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.

3. Who to contact

3.1 At any time

Proprietors, and any school staff, are welcome to contact the following individuals at any time for advice and support.

The Registrar of Independent Schools: an official of the Scottish Government, who assists the Scottish Ministers in the registration and regulation of independent schools. While the Registrar of Independent Schools has no formal role directly in the handling of child protection matters, the Registrar is available to support any school and provide advice as required (

The School’s Link HM Inspector: each independent school has an identified Link HM Inspector. Whilst it is good practice for schools to alert their link HM Inspector to safeguarding and child protection issues, it is important to note that HM Inspectors do not have a direct role in responding to child protection concerns.

The Care Inspectorate has regulatory functions in respect of any independent school that provides accommodation (i.e. a boarding or residential school) and any independent school which provides early learning and childcare. Such services must be registered with the Care Inspectorate. As outlined in this guidance, and elsewhere, there are a number of ‘notifiable’ incidents which must be referred to the Care Inspectorate.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS): The GTCS is the regulatory body for all teachers in Scotland (whether they are employed in local authority, grant-aided, or independent schools). Proprietors have a legal obligation to refer teachers in particular circumstances (discussed later in this guidance). The GTCS is available to discuss and offer advice whenever required/

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS): While SCIS is a membership body (and not a regulatory body or part of government), SCIS are happy to receive enquiries from proprietors, headteachers, staff and governors, to offer advice, guidance, and training to member schools.

National Education Safeguarding Leads Network: this new collaborative network (which includes SCIS as a member) brings together education staff who have lead responsibility in safeguarding. These staff from across all local authorities and the independent sector will come together to share practice, support development of professional learning and engage in professional dialogue regarding safeguarding in education themes.

3.2 Where there is a child protection or safeguarding concern

All services and professional bodies should already have clear policies in place for identifying, sharing and acting upon concerns about risk of harm to a child or children. Concerns about possible harm to a child from abuse, neglect or exploitation should always be shared with police or social work without delay.

Concerns may arise in a number of ways including:

  • Because of what a child has said
  • Over a period of time
  • In response to a particular incident
  • As a result of direct observations
  • Through reports from family, from a third party, or from an anonymous source
  • If children are known to social work or have an existing child’s plan
  • Through notification that a child may become a member of the same household as a child in respect of whom any of the offences mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 has been committed, or as a person who has committed any of the offences mentioned in Schedule 1

If a member of staff is unsure whether a concern would meet the threshold for child protection, they must discuss it with their child protection coordinator and if they are in doubt they should refer to social work. The GIRFEC National Practice Model can be used as an assessment framework to inform the need to make a referral to another service, including social work.

There are 5 key questions that professionals should ask themselves:

  1. What is getting in the way of this person’s wellbeing?
  2. Do I have all the information I need to help?
  3. What can I do now?
  4. What can my organisation do to help?
  5. What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?

Every local authority has a duty to promote, support and safeguard the wellbeing of all children in need in their area. Local authority social services also have a responsibility for children and young people from their own area, even when in establishments managed by providers other than the local authority (i.e. independent schools). Local authority social services must be contacted where there is a child protection or safeguarding concern. They may be contacted at any time for advice and assistance.

In addition, where a concern relates to a teacher, proprietors should contact GTC Scotland to discuss a discretionary referral without delay.

Where there is concern that a child may be at risk of significant harm, or if there is any allegation related to potentially criminal conduct (or actual criminal conduct), the school will be expected to report the matter to Police Scotland so that they may investigate the matter as appropriate. Additionally, it may be appropriate to seek advice from Divisional Concern Hubs or local community policing teams as appropriate. Police officers have a statutory duty to detect and prevent crime. Child protection is therefore a fundamental part of the duties of all police officers.

Appendix H of the National Guidance for Child Protection 2021 provides a checklist to support communication when liaising with authorities and is replicated below in figure 1 for reference.

Figure 1, Checklist to support communication about concerns to child protection services, taken from Appendix H of The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021.

Name role/contact details of person reporting concern

Key contacts

  • Name of the child, age, date of birth and home address if possible
  • Name/address/phone of parents/carers or guardians
  • Culture/language/understanding: any considerations in communication?
  • Name of child’s school, nursery/ early learning centre or childcare
  • Is it known if the child is on the Child Protection register?

Immediate needs and concerns

  • What is the nature of the child protection concern?
  • Where is the child now?
  • How is he/she now?
  • Physically: does he/she have any known injuries or immediate health needs and do they require
  • medical treatment?
  • Emotionally: how is he/she right now and what does she/he need immediately for their
  • reassurance/understanding?
  • Communication and understanding; is he/she able to communicate without interpreting/without
  • additional support for communication?
  • Is the child safe now?
  • If not, in your view, is there action that might be taken to make them safe

Record of concerns

  • When did these concerns first come to light? What happened? (For example because of an injury? through what this or another child has said? because of how a child appears? or due to e.g. parental behaviour?)
  • Is a person are persons are believed to be responsible for harm to a child?
  • If so, is/are their name/address/occupation/relationship to the child known?
  • Are you aware if this person has/these persons have access to other children? (Name, age and address details of such children if available?)
  • If the concern was raised by this child then who has spoken to him/her? Is the person who has spoken to the child available to be spoken with?
  • What has the child said to this point? (Please note and share)
  • What he/she has been asked, when and by whom? (Please note and share)
  • If concerns were not reported when they first arose, was there a reason for this and what has prompted reporting now?

Agreed actions (following this initial communication)

When an allegation is made against a member of staff, the proprietors will wish to consider whether it is necessary to suspend that member of staff, without prejudice, until any police investigation – and subsequent disciplinary process – has concluded. The process for this should be set out in the school’s disciplinary policy and must include onward referral to GTC Scotland where appropriate.

For boarding or residential schools, it will also be necessary to notify the Care Inspectorate. Guidance on notifications is available, online, at: Notifications ( The Care Inspectorate will also be happy to assist with any enquiries around notification. Many boarding schools in Scotland are members of the Boarding Schools Association (BSA), the BSA Charter includes mandatory reporting.

While there is no obligation on schools, day or boarding, to notify the Registrar of Independent Schools of any child protection or safeguarding concerns, it is often useful to do so. The Registrar may be informed by a third party and – if the school has already notified HM Inspectors and the Registrar – they will be better placed to respond to any concern or complaint. Additionally, the Registrar and HM Inspectors will be able to offer advice and support to the school as appropriate. All the regulatory bodies operate collaboratively and share information with each other in confidence.

3.3 Information sharing

Sharing relevant information proportionately and lawfully is an essential part of protecting children from harm and ensuring their wellbeing. Practitioners and managers in statutory services and the voluntary sector should all understand when and how they may share information. Practitioners must be supported and guided in working within and applying the law through organisational procedures and supervisory processes. Within agencies, data controllers and information governance/ data protection leads must ensure that the systems and procedures for which they share accountability provide an effective framework for lawful, fair and transparent information sharing. Where appropriate, data sharing agreements must be in place.

Where there is a child protection concern, relevant information should be shared with

police or social work and regulatory bodies without delay, provided it is necessary, proportionate and lawful to do so. The lawful basis for sharing information should be identified and recorded. Proprietors will wish to ensure that school staff have a full understanding of the school’s policies in this area and how those policies align with national guidance. Further information on information sharing and records management can be found in Part 1 of the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021.



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