Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021) makes clear that the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) must be, “an appropriate senior member of staff, from the school or college leadership team.”
The DSL takes “lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection (including online safety). This should be explicit in the role-holder’s job description.”
This stipulation can leave headteachers and governors with a very small pool of colleagues to choose from when they are appointing a DSL, with some heads deciding to take on this responsibility themselves.
Safeguarding needs exceptionally strong leadership. The DSL often juggles and holds a wealth of information, from context for individual students to staff training records.
A new DSL, either due to a resignation or a shake-up in leadership responsibility, must be able to step into this role seamlessly and have all the tools they need to ensure children continue to be safeguarded effectively.
One of the most important areas when considering continuity between DSLs is record keeping. Whether your school uses electronic or paper records for children’s safeguarding records, the system needs to be clear and to be picked up by someone else in the future.
It is imperative that ALL records are saved centrally and coherently. Records should be saved in one place for each child, so that any new DSL can look at this and quickly extract the exact chronology.
When we delve into inspection reports where safeguarding has been found to be “not effective”, poor record keeping is a common contributing factor.
Among the key problems are that records are not detailed enough, or that schools do not record small concerns routinely.
Schools should assume that their DSL may have a period of absence in the future or even leave the school, and therefore ensure that record keeping is robust enough for someone else to read through the relevant record, and have a full and accurate picture for a child.
Regular spot checks of safeguarding files should be encouraged, so that the safeguarding team can ensure that files give the full picture to anyone who may need to read them in the future. This also helps with transition, so that the child’s new school will have details of historical concerns.
Regular updates to other leaders
Another key area to reflect on is the regularity and depth of the updates that are shared with the other members of the senior leadership team (SLT).
The overarching knowledge of safeguarding can sometimes be held in the head of one DSL, and this should be avoided. Though not always part of the safeguarding team, other members of SLT should have a clear picture of the overall safeguarding trends.
For example, if mental health concerns are coming up as your most frequent concerns, the wider senior team should be aware of this and know that resources, including curriculum changes, may be needed.
Likewise, your governing body should also be aware of these overarching trends, either via the headteacher’s report or via feedback from the safeguarding governor’s visits.
Governors should also be kept up to date on what safeguarding training has taken place for staff. By keeping clear staff training logs and the details of any staff who have missed any training, the DSL can easily hand this information to a colleague taking on their role in the future, and therefore ensure that any gaps are filled.
Effective use of systems
In recent years we have seen many new electronic systems popping up to assist with the management of safeguarding, including online safeguarding files and Single Central Record packages.
These systems can greatly help a DSL, but the knowledge of how best to use these can often sit with one person. As the DSL, it is important to ensure that other members of your safeguarding team or senior team know how to use systems in your absence.
Likewise, appropriate staff should be familiar with the workings and any issues with the Single Central Record, so that they can step in and oversee this key area if needed to in the future.
Using the safeguarding team
One of the best ways to build a strong culture of continuity is to ensure that a wider safeguarding team is in place, with well-trained Deputy DSLs.
Though Deputy DSLs are optional for schools, KCSIE makes clear that that “the activities of the designated safeguarding lead can be delegated to appropriately trained deputies.”
It is important to remember that “appropriately trained” means that any deputies should be “trained to the same standard as the designated safeguarding lead.”
Once Deputy DSLs have completed their training, they can be an incredibly useful resource to ensure that the safeguarding load is spread beyond one person.
If you are preparing for your current DSL to leave their position, an effective handover with the new one is essential.
The new DSL should spend a significant amount of time with their outgoing colleague and at the very least should have a clear list of all the children who have an open case with children’s social care, including those who are looked after.
Equally, the outgoing DSL needs to share information on the relevant key safeguarding contacts, including the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), school nurse, police officer and the safeguarding governor.
The incoming DSL should have clear knowledge of how safeguarding works locally, including any particularly prevalent safeguarding issues in the local area.
The outgoing DSL should also share a clear picture of the management of safeguarding and the outcomes of previous audits and/or visits from the safeguarding, so that the new DSL knows what their priorities are.
Other things to consider are simple but important steps, such as ensuring all contact details for social workers are correct, and that the correct name and contact details for the DSL are shared with the necessary stakeholders, to ensure key communication goes to the correct person.
Access will need to be given to the new DSL for any electronic systems, including any that the Local Authority uses - for example for Personal Education Plan (PEP) meetings for looked after children.
In summary, your school should contemplate a time when it will need a change of DSL. Though this may not be on the immediate horizon, it is important to consider these five areas and constantly evaluate whether records are detailed and clear enough for someone else to follow in the future.
Multiple Serious Case Reviews have highlighted that information sharing between agencies has been a problem greatly exacerbated when one professional does not properly record or share the vast swathes of information they hold.
It is already too late to prepare for many elements of this handover at the point where the DSL resigns or suddenly needs to be away from school for an extended time.
Thinking of the five areas above in advance of any transition can therefore not only help to improve your current safeguarding practice, but also prepare for a situation where a new DSL may need to step in at very short notice.
Hannah Glossop, former Designated Safeguarding Lead, now head of Judicium’s safeguarding service. Further information is available at www.judiciumeducation.co.uk/safeguarding-service and by following @JudiciumSG on Twitter