Registration of independent schools: guidance for proprietors overseeing child protection and safeguarding arrangements

Guidance for proprietors who are obliged to ensure that their school is appropriately resourced and structured to safeguard the welfare of learners. This guidance has been developed in consultation with a number of stakeholders to support good practice in schools.

1. Definitions and Terms of Note


For the purpose of this guidance, generally, a child is any learner attending a school.

Child abuse and neglect

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment and may involve the infliction of harm, or the failure to act to prevent harm. It may involve physical abuse (hitting a child, for example) or emotional abuse. The National Guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 defines emotional abuse as “persistent emotional ill treatment that has severe and persistent adverse effects on a child’s emotional development.” It may involve, for example, repeated silencing, ridiculing or intimidation; conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved; exploitation or corruption of a child.

Sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is defined in the National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 as: “an act that involves a child under 16 years of age in any activity for the sexual gratification of another person, whether or not it is claimed that the child either consented or assented. Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. For those who may be victims of sexual offences aged 16-17, child protection procedures must be considered. These procedures must be applied when there is concern about the sexual exploitation or trafficking of a child.

The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at or in the production of indecent images, in watching sexual activities, using sexual language towards a child, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.”

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is defined as a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a person under 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact. It can also occur through the use of technology. Children who are trafficked across borders or within the UK may be at particular risk of sexual abuse (National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021).


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet the basic physical or psychological needs of a child which is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Poverty, and other systemic stresses, may be a factor and neglect is an indicator of both support and protection needs.

‘Persistent’ means there is a pattern which may be continuous or intermittent which has caused, or is likely to cause significant harm. However, single instances of neglectful behaviour by a person in a position of responsibility can be significantly harmful. Early signs of neglect indicate the need for support to prevent harm (National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021).

Child Protection

Child protection refers to the processes involved in consideration, assessment and

planning of required action, together with the actions themselves, where there are

concerns that a child may be at risk of harm. Child protection guidance provides overall direction for agencies and professional disciplines where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of harm. Child protection procedures are initiated when police, social work or health professionals determine that a child may have been abused or may be at risk of significant harm. Child protection involves:

  • Immediate action, if necessary, to prevent significant harm to a child
  • inter-agency investigation about the occurrence or probability of abuse or neglect, or of a criminal offence against a child. Investigation extends to other children affected by the same apparent risks as the child who is the subject of a referral
  • assessment and action to address the interaction of behaviour, relationships and conditions that may, in combination, cause or accelerate risks
  • focus within assessment, planning and action upon listening to each child’s voice and recognising their experience, needs and feelings
  • collaboration between agencies and persistent efforts to work in partnership with parents in planning and action to prevent harm or reduce risk of harm
  • recognition and support for the strengths, relationships and skills within the child and their world in order to form a plan that reduces risk and builds resilience


This is a much wider concept than child protection and refers to promoting the welfare of children, young people and protected adults. It encompasses protecting from maltreatment, preventing impairment of their health or development, ensuring that they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable all children, young people and protected adults to have the best outcome. Child protection is part of this definition and refers to activities undertaken to prevent children suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

Proprietors must take full account of safeguarding issues that may impact on children and young people such as bullying, online abuse and eating disorders. The school must ensure relevant policies and guidance are in place to support children, young people and staff. In developing these policies, staff are required to refer to national guidance.

Proper Person

The term ‘proper person’ is used throughout part V of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. In short, a proper person is either a proprietor or teacher who is a PVG Scheme member (and, in the case of teachers, appropriately registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland) and not otherwise barred from the role of proprietor or teacher.

Additional information on ‘proper person’ is included in an annex at the end of this guidance.

NB: This is not an exhaustive list of the terms which proprietors and school staff should be familiar with. For further information, please refer to the National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021.



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