The subject of this week’s lecture was one of great importance within the profession of teaching. Providing for children academically is just one aspect of teaching. We must also provide for the safeguarding and wellbeing of children, because emotional and social development is just as important as academic development, and some might even argue more so.
Policies and practices are continually being put in place to provide guidelines for effective action, with different organisations coming together to provide specialist support for children in need. Safeguarding children is something that is everyone’s responsibility, particularly professionals like teachers. This responsibility is not restricted to the classroom. Teachers should also attempt to safeguard children in the wider community, by educating them in the risks and by being observant and willing to listen.
An example of safeguarding children in the wider community is to educate them on the importance of e-safety. Schools have filter systems on their networks to try to avoid children encountering inappropriate content online. Blocking certain sites to protect children whilst they are on the school computers is an important and necessary tool, but what about when they are not in school? Who blocks sites when they are at home, on their iPads, etc.? What the lecture and Allen et al. (2012, p.216) taught me was that it is important to educate children in the dangers or inappropriate content online so that they can make informed decisions about their actions on the internet, and for them to recognise and feel they can report an inappropriate site themselves. As Byron (2008, p.2 in Allen et al. 2012) said, “children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe.”
With regards to safeguarding in teaching, McPherson (2011) identifies three dimensions to be considered: emotional, legal and professional.
The emotional dimension refers to the emotional climate the teacher creates in their classroom. Teachers, in their own classrooms, have the opportunity to create an atmosphere in which their pupils may feel comfortable and secure, and in which they and their pupils can develop close relationships. In such a situation a child may feel the teacher values them and what they have to say, and so they may tell the teacher if something is wrong. The most important thing is that the teacher is committed to being available to a child in need.
The emotional dimension also refers to how we deal emotionally with a child’s situation. There are a whole range of emotions we may feel if a child is being mistreated in some way, from feeling upset and overwhelmed to feeling frustration and anger. There is a fear of not dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner, or even not knowing what to do. It is suggested that the teacher should always work with and get support from colleagues in such a situation (McPherson 2011).
The teacher should also always follow the schools policies with regards to safeguarding, and this leads us into the legal dimension. Teachers need to be aware of their schools’ safeguarding and child protection policies, as well as general government policies, such as the Children’s Acts. As well as being aware of policies the teacher has the obligation to notice when something might be wrong, to record such instances, noting and dating what is said, heard and/or read, and to report it to the designated teacher for safeguarding in the the school (McPherson 2011, p.139).
The legal dimension is a complicated one, however, because there is often such a fine line between what is okay and what is not. One aspect that is particularly controversial is that of physical contact with a child. It goes without saying that a child should never be touched in a sexual way, but people judge what is inappropriate in so many different ways that it is hard for one to know if they have stepped out of line. There is no escaping the fact that a child will try to hold a teacher’s hand or give their teacher a hug. What do you do in this situation? Some schools do not allow such contact, not even allowing a teacher to touch a child when they fall over. Other schools are not so strict. It seems so emotionless and inhuman to deny a child any form of affection or comfort. Surely it would be damaging to a child’s wellbeing to pull away from a child who tries to hug you or not to comfort them when they are hurt? McPherson’s (2011) advice is to just think carefully about the context, whether you are alone with a child or who is initiating contact.
Finally, the professional dimension refers to the relevance of safeguarding in terms of the Teacher’s Standards. It also refers to treating all children equally and not having obvious favourites, which is not always so straightforward. A teacher may not always want to have a certain child in their class, but this should never be made apparent because the child could internalise this and it could be detrimental to their wellbeing.
I leave you with a quote that I think is very important in showing the need for teachers to take safeguarding seriously as part of their job, since a teacher is the one adult in particular who a child can form a close relationship with, aside from in their home life :
“Every child should be safe. Sadly, not every child is. Shockingly, some children are at risk of harm from the very people they should be able to rely on for love and care. We all have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect those vulnerable children.”
(DFeS, 2009 in McPherson 2011, p.135)
Allen et al. 2012. “E-Safety” in Primary ICT: Knowledge, Understanding
and Practice (5th Edition), London: Sage
McPherson, P. 2011. “Safeguarding Children” in Primary Professional Studies.
Hansen, A. (Ed.). Learning Matters Ltd: Exeter.