KCSIE 2021: What you need to know and possible actions for schools

Updated: Jul 30


Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2021 was released on 6th July. It is a weighty tone (168 pages). Not surprisingly, there are significant changes related to sexual abuse in schools and peer on peer abuse. But this document has a wider focus and we should not let the headlines distract us from the breath or number of changes included. Taken together these give the whole document a more child centred focus and feel. The changes include:


Structural changes.

KCSIE has retained its five part structure, with a number of annexes, but with significant alterations to that structure.

· Part Three on Safer Recruitment is now subdivided into four parts. It walks staff through the recruitment process in chronological order identifying the actions and checks needed at each stage.

· Part Four on allegations/concerns raised in relation to adults is now divided into two distinct, but interrelated subsections:

o Section One: Allegations that may meet the harms threshold

o Section Two: Concerns that do not meet the harms threshold

· The number of annexes has changed.

o Annexe A is a new condensed version of Part 1 that can be read, in place of the full version, by staff who do not work directly with children, if the Governors or proprietor think it will provide an appropriate basis for those staff to promote welfare and safeguard children.

I feel that this should only be used with a very few staff and be an exception for individuals, not something offered as a blanket option to particular parts of the school workforce. Remember that there are translations of KCSIE available in a variety of languages from the National Grid for Learning.

o Much of the previous Annexe D on Boarding and residential schools and settings has been moved into Part Two and the previous Annexe G on DBS checks has been incorporated into Part Three.

o Annexe D on Online Safety is now just a list of resources, the main content has been absorbed into Part Two.


Key Themes

There are a number of key themes that run through the whole document


The importance of a whole school safeguarding culture

The importance of a ‘whole school safeguarding culture’ is a repeated refrain running through the document. Starting at the beginning of the document where it states that it is for senior leadership teams, not just the DSL. The inclusion in Part Two on the management of safeguarding of areas (e.g. online safety) that were previously in Annexes gives them increased focus and makes the responsibility of the school governors and senior leaders for them clear.


The guidance states Governors have a strategic responsibility for safeguarding arrangements (para 78), linked where appropriate with their duties under the charity commission. This is reinforced by the changed emphasis in Part Three where safeguarding checks are seen as part of a wider safeguarding regime going beyond the recruitment process and DBS checks and including ongoing vigilance and employers’ legal reporting duties. While Headteachers must ensure that policies and procedures adopted by the governors, particularly concerning referrals of cases of suspected abuse and neglect, are understood and followed by all staff (para 81).


It is made clear all children should be taught about safeguarding and that staff training, including online safety. This should be part of a whole school safeguarding approach and linked with wider training and curriculum planning. It needs to be an integral part of the whole school ethos and culture and not a bolt on.


There is an explicit link to the teacher standards (para 118) linking safeguarding and behaviour. This sets out the expectation ‘that all teachers manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe educational environment and requires teachers to have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils.’ (para 118). I hope that this statement is understood to mean that the behaviour policy needs to meet all children’s needs and is not used to justify the exclusion of those pupils who struggle to conform with the school’s behaviour expectations. Particularly given that Paragraph 119 continues that teaching about safeguarding cannot be a one size fits all approach and there will need to be a more personalised and contextualised approach for more vulnerable children, victims of abuse and SEND children, including for the delivery of the now fully statutory RSE curriculum.


Within this whole school culture, there is an increasing understanding of adult and child behaviour as part of a continuum. Part five on sexual violence and harassment between children is clear there a need to develop a proactive culture where inappropriate behaviours are addressed. These behaviours need to be picked before they develop and become more problematic or normalised, creating a hostile environment where abuse is seen as acceptable. In many ways, this is reflected in Part Four: Section 2 looking at concerns about adult behaviour that does not meet the harms threshold. Both are a recognition that to develop and maintain a safeguarding culture it is vital that concerns, including low level concerns and inappropriate behaviour, are taken seriously and responded to. Further there is ‘a recognition that even if there are no reported cases of peer on peer abuse, such abuse may still be taking place and is simply not being reported’ (para 145)


There is a repetition of the concept of ‘a zero tolerance approach’ to sexual violence and harassment between children. While this is important for the creation of a safeguarding culture, we need to be aware of the evidence from the OFSTED review into sexual abuse in schools that this may inhibit children reporting abuse. The review was clear that children may not report abuse because they fear disproportionate or misdirected responses, they don’t want to get peers in trouble and fear the social consequences for themselves if they report. This will need careful handling to be effective. There is a risk of it leading to a culture of exclusion, rather than investigation and support, in response to incidents between children, pushing abuse further underground and reducing access to support for both victims and perpetrators.


There is a new focus throughout the document on learning lessons from incidents to improve and develop practice, including the recognition that both the policy (para 85) and staff training (para 14) should be updated as issues emerge and evolve, to lay a clear foundation for ongoing evaluation of school culture. A commitment to taking concerns seriously and responding proactively is seen as key for tackling the issue of sexual abuse in schools, but applies to all areas of safeguarding.


