5 min readThe importance of dealing with low level concernsposted about 1 month ago

 

The statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023 (KCSIE) sets out information for schools and colleges in England of how to deal with low-level concerns regarding teachers and other staff, volunteers, and contractors. Low-level concerns should also be considered in all industries where staff come into contact with children or vulnerable adults.

 

What are low level concerns?

A low-level concern is any concern that an adult has acted in a way that:

·       Is inconsistent with the staff code of conduct, including inappropriate conduct outside of work.

·       Does not meet the threshold of harm or is not considered serious enough for the school or college to refer to the local authority (a referral to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).

Low-level concerns include a spectrum of behaviours that could be:

·       Intentionally designed to facilitate abuse or;

·       Unintentional, inadvertent, or thoughtless.

Examples may include:

·       Having favourites.

·       Singling out a child or young person to spend time alone or within a secluded area.

·       Taking photographs of children or young people.

·       Using inappropriate touch or sexualised/offensive language.

 

What is the importance of managing low-level concerns?

The early identification and management of low-level concerns is critical to effective safeguarding and for creating a positive and safe environment for pupils. It contributes to the overall well-being of all stakeholders within the organisation. In order for a culture of safety to exist it is essential to have policies and systems that manage and record low-level concerns. Pupils and staff should feel safe to learn and work and additionally speak up and know that their concerns will be taken seriously. When we consistently manage low-level concerns it not only contributes to a positive culture but also teachers and staff members are more likely to feel supported and motivated in an environment where minor issues are addressed promptly. Staff will also feel protected against potential misunderstandings or false accusations.

It is fundamental that we are able to clearly see all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and to also deal with concerns at the earliest opportunity so they either do not escape our attention, escalate, or cause significant harm. These protocols will help to prevent the development of serious code of conduct breaches or behavioural issues that can escalate to abuse or risks for pupils and other colleagues.

There has to be a full accountability for both the organisation and the staff to be able to show accountability for their actions but to also notice and share concerns about others.

 

What are the risks that come with not managing low level concerns effectively?

The William Vahey case review:

This serious case review was commissioned on behalf of the Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, following the reported sexual abuse of at least 54 pupils at an independent international day school in London.

William Vahey (and American citizen) was a teacher at Southbank International School London and his offences were committed both in the UK and on school trips abroad over a period of 4 years.

The review found that “whilst aspects of Vahey’s behaviour could have alerted senior staff at the school to the possibility that he was sexually abusing pupils, at no point was this given any formal consideration.”

The report states that “A USB stick owned by Vahey was found to have multiple images of the abuse of school aged children. During subsequent FBI investigations he admitted the abuse but before any further inquiries could take place, he took his own life. The abuse of children at Southbank School was discovered following analysis of the USB stick.”

Vahey’s child sexual abuse convictions were not picked up, his wife was also highly influential in the international school community, and recruitment processes were and still remain less formal within international schools.

Some of the low-level concerns regarding Vahey that were highlighted in the report were:

·       His presentation of an unconventional teaching style.

·       His insistence that he care for ill pupils and administrating drugs with no medical records.

·       Having pupils alone in his room.

·       His inappropriate boundaries to watching boys in the shower.

·       Singling out vulnerable or popular and influential pupils.

·       His power of creating a feeling that pupils were special and ‘chosen to go on a trip.’

The review states that “some teaching staff raised concerns regarding his behaviour with each other and less frequently spoke to staff who had safeguarding responsibilities. None of these concerns led to any formal safeguarding enquiries. There was only one occasion when any parents raised a concern about his behaviour but when Vahey apologised the complaint was dropped.” There were no formal complaints made by pupils, although some pupils did use language that insinuated, he may be a sex offender.

 

Practical Guidance for organisations

·       Ensure all parties understand what a low-level concern is and what it means to build a culture of safety.

·       Share lessons learnt and implement this in high quality training and induction processes.

·       Share codes of conducts and behaviour policies widely.

·       Fully understand why low-level concerns are important and how to report concerns.

·       Ensure there is both a policy and a procedure for reporting that is fully understood.

·       Ensure there is a tracker/system to document low-level- concerns so that they are regularly monitored, understood, and dealt with in line with additional safeguarding and HR procedures.

·       Ensure HR and Safeguarding are working together to understand risks and safer recruitment processes consider low-level concerns as a serious matter.

 

 

Additional Information and reading

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/64f0a68ea78c5f000dc6f3b2/Keeping_children_safe_in_education_2023.pdf

Implementing a low-level concerns policy

https://www.farrer.co.uk/globalassets/clients-and-sectors/safeguarding/developing-and-implementing-a-low-level-concerns-policy.pdf

The South Bank Serious Case Review

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/pdf/Southbank%20SCR%20REPORT%2012%201%2016.pdf

Share this post
Rachael Bishop

Rachael Bishop

Rachael has over 18 years of experience, paired with an extensive training record within the safeguarding field.