No more knee-jerk reactions on safeguarding – what Ofsted are looking for now

Their focus in safeguarding is shifting from policy and process to practice and its impact, writes SSAT senior education lead Colin Logan.

‘Gap in fence puts school into special measures’ might have been an apocryphal headline, but it still reflects the view that many school leaders have of Ofsted’s approach to inspecting safeguarding. During the first week of September, inspectors across the country received face-to-face training designed to move them away from knee-jerk judgements on safeguarding. A school will still go into an Ofsted category if safeguarding is found to be ineffective, but inspectors’ focus will shift from policy and process to practice and its impact.

There are three areas of enquiry inspectors will be following up:

  • How does the school identify pupils who might be at risk? Is it identifying the right ones?
  • What timely action is the school taking as a result and how does it work with other agencies?
  • How do leaders, governors and staff fulfil their statutory responsibilities towards safeguarding? And, in particular, how do they respond to allegations made about staff and other adults?

During the inspection, safeguarding will be a shared responsibility across the team. It’s not intended to be a health and safety audit (although there will still be checks on the single central record, for example) but an evaluation of how effectively the school keeps its pupils safe by adopting effective practice.

Inspectors will discuss with staff at all levels how alert they are to recognising and responding to safeguarding concerns. These could be generic, such as absence, or specific to the locality; there could be concerns about child sexual exploitation, for example. They will want to know how staff support pupils when they identify these concerns and how effectively they engage with local support agencies.

The views of staff, parents and pupils will continue to be sought and taken into account. School leaders will need to show inspectors that they are fully aware of their responsibilities and be able to demonstrate that their response to them has been timely and appropriate. In particular they will need to show that allegations against staff have been properly dealt with and that appropriate recruitment checks – including obtaining references – are made.

Avoiding unjustified causal links

Inspectors were cautioned against making unjustified causal links such as inferring that poor attendance automatically means poor safeguarding. Instead, they need to look at the bigger picture beyond data, policies and procedures. Similarly, they must not make judgements lightly: one or two shortcomings will not necessarily make safeguarding ineffective unless, overall, pupils are being put at risk.

Going back to our example of a gap in the school fence: as with teaching, marking and assessment, there is no expectation from Ofsted that school leaders should address site security in any particular way. Even if there is an open footpath running through the school grounds, for example, it is up to school leaders and governors to act appropriately in response to their assessment of the risks posed. Inspectors should be satisfied if leaders’ actions are effective in addressing those risks.

All of this potentially represents a significant shift in approach, away from checking that policies are in place and towards evaluating whether or not schools are doing the right things. Keeping Children Safe in Education (–2) remains an essential read, as it outlines what all staff should know and do, the responsibilities of leaders and governors, safer recruitment procedures and dealing with allegations made against staff and other adults.

Just as inspectors should be looking for practice rather than policy, schools will want to do the same thing during inspections. Have inspectors really moved away from compliance checking? If there are instances when you feel this isn’t happening, be sure to raise it immediately with your lead inspector who, in turn, must register your concerns on an evidence form. Equally, if you do experience a more enlightened approach, tell your lead inspector – they are (mostly) human, too.

Either way, at SSAT we would be interested in hearing your experiences. Share them with us at

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