Linkage of on and offline worlds

Throughout the document, there is a clear linking of on and offline safety and safeguarding. This is demonstrated by the embedding of the majority of the online safety information in Part Two. Annexe D is now little more than a list of resources. Advice for remote learning remains within the document (para 127). There is no Covid annexe. This is now seen as part of the wider management of safeguarding.


There is a concern that the government view is that online safety is an issue of management and control, as witnessed by the recent pronouncements about mobile phones, with less of an emphasis on teaching and developing understanding. We are told that ‘schools should have a clear policy on the use of mobile and smart technology… some children, whilst at school or college, sexually harass their peers via their mobile and smart technology, share indecent images: consensually and non-consensually (often via large chat groups), and view and share pornography and other harmful content….Schools and colleges should carefully consider how this is managed on their premises and reflect in their mobile and smart technology policy and their child protection policy.’ (para 126)


At the same time the risks associated with exploitation, radicalisation and cybercrime are made clear. Links are embedded throughout the document to a variety of UKCIS guidance, including their new guidance on the sharing of nude and semi-nude images. This new language replaces sexting or youth produced imagery throughout the guidance and needs to be reflected in school practice and policies. Cybercrime is included in Annexe B for the first time.


Issues of sexual abuse, violence and harassment between children

This is a much clearer thread going through the whole guidance as well as being the focus of the substantially re-written Part Five and a further summary in Annexe B on Further information. This links both the whole school safeguarding culture and interactions in the on and offline worlds for children. It is clear that KCSIE should be read alongside the updated guidance on Sexual violence and Harassment between Children.

Paragraph 13 explicitly states that the child protection policy should include policies and procedures about peer on peer abuse. Further, the behaviour policy should include measures to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying, prejudice based bullying and discriminatory bullying.


The advice on peer on peer abuse is much more detailed and clearer than in previous versions of KCSIE. It gives increased clarity on working with other agencies, particularly the police. Even so there remain a number of ‘grey’ areas where schools will be faced with decisions that staff do not feel confident to handle.


The guidance reflects OFSTED’s view that peer on peer abuse and sexual violence and harassment between children is likely to be happening, even if there are no reports. Therefore, it is vital that schools have a ‘it could happen here’ attitude. Schools need to act in cases of abuse occurring in and out of school. It is reinforced that sexual violence and harassment can occur with any age and with groups and individuals.


Early addressing of inappropriate behaviour is seen as an important part of prevention. Paragraph 436 emphasises that ‘Schools and colleges not recognising, acknowledging or understanding the scale of harassment and abuse and/or downplaying some behaviours related to abuse can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviour, an unsafe environment and in worst case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it.’


The definition of peer on peer abuse is extended to include abuse in intimate relationships, forced engagement in sexual activity and the sharing of nudes and semi nudes (para 49). The links to child criminal and sexual exploitation are made explicit.

There is an ongoing focus on the importance of staff’s responses to concerns about abuse. The first responses of adults are key to the confidence of the victim and future victims. Victims must be taken seriously, never made to feel ashamed or that they are creating a problem by making a report. We are reminded that reporting may not be direct. It could be from a peer, overheard or not immediately after the event, but regardless must be acted upon and taken seriously (para 441). The guidance is clear that there is a need to protect other children as well as the victim.


The guidance recognises the gendered nature of such abuse and the vulnerability of particular groups (para 145). It is clear that the impact of such abuse is distressing and can affect children’s education, particularly where perpetrator(s) attend the same institution. The guidance is clear that the use of early help and managing the issue internally are not mutually exclusive. There is more guidance about working with police and the involvement of parents and carers in Part Five, including clarification on managing bail and criminal processes. It includes information on the handling of unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious reports which require both a disciplinary response and consideration of the child’s other needs.


There is a call for clear record keeping supporting the identification of patterns of behaviour and wider cultural issues.


Part 5 contains a useful list of resources and support for children showing HSB (Harmful sexualised behaviour (para 464).


Listening to the voice of the child

Key within the response to issues of sexual violence and harassment is consideration of the needs and wishes of the victim. This is a key theme in the guidance. It repeatedly states that a school’s culture and processes should have the ‘best interests of the child at heart’ or act in the ‘best interests of the child.’ There is a new section in the responsibilities of the DSL highlighting the importance of understanding the views of children (p150). Alongside this taking concerns seriously is seen as key to the development of a safeguarding culture.


Clearer links with Working Together to Safeguard Children.

This key document is referred to throughout KCSIE which acts as a helpful reminder that schools are not working alone but alongside their multi-agency colleagues. Particularly in Part Five on sexual violence and harassment there is more clarity about how schools are to work with the police in these cases. There is also a clarification of schools’ role as a relevant agency (para 101).


