I am not here to bash Ofsted, however, I think that we are often too quick to react to changes in society without considering the bigger picture. Often, failing to foresee the real impact these actions will have on those involved.
The Ofsted Common Inspection Framework is a good example of this; often updated to keep abreast with the ever-changing demands of our society. Last August, the ‘School inspection handbook’ and ‘Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings’ were updated to reflect changes made to ‘keeping children safe in education’. In addition to the usual four key headings, schools are now to be judged on the effectiveness of their safeguarding practices and will need to demonstrate that they are meeting their statutory responsibilities.
For me though, the changes raise some questions.
Where in Ofsted’s policies and procedures are suggestions to achieve actual child-centred safeguarding?
Do correct me if I am wrong, but nowhere in the documentation are any actual methods outlined which help encourage children to share their concerns and worries. Perhaps this isn’t Ofsted’s remit or responsibility but in that case, whose responsibility is it? Teaching staff? Each individual school? And if so, who is ensuring that they are adequately trained to do this? Considering Ofsted are so hot on standardisation, there seems to be a disconnect here.
Is this the culture that’s created DIY solutions?
Without clear guidelines on how to appropriately safeguard children, teachers are often forced to take action themselves. We know from our own research that 43% of the school we contacted use Worry Boxes, often as a reactive method to tackle children’s mental health problems. So, as soon as Ofsted see a Worry Box or Worry Book in the classroom does a box get ticked? What about the tick box that asks whether the Worry Box is actually secure? Does the inspector ask about how often is it being checked, or is the mere presence of a Worry Box enough? Are some teaching professionals more afraid of failing Ofsted than failing the children? In my mind, the effectiveness of these boxes isn’t in the few children using them, but more importantly how many children don’t use them?
Has anyone considered safeguarding disclosures from the child’s perspective?
Let’s just imagine for a moment a sensitive child who has just been reprimanded for their poor spelling, called out in front of their classmates for everyone to hear. The reality is anxious children tend not to have the confidence to just speak out about their concerns. Even adults struggle to talk about fears and anxieties, so imagine how a child must feel. Ofsted’s inspection guidance states that “…timely and appropriate safeguarding action [should be] taken for children or learners who need extra help or who may be suffering…”, but do these solutions allow for that? Staff are expected to be trained and vigilant, but what are they being trained for if the children don't have a voice to be heard? How long is that timely response, immediately, 24 hours or a week?
Finally, where’s the 999?
To boil it down, perhaps rather flippantly, Ofsted’s policies and procedures could be likened to having the emergency services on standby, but without the actual 999 end-service. What is the use of having expensive ‘back office’ safeguarding software, policies and procedures if the very children that need it don’t have the ability to access, simply because the front-end doesn’t allow them to share their safeguarding concerns on their terms?
‘I thought you weren’t an Ofsted basher?’ I hear you cry. It’s all very well to criticise, but what’s the solution? Whilst I don’t have all the answers, I do firmly believe that something needs to change. But the solution has to be a more proactive child-focused approach, which gives children the courage to communicate their worries. Children must be able to share their worries and concerns safely and this needs to be monitored and followed up with trusted information to help support the child not only instantly, but also in the long term. That’s why we created the Worrinots app. We realised that there needed to be an open door approach at the front.
Ofsted make judgements on a daily basis based on standardised methodology, but where is the advisory board that supports those that don’t make the cut? Instead of picking out those schools deemed as ‘outstanding’ and making a positive example of them, we seem to wait for the next fatality to implement new legislation. Have we not learned from Victoria Clymbia, do we need to wait for the next Asad Khan? Let’s end this downward spiral of reactive solutions by becoming proactive. There is already a standardised approach to safeguarding when recruiting staff, so now let’s get a standardised approach to safeguarding children. One that focuses on the child and their terms.