Image of How to conduct a safeguarding audit in schools and education settings

How to conduct a safeguarding audit in schools and education settings

In this blog, Rachael Bishop, safeguarding consultant and Managing Director of RLB Safeguarding, provides a comprehensive guide to planning, executing, and evaluating safeguarding audits in education settings, and addressing specific needs and compliance issues in UK schools.

The importance of safeguarding audits in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students:

  • Compliance

Failure to comply with Ofsted and DfE requirements can have a significant negative impact on your school, staff, stakeholders, and students. Compliance allows us to identify current and potential risks that we can act upon to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all and, of course, to meet legal requirements and avoid penalties or reputational consequences. A safeguarding audit can improve culture, arrangements, and compliance across the school. 

  • A duty of care

Audit processes can also support a school to fully understand how their duty of care exists and operates, helping to identify gaps, challenges, strengths, and opportunities. If we are not reviewing or stress testing our safeguarding arrangements, then how will we know they are effective?

  • Stakeholder safety and confidence
  • Audits and improvement plans can help to build further trust for parents, carers, students, colleagues, and other school stakeholders, reinforcing that compliance and a duty of care are effectively implemented throughout the school. Audits demonstrate that you treat safeguarding extremely seriously and are actively working to support anyone who may be at risk. 

    • Improvement and planning

    By implementing an audit cycle, your leaders and school will have further opportunity to enhance safeguarding effectiveness, identify what is best practice, celebrate strengths, and make any necessary improvements to ensure the safety and wellbeing of any stakeholders who are associated with your school.

    The key components of conducting a safeguarding audit in schools include a review of:

    1. policies and procedures, including response and reporting procedures for safeguarding
    2. governance and leadership accountability structures and oversight
    3. stakeholder training/CPD and awareness
    4. recruitment processes and dealing with staff concerns
    5. school site safety and emergency procedures
    6.  the curriculum and education
    7. student and stakeholder support, wellbeing, and safeguarding interventions, including early help
    8. parental and other stakeholder engagement, including partnership working 
    9. staff allegations management and processes
    10. specific safeguarding issues and types of abuse
    11. online safety arrangements, data protection, and privacy to ensure compliance
    12. support for staff and colleague wellbeing

    Legislation and guidelines for safeguarding in UK schools:

    The Prevent Duty Guidance- updated 2023. Statutory guidance on Prevent risk assessments, understanding local risks, and preventing students that be may susceptible to radicalisation from being exposed to extremist views and being drawn into terrorism.

    Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023. Statutory guidance on a whole-organisation culture of safety that supports students, their wellbeing, and their safety.

    Children Missing Education 2016. Statutory guidance relating to students who go missing from education, including attendance measures and support.

    Meeting Digital and Technology Standards in Schools and Colleges- Filtering and Monitoring Standards for Schools and Colleges. Standards for online safety measures, including filtering and monitoring.

    Section 175. Legal requirement for governing bodies “to make arrangements for ensuring that their functions relating to the conduct of the school are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children who are pupils at the school”.

    Preparing for a Safeguarding Audit

    It is important to ensure that everyone is on board when the audit takes place. An audit will always involve planning, assessing, reviewing documentation, and then evidencing current compliance and areas for improvement. Ensure stakeholders understand specific standards and regulations with regards to safeguarding within the school. This should include legal obligations, education best practices, and relevant guidance such as Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023. This process will also involve determining who needs to be involved in the audit process such as audit leads, the senior leadership team, school governors, staff, volunteers, students, parents and carers, and any additional stakeholders.

    Conducting the Safeguarding Audit Process

    1. Policy and procedures review
    2. One of the initial phases will include a full review of safeguarding policies, procedures, and practices, ensuring that they are up to date, comprehensive, and aligned with the latest standards and regulations for the school.

    3. Risk assessment reviews
    4. A deep dive into current potential risks and risk assessments that are in place to mitigate or prevent harm.

    5. Ensuring engagement and activities are documented
    6. All information should be recorded.

    7. Using a transparent and collaborative approach
    8. It is fundamental to be both transparent and cooperative with staff, and for stakeholders to trust in the audit lead. Stakeholders should be provided with all necessary information and support to facilitate a thorough and efficient evaluation.

    9. Documentation
    10. A comprehensive audit tool should be used, and a recommendations report and action plan completed.

    11. Follow up and feedback
    12. When the audit is complete and the findings have been reviewed, it is important to feedback necessary information to stakeholders. This is crucial in order to maintain a ‘working together’ approach, and then to collaborate in taking appropriate actions to address any areas requiring improvement and implement any necessary corrective measures.

    Analysing and reporting audit findings:

    1. Organise information and findings
    2. Use a structured format linked to the key components of safeguarding assessed during the audit.

    3. Review current compliance
    4. Use a RAG-rated approach to look at areas of high risk, medium risk, and low risk. Consider factors such as the potential impact on students or staff, likelihood of recurrence, and regulatory implications. Always think evidence and impact. 

    5. Identify strengths and areas for improvement/areas of concern
    6. Highlight key strengths and challenges observed during the audit process.

    7. Conduct root cause analysis
    8. Identify underlying factors contributing to any deficiencies or concerns in safeguarding practices. This involves assessing the reasons behind the identified issues, such as inadequate training, lack of resources, or systemic barriers.

    Implementing recommendations and continuous improvement

    When you have completed your analysis of the audit findings, is it important to write a report of actionable recommendations to address identified challenges and areas of risk, and a plan for improving and enhancing safeguarding practices. Ensure that recommendations are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound (the SMART model).

    Recommendations will need to be in line with the identified level of risk, the severity of findings, and practicality of implementation and embedding. There will need to be a continuous focus on addressing critical issues that pose the greatest risk to the safety and wellbeing of stakeholders within the school.

    Develop a comprehensive action plan for implementing the recommended improvements, including who is responsible for what, timelines for completion or aspiration, and any resource requirements or barriers. The action plan must be realistic and aligned with the school’s goals and priorities and safeguarding strategy, if you have one.

    The auditor will need to produce a comprehensive audit report summarising key findings, analysis, and recommendations that will align with the action plan. It is important to effectively communicate the findings to key stakeholders, including senior management, governing bodies, staff, and external partners, as appropriate.

    Establish mechanisms for monitoring progress via the action plan implementation.

    It is essential to review and update safeguarding practices as part of a regular cycle to ensure ongoing compliance and continuous improvement, to document lessons learned from the audit process, including successes, challenges, and best practices. This information can be used to inform future safeguarding efforts, and enhance the effectiveness of future audits and overall achievement of a whole-school culture of safety.

    Summary and key takeaways

    1. Be prepared 
    2. Engage stakeholders
    3. Work together
    4. Think evidence and impact
    5. Review the findings 
    6. Implement an action plan
    7. Monitor progress
    8. Implement a review cycle

    It may be beneficial to seek the support of an external auditor or consultant to facilitate the audit process and benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. You will also need a safeguarding audit tool that is relevant and bespoke to your organisation to ensure maximum effectiveness. Ensure that you have spoken to your partners and relevant local authority, as you may be required to complete a specific template.

    The National College offers broad-ranging resources to help your school or education setting ensure compliance with statutory safeguarding guidance: safeguarding courses for specific roles; webinars to help you implement statutory guidance and recognise and respond to safeguarding concerns; and world-leading online safety resources.

    If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.

    Resource links