If you say your school is a listening school, that’s fantastic. You are aware that not everybody’s life is like The Waltons and are prepared to invest time and money in supporting the most vulnerable. To have detailed policy to make clear to staff, parents and other stakeholders that you listen to emotional and/or safeguarding concerns is also great. But to truly be a listening school, children need to know that they can tell and that an adult will listen. So the question that remains is this: how do you communicate your safeguarding policy and listening school ideals into child-friendly language?
The rationale behind spending some time in “translating” your policy and national statutory guidance into language children understand is obvious. If the children in your care understand what abuse is, they may be more likely to be able to talk about it and that can make your job much easier when you are trying to ascertain whether a child is being abused and whether you should be referring to children’s social care.
The language we as adults use makes sense to us, but not necessarily to our students – and for those working in primary education the linguistic gap is all the greater. Let’s take an example. Emotional abuse is described in Keeping Children Safe in Education 2015 as “The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children”. Not exactly succinct, or even totally clear is it?
So what could we use in our daily interactions with children? With very young children you could talk of adults being very mean if they say unkind things to children as grown-ups should know and behave better as they know it makes people sad if they are mean. You could go on to describe how there are lots of kind people around who would help if you were feeling sad because this had happened to you. For different ages, you would of course adapt the language and the depth of message given.
The idea is clear so I won’t go on to describe how to word child-friendly descriptions of other forms of abuse (see the contact details at the bottom of this article if you require further support). What might be less clear is how to ensure these messages are all-pervasive in a busy classroom environment. Schools may sometimes say that they have “done” internet safety because “we did a lesson on it and we still have a poster on the wall”. This is frankly worrying – what about the child who was absent that lesson, the child who didn’t really understand as they see internet communication between someone at home and “strangers” daily or the child who has simply forgotten? One-off lessons on safeguarding topics, whether as part of a PSHE curriculum or elsewhere, will never fully protect our children. Rather we should aim for a truly “listening school” where there is opportunity for individual conversations with a trusted adult at different times of the school day to discuss concerns (and preferably not a child stopping to talk to you at lunch when you are tidying up the morning session and setting up for the afternoon one, trying to mark books and grab a coffee and a sandwich too – such a busy environment is not necessarily conducive to disclosing or hearing what was said).
Children need to know the adults are there, that the adult will stop what he or she is doing to listen and the adult will act in the child’s best interest. We claim this in our child protection and safeguarding policies for any interested party. Yet we sometimes forget that policies are only useful up to a point – if we forget to make them meaningful to our true stakeholders, which is the child at the centre of the concern. It is a requirement of Ofsted that you have a safeguarding policy that all pupils understand. It might be that you have your usual policy but ensure that a section of it is written in a way that children can understand. This might say no more than ‘If you ever feel worried or frightened the grownups at school are here to help. Come and talk to us and we will help you’. There should be displays which include this safeguarding message around the school, for example in the assembly hall and the toilets. Clear messages including the details of Childline, the NSPCC’s Underwear Rule or even posters stating ‘It’s good to talk’ can also be useful. In addition to this safeguarding processes and policies should be discussed in assemblies and in group discussions. You could do question and answer sessions in assemblies showing different scenarios in pictures and asking ‘Is this child safe?’.
At Services for Education we have a team of advisers who can help you and your staff with any safeguarding issues, including policy design and implementation. We run DSL training courses for schools and also come into schools to deliver whole staff safeguarding training. We also have a group of advisers who can support PSHE curriculum design to ensure the messages of safeguarding are clearly implemented across the curriculum to empower staff and students to truly be a listening school. If this article has made you consider how your policy is translated for students and you wish to discuss any support options please contact, in the first instance, Jo Perrin on firstname.lastname@example.org .