The relationship between the board and the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) is about assurance that the college is complying with all their responsibilities to keep learners safe. The board is accountable for all aspects of college work and one key area of concern is safeguarding which, when it goes wrong, can put any provider firmly into a grade four Ofsted judgement.
Many General FE (GFE) colleges are large organisations with substantial teams working on safeguarding. Reporting and scrutiny of safeguarding are key to ensuring that the board has confidence in the operation of safeguarding and to make sure that students and apprentices are safe and feel safe. One of the key people in this relationship is the safeguarding governor whose role it is to provide both support and challenge as they interact with the DSL.
It is vital that, in this role, the safeguarding governor does not act operationally but strategically and that they scrutinise to give the board assurance of effective safeguarding in the organisation.
The following is an example of how one GFE’s board and DSL operate the assurance system.
This college has twenty-two governors including the principal. One member of the governing body is also the safeguarding governor.
The safeguarding governor has extensive expertise in safeguarding which she brings to the board and also to her relationship with the DSL. She has a good relationship with the DSL and they talk frequently. She is very aware of the importance of her role. She sits on the full board but also on the finance and governance committee of the college. All safeguarding and HR reports go to the committee as do all finance reports; she is aware that this is a key committee and feels that if she were not on finance committee she would not have the same level of understanding of how the college operates. This understanding strengthens her ability to contribute on safeguarding.
The DSL compiles an annual safeguarding and Prevent duty report for the governing body. This includes information about the safeguarding activity for the previous year. It also highlights key trends in the safeguarding needs of learners over the previous twelve months. This will often include sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, Prevent issues, and also mental health issues. Mental health issues have been highlighted more often over the last two years. In the months before the Covid-19 crisis began it was clear that mental health was becoming an increasing issue, so additional mental health support was put in place, with the backing of the board. The impact of Covid-19 has been to increase these mental health concerns.
The college has an operational safeguarding committee which meets monthly. This is attended by the Safeguarding governor in addition to the deputy principal, the DSL, the head of additional support, the head of supported learning, the head of 16–18 learning, the director of quality, the director of IT, HR’s safeguarding lead, the designated person for looked after children, a curriculum manager and the health and safety lead. Attending this meeting gives the safeguarding governor an in depth understanding of safeguarding in all aspects of the college’s work. She takes this opportunity to ask questions of the operational staff and to get a good understanding of safeguarding at the college. The key challenge for the safeguarding governor is being able to attend as many of these meetings as she would like because she has a very busy timetable in her own employment. One area that has been of great benefit to the college is her ability to suggest external contacts to support safeguarding within the college.
The safeguarding governor pointed out that the college safeguarding team has always engaged strongly with children’s services and social services in the local area.
She and the DSL talk frequently and from time to time will have in-depth sessions. One example of this was a half day spent looking at college recording systems and at the communication with local schools for students coming through to the college. This led to improvements in obtaining information from schools. In addition to these conversations the safeguarding governor carries out walks around the college to get an understanding of the college and also takes part in governor training.
The monthly operational meeting is always presented with an agenda which addresses issues that have arisen in the previous month and also an update on one or more of a rotation of issues relating to safeguarding such as e safety, mental health, domestic abuse or the prevalence of suicidal thoughts. The safeguarding governor is able to ask questions and follow up on reports and discussions which take place. The monthly reports feed into the annual report but also into the regular board meetings.
In addition to the safeguarding meetings there are termly meetings between the DSL and the safeguarding governor where the safeguarding governor can challenge, ask questions and make suggestions. In the case of the current safeguarding governor, she has a strong background in safeguarding in her professional life and can provide suggestions and support working across organisations in the local area.
The DSL also reports to the SLT on a monthly basis. This means that the principal has been fully briefed in advance of the Board meeting; she is, of course, on the board of governors.
The safeguarding governor will speak at the board meeting about actions which have been taken such as the introduction of the mental health team in 2019. On occasion the safeguarding governor has to explain to other governors what is or what is not realistic in safeguarding terms; for example, students need to be trained in the safe use of the internet. While there is monitoring at college, use of mobile phone data and the internet at home cannot be monitored or controlled.
The board members always ask questions about and challenge the very thorough safeguarding reports. There have been times when board input has highlighted issues which those working within the college might not have thought to ask about. A key example of this was the request for a report of three-year trends rather than yearly reports on safeguarding of different groups of learner; these included:
Governors are given three years of raw data with case studies. The board can then ask questions for clarification and to find out why safeguarding incidents have happened. Several years ago, there was a drop in the number of incidents being reported. The board asked for an explanation; this led to further research and it emerged that health and social care had undergone a reorganisation and on a temporary basis they were not recruiting Entry level and Level 1 learners. A review of the previous data showed that these had contributed disproportionately to the number of safeguarding cases.
In general, questions and proposals will come from the safeguarding team themselves and the half-termly operational meeting. An example of this was a query from HR about how often staff should be undertaking Prevent training. This led to the development of new Prevent duty training as a refresher. Board members, including the safeguarding governor, will contribute by asking what the college is doing about a particular issue; a recent example of this was drug use by learners.
There is no doubt that the external eye that comes from the board of governors and the safeguarding governor are very useful. They can sometimes see things with greater clarity that those who work on safeguarding all the time. What is vital is that governors take their safeguarding duties seriously, triangulate data i.e., from student surveys questions around their safety, ask searching questions and undertake the governor training required by the college. The board need to be assured that there is an effective safeguarding operation and that learners are safe. They may not be experts, but they can ask clear questions that get to the heart of the matter.
The Education and Training Foundation published two revised modules to support governors and governance professionals with their safeguarding and Prevent duty responsibilities in July 2021. The first is aimed at governors and trustees who are the appointed safeguarding lead governor or trustee, while the second is for all governors and trustees.
Both have been significantly re-written, ensuring that they are in line with current guidance and good practice, and have been developed in consultation with the profession through their early stages and in pilots.