2. Responsibilities of proprietors
Proprietors of independent schools have a wide array of responsibilities, many of which are detailed in The Registration of Independent Schools in Scotland: Guidance for Applicants, Proprietors, and Parents. These responsibilities include ensuring that the school safeguards and promotes the welfare of learners at their school, lest the school be found objectionable, or at risk of becoming so, on the grounds listed in section 99(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
How a school, and its proprietor, does this is largely a matter for the school and proprietor. However, there are some mandatory actions which are set out below:
- That the school’s proprietors, and all staff undertaking regulated work (i.e. school staff and volunteers), are members of the PVG Scheme in advance of taking up post (this is required of any school’s robust recruitment practices) and that the legal duty to refer is understood and acted on where appropriate.
- That all teachers employed in the school are duly registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
- That all care staff are appropriately registered with the Scottish Social Services Council.
- That the school has a Child Protection Co-ordinator and Deputy Child Protection Co-ordinator, thatboth are appropriately trained, and that training is regularly refreshed.
- That all school staff, annually, undertake appropriate child protection training.
- That the school has a Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy which is understood by all staff, parents, and learners, and is reviewed regularly.
Additionally, where a school includes a school accommodation service (i.e. boarding or residential schools), there is an additional duty set out in section 125A of the 1980 Act: “the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child or young person” accommodated at the school.
While proprietors may not have a direct role in the routine appointment of staff, they are the employer and have ultimate responsibility for the recruitment of staff and volunteers in the school and must ensure there are robust recruitment policies in place. This includes, for example, appropriate pre-employment checks: ensuring that all staff are PVG Scheme Members and registered with the appropriate professional body (the GTCS, or SSSC, for example) depending on the role. Where the role requires GTCS registration (i.e. teaching roles), employers will wish to make use of the searchable GTCS register to ensure there are no fitness to teach issues.
2.2 Training of staff
As set out above, all staff must undertake – annually – appropriate child protection professional learning. In addition, the school’s Child Protection Co-ordinator and Deputy Child Protection Co-ordinator must undertake role-specific professional learning. While it necessary for every school to have at least one Child Protection Co-ordinator and one Deputy Child Protection Co-ordinator, a school’s size – and whether there is also boarding accommodation – will likely mean that there is a need for more than these two roles alone.
All professional learning must result in all staff across the school having the necessary competences and skills to carry out their safeguarding and child protection roles and responsibilities to the required standard. It is the responsibility of the proprietor to ensure that the content of professional learning aligns with national guidance and is updated regularly to reflect local, national or societal issues. In designing training, providers or proprietors are obliged to refer to National Child Protection Guidance and the National Framework for Child Protection Learning and Development in Scotland; training must also reference the conduct expected of GTCS registered teachers.
2.3 Safeguarding sub-committee
While it is not obligatory, a number of independent schools find benefits in the governing body empowering a sub-committee of governors to oversee and challenge safeguarding and child protection practices in school (in the same way that schools may have a similar sub-committee looking at educational provision or financial matters in the school). All proprietors must also undertake safeguarding training.
Having such a sub-committee does not negate the remainder of the board’s responsibilities on safeguarding and child protection; nor the responsibilities of school staff. However, having a small team with this additional responsibility allows for a small working group to consider the school’s approaches to safeguarding and child protection in a robust fashion.
They, too, may be empowered to take a pro-active approach to the refreshing and refinement of safeguarding in the spirit of continuous improvement. The example of such a sub-committee has not been used to imply that this is the only means of overseeing and challenging how a school approaches child protection and safeguarding; how a board is constituted is a matter for the proprietor and will be shaped as necessary to suit the school’s individual context and the needs of children and young people at the school.
2.4 Responsibilities of staff
It cannot be stated too often that it is the responsibility of all to keep children and young people safe from harm and all those employed in the school should be equipped to handle a safeguarding concern appropriately, timeously, and professionally.
All staff are required to undertake appropriate child protection training, each year, and be able to demonstrate an understanding of what to do should they see, hear, or believe there to be a child protection or safeguarding concern.
Training is available from a number of providers and may be made available through the local authority your school is based in or through the Scottish Council of Independent Schools and elsewhere. Additional training must also be provided for the school’s Child Protection Co-ordinator and Deputy Child Protection Co-ordinator which covers the specific duties and responsibilities of the child protection co-ordinator role.
Additionally, schools must sustain environments where children, young people, and parents know how to raise concerns about staff.
2.5 The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021 provides the following specific information about independent schools:
As for all staff in local authority establishments, all staff in independent schools have a responsibility to ensure that the children in their care are not harmed. This applies to teachers and all other practitioners, staff and volunteers. The proprietors of independent schools have a responsibility to ensure that the school they are responsible for does not become objectionable on any of the grounds listed in section 99(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. This includes ensuring that the welfare of learners is safeguarded and promoted at the school.
The Public Services Reform (General Teaching Council for Scotland) Order 2011 and the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 strengthened the provisions which ensure that teachers in independent schools (as well as other persons in child care positions) meet the necessary standards to enable them to work with children. From 1 June 2021 all teachers in independent schools must be GTCS-registered under the Registration of Independent Schools (Prescribed Person) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 (as amended in 2020).
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