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How to handle a school safeguarding issue with an employee

It’s one of the issues that most Headteachers dread and hope will never happen: you’re made aware of a potential safeguarding issue which involves a member of staff.

This can cover a multitude of scenarios: a complaint from a parent that a staff member is having inappropriate contact with a pupil via social media; pornographic material being stored on a work computer; overly familiar, sexualised conversations between a member of staff and a pupil; the list goes on.

Headteachers will be familiar with their school’s safeguarding policy but what should they do from an HR perspective once they become aware of a potential allegation.

Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do in the vast majority of school safeguarding cases.

You shouldn’t inform of the subject of the allegation that a complaint has been made against them. Depending on the nature of the allegation, it could result in a Police investigation taking place. Any advance notification of wrongdoing could “tip off” the individual and potentially allow them to take steps to cover their tracks.

At this stage you shouldn’t invoke your disciplinary process. For the above reason, you shouldn’t suspend the subject of the allegation(s) or commence a disciplinary investigation.

What you should do

In most cases, the appropriate step would be to contact the Local Authority’s Designated Officer responsible for dealing with Safeguarding issues. They will be able to advise firstly whether the issue is a Safeguarding matter in the first place and whether you can invoke your Disciplinary Policy.

The Designated Officer will link up with other agencies such as the Police and Social Services to help devise a co-ordinated action plan. As part of this process it is usual for the Headteacher to be invited to a “Strategy Meeting” to provide input into this plan.

Assuming the Designated Officer gives the okay for the Disciplinary Policy to commence then you may want to consider whether there are any immediate additional next steps to be actioned.   Each case will be different but if it involves work related IT equipment, you should consider whether it is appropriate to immediately suspend the individual’s account details so that they cannot tamper with any evidence once they become aware of the allegations that have been made. You may also want to utilise the services of an IT audit service so that any relevant evidence can be extracted as part of your investigation.

It’s also important to provide support to the employee who has been accused of the safeguarding concerns. If you subscribe to an Employee Assistance Programme then you should provide them with the details of this service. You should also appoint a senior member of the staff to keep in touch with the individual, making it clear they will not be able to discuss anything associated with the allegations.

Hopefully, you will never have to deal with this type of scenario but if you ever need support please do contact me on 01884 841 539.