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‘Guidance for Schools and Colleges’ document launched

News   •   Feb 06, 2020 15:19 GMT

The Metropolitan Police Service, in partnership with Barnardo’s National FGM Centre, London Harmful Practices Working Group and the Department of Education are today, Thursday, 6 February, launching a comprehensive ‘Guidance for Schools and Colleges’ document which deals with the complex issues of safeguarding children from sexual violence, child sexual exploitation and harmful practice.

The launch date coincides with ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) and sits within Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week - #ITSNOTOK.

The guidance will be formally launched at an event later today at New Scotland Yard. 

Key speakers include Commander Sue Williams, the Met’s Safeguarding Lead; Dr Jenny Lloyd from Bedfordshire University; Leethen Bartholomew from Barnardo’s National FGM Centre and the London Harmful Practices Working Group. This guidance has been designed to help support frontline teaching professionals in situations or incidents that require a safeguarding response.

Four students from Azhar Academy Girls School in Forest Gate will be addressing the audience and explaining why their school is adopting the Schools Guidance and Harmful Practices Schools’ Charter.

The guidance was created by Inspector Allen Davis, who has spent many years working to support schools and colleges to identify and respond effectively to complex safeguarding issues which often result in a specialist police response. 

Inspector Allen Davis, from the Met’s Safeguarding team, said: “Enhancing information sharing between partners working to safeguard children is our aim. We hope this guidance will assist those working in schools and colleges to have a better understanding of how police work within the relevant legislative and safeguarding frameworks to safeguard the vulnerable. 

“We wanted to develop a practical document that frontline practitioners will find useful when dealing with complex matters. These are sometimes hidden in plain sight or missed, as we may not know the warning signs or how others will respond to the risk and vulnerability identified. Ultimately this guidance is about protecting children and young people from a wide range of potentially life-changing harms.”

This guidance outlines what schools and colleges should consider and the action they should take when concerns are raised relating to sexual violence, sexting, child sexual exploitation and harmful practices.

School Systems Minister Lord Agnew, said: “Female genital mutilation is abuse and we will not tolerate it. It is vitally important that young people are protected from this practice and teachers play a key role in that.

“That is why we have worked in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service, Barnardo’s National FGM Centre and London Harmful Practices Working Group to produce this guidance that will support schools and colleges to spot the signs of any forms of child abuse and take action to tackle it.

“All children will also be taught that FGM is a criminal offence and about the emotional and physical damage it causes from September this year, as part of the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.”

Establishing an accurate picture of levels of victimisation allows police to signpost the victim to the appropriate care and support them, if appropriate, through the criminal justice system. It will also assist and help prevent the future victimisation of others.

Many serious offences against young people are under-reported and there are a number of reasons for this: 

- Lack of confidence in the police or the criminal justice system; 
- Abusive behaviours are increasingly ‘normalised’ by adults and young people, so much so that they don’t realise that they are the victim of an offence; 
- Lack of consistent understanding by professionals as to whether and at what point police should be informed of safeguarding matters.

Leethen Bartholomew, Head of the National FGM Centre, a Barnardo’s and Local Government Association joint initiative, said: “While there are still children being subjected to FGM, we are failing as practitioners, professionals and as a society to protect vulnerable women and girls. 

“The launch of this guidance is a much needed step to tackle abuse including FGM, breast-ironing and other child abuse linked to faith and belief. But guidance is no good if it’s not implemented. In order to end FGM by 2030, we need a multi-agency response and we must work together to bring an end to this hidden crime.”

The Guidance for Schools document also contains the ‘Schools Charter on Ending Harmful Practices’. Developed by the London Harmful Practices Working Group, it seeks to encourage the delivery of high quality, safeguarding focused inputs on harmful practices across all schools and colleges. This is to promote a preventative approach to tackling these sensitive issues and inspire collaboration between stakeholders in education, police and third sector organisations. It is a tangible charter that all educational establishments can sign up to and outlines the key principles that should be covered by inputs delivered in schools and also the protocols and processes that those delivering inputs in schools should follow if disclosures are made during sessions.

Polly Harrar, from The Sharan Project who has led this collaborative work, said: "We are delighted to be launching the Schools Charter along-side the Guidance. We know that sexual violence and exploitation is an increasing risk for young people and whilst some harmful practices are specific to women and girls such as FGM and breast flattening, other harmful practices such as forced marriage and honour based abuse can affect men, women, boys and girls. Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility and we hope that through the Charter, schools will be able to pledge a zero tolerance approach to harmful practices, ensure the principles are applied as part of training and external inputs and to better raise awareness of these often hidden forms of abuse."

From September 2020, Relationships Education for all primary pupils, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for all secondary pupils, and Health Education for all pupils will be compulsory. 

Extensive consultation has taken place over a number of years with the public and voluntary sector to develop this document and best practice from around the country has been incorporated.

Although pursuing an alleged offender through a criminal justice route may not always be in a child’s interests, recording the alleged or suspected crime is essential for the purposes of accountability and for planning appropriate responses. Pursuing evidence either to confirm or to discount an allegation is particularly important for identifying from whom, and in what way, a child might need to be protected in the future. Only the police can undertake this task.

This guidance is not intended to replace existing policies or procedures, which are the statutory safeguarding guidance to which all schools and colleges in England must have regard. It has been written following consultation to address a gap that exists in relation to schools and colleges’ awareness of police support available for specific safeguarding matters and how best to deal with them. 

To view a copy of the guidance visit the website