‘Safeguarding comes up a lot with the PTA,’ says Jo O’Donoghue, headteacher and designated safeguarding lead (DSL) at South Malling C of E Primary and Nursery School in Lewes, East Sussex. ‘Safeguarding’s so huge. We’re not just talking about protecting children on a risk register; we’re talking about first aid, premises, health and safety, and many more specific issues.’
Work with the school
Schools’ safeguarding policies are derived from a government document called Keeping Children Safe In Education, which is updated annually and fed through local authorities to schools. ‘Each school takes the model policy and contextualises it,’ says Jo.
With safeguarding being particularly complex where events are concerned, some PTAs may feel they should develop their own safeguarding policy, but Jo has concerns about how the PTA might align it with the school’s policy.
Annie Schulte, South Malling deputy head, inclusion manager, deputy DSL and leader of e-safety, says: ‘It might be worth PTAs looking through Keeping Children Safe In Education to see what gaps there are from a PTA's point of view.’
There are some tricky areas in events management, particularly who is responsible for what. Jo and Annie agree that first aid, risk assessments and security are often discussed but identify many other areas of safeguarding that PTAs may need to clarify. ‘When we hold a disco, will the children be allowed to go out onto the field at night? Who is going to supervise them? Can children come to an event by themselves? Who’s on the gate, and how do they screen for strangers? What if there’s a domestic dispute on the grounds – who is managing that?’ says Jo. ‘Are people running an event trained to look for signs of discomfort among the children?’ asks Annie.
Keeping children safe
There’s also the question of DBS checks. Anyone who comes into the school to work must have a DBS, but what about those working at events? Parents bringing children to an event are responsible for them, but there can still be grey areas. Jo says: ‘Our school had a storytelling tent at the summer fair. Straight away, I thought: who are the storytellers? We would expect these third parties to have a DBS check because the children are on their own with them in a tent. And when the PTA booked a Viking re-enactment group for this year’s fair, my questions as a safeguarding lead were, have they got public liability insurance, what’s their safeguarding policy, what’s their risk assessment? Because they’re going to be running around with axes and shields. But if you’re selling cakes at an open stand, with everybody around you, we wouldn’t expect a DBS for that.’
A shared policy
Jo is also conscious that the school ‘might seem like the voice of restriction’ when voicing concerns over some PTA suggestions: ‘Which isn’t what we want to be.’ The solution? Good communication. A discussion around safeguarding should be factored into planning meetings between the school and PTA. It should also be a fixed part of the AGM agenda, so any policy revisions can be hammered out.
That way, the school safeguarding policy can incorporate additional revisions and contextualisation to cover elements that are more specific to PTA activities than the day-to-day running of the school. It also means that if the PTA is faced with a situation where an independent body, such as a potential grant funder, wants to see the safeguarding policy, it’s readily available. A shared policy will avoid confusion over the roles of school and PTA and give clarity on how to handle unique elements – such as fearsome Vikings.