Pupils in UK Schools

Required knowledge of school personnel regarding safeguarding

It is important that school personnel has the required knowledge to help in safeguarding pupils.

  • School staff members should know about the systems that are in place in their school or college for supporting the safeguarding of pupils. It is the school’s responsibility to explain these systems to new employees as part of their induction.
  • Employees should be given adequate safeguarding training, which should regularly be refreshed. This will help them become better aware of signs of abuse and neglect, making them better able to identify children who may need help.

Taking action when a pupil’s health, safety or welfare is in danger

It is important that quick action is taken when a student is or may be in danger.

  • If a pupil doesn’t show up in school, this may indicate abuse or neglect. School employees are expected to follow school procedures for dealing with missing pupils.
  • If a staff member has any concerns about the well-being of a pupil, they should take these up with the school’s safeguarding lead, who will usually make the decision if social care should be involved or not. Any staff member can also directly get in touch with social care to refer their concerns however. Especially if there is an immediate risk of harm to the child, the employee who first recognised the situation should go to social care directly.
  • If as a school employee you observe abuse while it is actually taking place, immediate action should be taken to stop the abuse if this is possible without putting the pupil or yourself at excessive risk.

Since in most cases children and young people under 18 are unable to protect themselves from abuse or neglect, it is extremely important that public service providers such as schools and colleges take the necessary measures to safeguard them. Adequate training on safeguarding is crucial for improving pupils’ health and well-being.

Further reading around safeguarding pupils

Read / download this archived Department for Education PDF from April 2014 on Keeping Children Safe in Education.