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Key safeguarding concerns for schools

The global education company Tes – which provides support to teachers and schools worldwide – recently issued a report highlighting the key safeguarding concerns for schools now. Lauranne Nolan, Associate and Safeguarding Lead in the specialist abuse team at Keoghs, considers a number of these concerns in more detail below. First, it is useful to understand what is meant by safeguarding, child protection and a safeguarding allegation.

What is safeguarding? 

This is providing a safe and welcoming environment where all children, young people and adults are respected and valued, where everyone is alert to the signs of abuse and neglect and follows procedures to ensure that children, young people and adults receive effective support, protection and justice. It requires education and training to recognise the signs and dangers of abuse in order to prevent and protect those at risk.

What is child protection? 

Child protection is the activity of recognising abuse and acting on it to protect children from harm and enable them to have the best outcomes, regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

What is a safeguarding allegation?

This may relate to any member of staff or volunteer who works or engages in activity with children who has: 

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed, or may harm a child
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against a child or related to a child
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children
  • Behaved, or may have behaved in a way that indicates that they may not be suitable to work with children 

The key safeguarding concerns for schools right now

As there can be countless opportunities for perpetrators to come into contact with children and young people, it is crucial that staff are up to date with the latest issues.


1.     Child sexual abuse material (CSAM)

Children and young people have been brought up with the internet – while there are many positives to this such as enabling children and young people to socialise, learn and experience many things in a variety of different ways, the concern is that children are spending more time in the digital world than ever before, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, CSAM is now commonplace on mainstream social media and online gaming platforms. One of the main risks identified is that of ‘self-generated’ content with the number of confirmed URLs containing images or videos of such material rising from 38,424 confirmed cases in 2019 to 199,363 in 2022. Self-generated content includes images or videos featuring children under the age of 18 that are subsequently shared online. Some images will be produced to share with a sexual or romantic partner, though many are obtained through coercive measures or grooming without the abuser present in the room and have then been put online. These images are most often taken at home, in a child’s bedroom or a bathroom. As a result, everyone working with children and young people needs to be:

  • Aware of risks online
  • Have appropriate online safety training
  • Make sure that any technology used within the organisation is used appropriately
  • Ensure children have appropriate routes to support and reporting

2.     Child-on-child sexual violence and harassment

Over recent years, concerns have been growing about sexual violence and harassment between children. Due to the diverse nature of child-on-child abuse, the number of children affected is difficult to estimate. All reports and concerns must be taken seriously as downplaying these incidents could foster an environment in which children won’t feel safe or comfortable enough to report abuse. It is suggested that schools should promote and support a whole school ethos to help prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence.

3.     Extremism and radicalisation

Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation. Adolescence is a time of huge turmoil, during which people constantly re-evaluate their beliefs. This period of self-exploration means that for some young people, extreme groups and worldviews can be appealing. What may begin as genuine curiosity may lead to a process of radicalisation.

To tackle radicalisation and extremism schools and colleges should:
Assess the risk of children and young people being drawn into radicalisation, including support for extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology.

  • Ensure children are safe from extremist material when accessing the internet in school by having clear IT policies in place and a suitable filtering system
  • Integrate internet safety into the curriculum
  • Encourage and promote positive values and community cohesion
  • Provide information on the support available to staff, pupils and parents

4.     Domestic abuse

This is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. Witnessing domestic violence can have a profound direct and/or indirect impact on children and young people. Recent research has shown that children and young people are not only impacted negatively
by witnessing violence but are also harmed by coercive and controlling behaviour even when
physical violence is not present. School staff need to be aware that some children could be experiencing these issues that may impact their school life.

5.     Mental health

It is important to realise that everyone has mental health needs – having positive mental health is a fundamental component of overall good health. The most important thing when trying to spot if a child or young person is experiencing a problem is to have someone in school who knows them well. The Government recommends that all schools and colleges should have a designated senior mental health lead by the end of 2023.

In order to be able to identify a child’s needs, all staff should be given training on the most common issues and the potential warning signs such as:

  • Change in behaviour from what is normal for that particular young person
  • Absence from school or sickness
  • Becoming socially isolated and/or withdrawing
  • Erratic behaviour or mood swings
  • Risk-taking behaviour
  • Anger and aggression
  • Not being able to concentrate and seeming distracted
  • Avoiding friends and activities they used to enjoy
  • Seeming jumpy or nervous for no obvious reasons
  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Being tired in school
  • Changes in appetite


The above highlights some of the key concerns for schools to be aware of at this time. However, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and, in order for it to be effective, every organisation must take part. It is important that members of staff not only know about safeguarding concerns but should have a clear understanding of the reporting procedures. If there are legitimate safeguarding concerns about a child, then data protection laws allow for the recording, sharing and retaining of even the most sensitive personal data, as necessary.


Author: Lauranne Nolan – Associate & Safeguarding lead