Safety of children and vulnerable learners is a topic that is too often in the news. High profile cases of abuse of children and vulnerable adults highlight the importance of vigilance by provider staff and inspectors. Ofsted reports for colleges and work-based learning include statements on Safeguarding and Every Child Matters. For other adult provision, if any safeguarding issues have been observed, this has usually been raised under equality and diversity or health and safety. However, this is changing and observations will appear in inspection reports. Ofsted consider whether providers have an awareness of legislation and are in control. Inspectors consider how staff are educated and how operationally this is handled.

A child is legally defined as ‘any person who is under the age of 18 years’. Further education providers are required to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The broad definition of a vulnerable adult is ‘a person who is 18 years of age or over, and who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of him/herself, or unable to protect him/herself against significant harm or serious exploitation’.

The main categories of people covered by this definition of vulnerable adult include people:

  • who have a learning disability
  • who have physical or sensory impairments
  • who have a mental illness including dementia
  • who are old and frail
  • detained in custody or under a probation order
  • who are considered vulnerable and who may experience abuse due to problems with alcohol or drugs (or be vulnerable due to other circumstances such as being an asylum seeker).
While it is important to recognise that certain groups of people are legally defined as vulnerable, and to have relevant policies, procedures and practice in place to cover them, it is much better to have fully inclusive and integrated ‘safer’ practices that apply to all staff and learners at a further education provider. This creates a safer environment for all and ensures that no one is left out.

There are two main aspects to safeguarding and promoting welfare of children and vulnerable adults:

  • arrangements to minimise risks
  • arrangements to take all appropriate actions to address concerns – actively promoting the concept of the ‘safe learner’.

Links need to be made to every child matters (ECM) outcomes in keeping learners safe. Judgements on safeguarding are wider than protection in relation to individual children and vulnerable adults and include aspects such as learner health and safety, bullying, meeting medical needs and provider security arrangements.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 lays the legislative foundation for a new vetting and barring scheme for those working with children and vulnerable adults which will be phased in from 2008 and established by October 2009. An Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) will be introduced at this time and ISA scheme checks will be required for people working in regulated activity with vulnerable adults (or children). As part of the ISA scheme check the employer will be able to request a CRB Disclosure. CRB Disclosures will also continue to be available for other groups who are not eligible for ISA scheme checks, but who are eligible for Disclosures at the moment.

How does your strategy, management and implementation of safeguarding compare with that of the most effective provision seen on inspection?

The following strengths and areas for improvement have been taken from recent inspection reports across the Ofsted Learning and Skills remit.

Common inspection strengths

  • Strong leadership with a clear vision for the development of the provision
  • Well-managed arrangements for safeguarding
  • Procedures for safeguarding participants meet current government requirements for vulnerable adults (this may be a satisfactory judgement depending on accompanying report text)

Common inspection areas for improvement

  • Insufficient strategic planning and direction
  • The procedures for safeguarding learners do not meet current government requirements

If you were given a similar area for improvement bullet at the end of your last inspection, self assessed this area as an area for improvement, or want to work to avoid such areas for improvement, then consider what inspectors judge to be key.

Particularly effective practice identified in inspections includes:

