Keeping children safe in education: updated statutory guidance

22nd July 2021

The Department for Education has recently published updated statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment.

Keeping children safe in education 2021, which comes into force on 1 September 2021[1], covers schools, including maintained nursery schools and college settings and extends to UK Government funded post 16 Education in England, namely; 16-19 academies, special post-16 institutions and independent training providers.

The new statutory guidance split into five key parts, with seven annexes:

  1. Safeguarding information for all staff;
  2. The management of safeguarding;
  3. Safer recruitment;
  4. Allegations made against/concerns in relation to teachers; and
  5. Child on child sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Below is a high level summary of the key changes which have been driven by a combination of legislative change, COVID-19 and Ofsted’s Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges.

Part One: Safeguarding information for all staff

Part One of the guidance remains as the main section that all staff are required to read and understand, with responsibility on governing bodies and proprietors to ensure this understanding. This part recognises that the role of school and college staff is to promote child welfare, as well as ensuring compliance with policies on dealing with peer-on-peer abuse, bullying and cyberbullying.

Among the amendments to this section, child mental health is recognised as an area of vulnerability, as well as extra-familial harm. Staff should know how to manage a situation where a child discloses abuse, neglect or exploitation. The definition of sexual abuse updated, to remove references to “high levels of violence”.

Part Two: The Management of Safeguarding

Part Two of the guidance provides that governing bodies and proprietors should have a strategic leadership responsibility for their school or college’s safeguarding arrangements, and that they must ensure that they comply with their duties under legislation. A new section on ‘Whole school and college approach to safeguarding’ is added to make the importance of safeguarding clear.

Where there are safeguarding concerns, governing bodies and school leaders should ensure that the child’s wishes and feelings are taken into account, and systems should be well promoted, easily understood and accessible for children to confidently report abuse. Detail around what should be in child protection policies has been enhanced, with such policies to be provided to all staff members upon induction.

Training is recognised as vital, with a duty upon governing bodies and proprietors to ensure that all staff undergo safeguarding and child protection training, as well as providing staff with regular child protection updates.

With an increase in the amount of children having unlimited and unrestricted access to the internet, a new section covers online safety, remote learning, filters and monitoring, information security, cyber crime, reviewing online safety provision and information and support.

New paragraphs are added to reflect elective home education and additional information is included about the Department for Education’s programme to help schools with preventing and tackling bullying, mental health and behaviour in schools.

Part Three: Safer Recruitment

Part Three has been rewritten to provide clarity on safeguarding at each step of the recruitment process, including an additional section on ongoing safeguarding and legal reporting duties. Information is added about the Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Act 2021 which extends safeguarding provisions to post-16 education.

Part Four: Allegations and Safeguarding Concerns

Part Four has been restructured and separated into two sections – the first section for allegations that may meet the harms threshold, and the second section for allegations/concerns that do not meet the harms threshold i.e. low level concerns.

Further guidance has been provided to explain what a low level concern is, as well as advice over the need to record and share information with relevant parties, including whether such information should be included in references.

Part Five: Child on Child Sexual Violence

Amendments are made to reflect Ofsted’s Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges.

The guidance reflects that sexual abuse can be hidden and unreported, stresses the need for a ‘it could happen here’ approach, and reinforces the need for all reports of sexual abuse to be taken seriously. There is a new section on how to deal with unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious reports.

The approach that schools/colleges take to reports of sexual abuse is also considered, including ‘after the incident’ and the potential physical and mental health implications that victims of sexual assault may face. Further information is included on harmful sexual behaviour, and how to signpost victims to sources of support.


[1]  Until this date, schools and colleges must continue to have regard to the existing ‘Keeping children safe in education 2020’ and the ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’ 2018 guidance.

A – Safeguarding information for school and college staff – which condenses Part One has been updated. Annex A can be provided (instead of Part One) to those staff who do not directly work with children, if the governing body or proprietor think it will provide a better basis for those staff to promote the welfare and safeguard children.

B – further information – also now covers abduction and cybercrime as well as including additional information in relation to criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery and the National Referral Mechanism, county lines, peer-on-peer abuse and preventing radicalisation.

C – Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) – Information added about keeping and storing records, where a concern about a child has been identified.

D – online safety – added and updated links to further guidance.

Annex G – table of substantive changes from September 2021 – a detailed list of where and what has changed.

No substantive changes are noted to Annex E – Host families – homestay during exchange visits or Annex F – statutory guidance – Regulated activity.

If you need any safeguarding advice, policy reviews or have training needs in relation to any of the aspects discussed above, get in touch with Partner Eve Piffaretti.

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