  • Having staff with clearly designated responsibilities on Vulnerable Adult and Child Protection Issues. Having a member of staff designated to manage the safeguarding process with regard to provider staff who require CRB checks before working with children or vulnerable adults unsupervised (as well as rechecking when currency of checks requires updating). In some larger providers there may be an identified manager, deputy and regional advisers on child/vulnerable adult protection issues. Governors/corporation members may have responsibilities and their backgrounds may benefit provider practice.
  • Providing staff training to identify potential indicators of abuse or neglect amongst learners.
  • Ensuring that provider staff, subcontractor staff, partners/suppliers and volunteers have appropriate checks/policies and procedures in place.
  • Ensuring safeguarding is clearly addressed in policies and procedures - this has worked best by having separate policies rather than being covered partly in several policies (making it difficult to see the full picture).
  • A whole organisational approach to safeguarding including a clear statement that shows the organisation’s values and beliefs in relation to individual rights to freedom from abuse and harm.
  • Having a clear statement for all learners and staff which indicates that there is zero tolerance of abuse and other harmful behaviours. Young learners in HM forces carry laminated cards with contact numbers to report any incidents and this practice is seen in work-based learning to take account of learners being in the workplace.
  • Having policies and procedures that direct both staff and learners towards taking appropriate actions when abuse and harmful behaviours occur.
  • Having a commitment to working with existing local safeguarding or adult Safeguarding Boards and other health and social care partnerships.
  • Introducing a self-disclosure form as part of staff recruitment until the results of the CRB check are received. Until then the new staff member is accompanied when in a training environment.
  • Information and advise given on when to take action and how, confidentiality, how to deal with allegations against staff and a clear code of behaviour (what is and is not appropriate – being updated as required and in the light of changing circumstances and experience).
  • Using online awareness training for staff that helps raise awareness, particularly regarding child awareness issues (some good examples of materials devised by charities concerned with child welfare).
  • Providing specialist training for staff who deal with vulnerable adults
  • Having a toileting policy for people who need accompanying.
  • Ensuring that learner inductions include awareness of rights and freedom from abuse etc. This is sometimes highlighted as part of the complaints procedure and for work-based providers as something to raise by mobile phone contact with assessors at any time (or to learner telephone hotlines).
  • Embedding personal safety rights and responsibilities into the curriculum for all learners, with reinforcement in tutorials or reviews.
  • Some providers use a ‘Learner Engagement Strategy’ which involves learners identifying safety hotspots (such as an isolated area of a training site, walking alone in particular areas such as underpasses or for learners leaving work late at night) and ways to minimise them.
  • Raising awareness of ‘newer’ forms of abuse such as internet grooming, (highlighting safety while using computers), the financial abuse of older people with learning difficulties and the difficulties faced by young asylum seekers or drug users (blackmail, etc).
  • Having information for learners and staff (on safeguarding, abuse and how to seek help) both available and accessible in different formats and in key areas such as handbooks and on notice boards.
  • Ensuring that self-assessment processes pay sufficient regard to safeguarding practices at all levels of the organisation and with all partners. Evaluating the risk management system in relation to safeguarding vulnerable groups.
  • Reviewing policies annually and keeping copies of previous policies to demonstrate improvements.
  • Ensuring that new course approval procedures include safeguarding.
  • Demonstrating a clear understanding that of the five Every Child Matters outcomes, staying safe is the most important.
  • Having a staff development programme with activities for induction of new staff in safeguarding and annual reinforcement activities for established staff. Some providers have a ‘champion’ to keep abreast of new developments, to go on courses and be able to suggest areas to provide training or to update policies in.

Healthcheck questions

Health check

Do you have separate policies and procedures that cover all aspects of safeguarding within your organisation?

How often are these policies updated?

Do policies cover all necessary aspects, such as toileting procedures?

If yes, how do you know they do?

How is safeguarding managed within your organisation?

How have your staff been involved in developing safeguarding policies?

Have all staff, or other people who interact with your learners, been vetted appropriately?

Do you maintain and review/update a central CRB register?

Have all staff received training in safeguarding (including new staff)?

How has this changed what they do?

How is safeguarding covered in learner induction?

If you have work-based learners, how do you ensure that they can contact you easily should the need arise?

What examples have you of promoting safeguarding through the curriculum and learner support?

Is safeguarding included as part of your self-assessment process?

Do you include a specific judgement on it?

The Independent Safeguarding Authority’s website explains the responsibilities of employers, employees and volunteers with regard to the safeguarding of vulnerable groups:

Check this guidance to ensure you comply fully.

What could you do next to improve your provision?

  • Read inspection reports to identify what the best providers are doing in your particular type of provision or area of learning (also check other types of provision as good practice is usually transferable between inspection contexts - adult and community learning, college, DWP, work-based, etc). As well as looking at providers with ‘outstanding’ aspects or monitoring visit reports with judgements of ‘significant progress’, look at providers who are similar to yourself in terms of remit, size and what they offer – Ofsted inspection reports
  • Get a clearer and richer understanding of what you need to do to improve – Learner-centred self-assessment
  • Use downloadable quality-improvement resources to develop your staff team and to focus on actions that will help to improve your provision – Actions for quality improvement
  • Adopt or adapt the best bits of other providers’ work that inspection has identified as being particularly effective – Ofsted good practice database examples
  • Measure just how effective your initial-assessment system is and if your quality-improvement initiatives are working – Data projects
  • Develop a blueprint for initial assessment of your learners – Initial assessment and support
  • Check whether your self-assessment report is fit for purpose – Self-assessment surgery projects
  • Use the guidance developed by Ofsted to know what to expect in order to prepare for inspection, look at the Ofsted inspection handbook for your remit or the inspection toolkit – use the search box if necessary - inspection handbooks and toolkit
  • Use the Excellence Gateway as a first ‘port of call’ when researching areas that you would like to improve. As well as the Ofsted-related area, simple word searches will bring you a variety of information about what others in the learning and skills sector are doing to improve their provision. This is particularly useful for any newer areas that you may wish to research.