Record keeping, reporting and information sharing

Again this is a repeated theme in all parts of the guidance. It includes clarification of what should be included in a child protection file (Annexe C), what to record about an incident (para 71-72) and an emphasis on the importance of written records for all incidents of sexual violence and harassment and recording the reasons for actions. This is part of the focus on learning lessons to improve and develop practice

There is a requirement for safeguarding files to transfer to a new setting within 5 days of the child’s move (p148). Information sharing is seen as vital in identifying and tackling all forms of abuse and neglect, and in promoting children’s welfare, including their educational outcomes. It is made clear schools have the powers to share, hold and use information for these purposes. (para 105). Paragraph 73 is clear that an example of poor practice is ‘not sharing information with right people within and between agencies.’


Other issues


Concerns that do not meet the harm threshold (Part Four: Section 2)

One of the biggest changes in KCSIE 2021 is the introduction of the new section looking at so called low level concerns which are below the harm threshold. This is part of a major re-organisation of Part Four.


Part Four: Section 1 about allegations that do meet the harms threshold now has much greater clarity and reflects the chronological order of events. It also feels more child centred. There is an emphasis on adult behaviour in and out of school and a fuller explanation of transferable risk. It also includes a new section on learning lessons to improve the school’s safeguarding.


Part Four: Section 2 shows a twofold development in supporting schools to understand and identify possible grooming behaviours and recording patterns of behaviour that may gradually push boundaries, making the unacceptable acceptable and which may ultimately be intended to enable abuse. Low level concerns also include behaviours that are inadvertent or thoughtless, or behaviour that may look to be inappropriate, but might not be in specific circumstances. (para 411). Not all will be malicious in intent. Unfortunately, this new section is not highlighted in Part One read by all staff where the focus is solely on allegations and whistleblowing.


Paragraph 408 identifies the importance of ‘Creating a culture in which all concerns about adults (including allegations that do not meet the harms threshold) are shared responsibly and with the right person, recorded and dealt with appropriately, is critical. If implemented correctly, this should encourage an open and transparent culture; enable schools and colleges to identify concerning, problematic or inappropriate behaviour early; minimise the risk of abuse; and ensure that adults working in or on behalf of the school or college are clear about professional boundaries and act within these boundaries, and in accordance with the ethos and values of the institution.’


It is clear that low level does not mean insignificant. It means ‘does not meet the harm’ threshold (para 338). It is behaviour that causes a sense of unease, ‘nagging doubt’ or is inconsistent with the code of conduct. Examples are given in paragraph 410. Reports could be as a suspicion, complaint or disclosure from a child, parent, another adult inside or outside the school or as a result of vetting checks (para 406).


These concerns are to be reported to the Headteacher in the same way as concerns that do meet the harm threshold. In the version issued on July 6th, these were being reported to the DLS. This was changed on 29th July to make it more consistent. It will make it easier to identify and review patterns. It also removes from staff the requirement to identify if a concern does or does not meet the harm threshold.


The guidance also applies to supply staff. Records need to be in writing. It is for schools to decide where they are kept. They need to be reviewed regularly for patterns with individuals and/or the school safeguarding culture. The records should be retained at least until the individual leaves the school’s employment. They should not be included in a reference unless they relate to something that would normally be covered e.g. misconduct or poor performance, or they meet the threshold for referral to the LADO (para 419-427).


This needs to be part of the staff code of conduct and become part of the school culture. This would include encouragement for staff to self-refer, if for example, they have found themselves in a situation which could be misinterpreted, might appear compromising to others, and/or on reflection they believe they have behaved in a way that they consider falls below the expected professional standards (para 417).


Safer recruitment

There has been a significant re-organisation of Part Three on Safer Recruitment. There are no changes in the legal duties, but much greater clarity. The guidance reflects the work of the Safer Recruitment Consortium. It now works through the recruitment process in four chronological stages

i. the recruitment and selection process.

ii. pre-appointment and vetting checks, regulated activity and recording of information.

iii. other checks that may be necessary for staff, volunteers and others, including the responsibilities on schools and colleges for children in other settings;

iv. how to ensure the ongoing safeguarding of children and the legal reporting duties on employers.

Key new points include:

· Information on the role of references which should be obtained before interview. (para 203-5)

· Information on interview questions and possible areas of concern (para 206-10).

· An emphasis on the importance of pre-appointment vetting checks. We are told these are ‘legal requirements that governing bodies and proprietors need to understand (and which must be carried out) when appointing individuals to engage in regulated activity relating to children’ (para 211) including the importance of checking identity using the birth certificate where possible (para 213) and clarity around childcare disqualification (para 245-9).

· The information about the DBS update service is extended including that it is good practice for schools to require new staff to join the Update Service (para 231).

· Increased detail is included about who requires a section 128 directive check. The focus should be on the management role the person is undertaking, not the job title they are given. (para 238).

· There is clarity about contractors, safeguarding and the need for DBS, including those who are self-employed. Schools should consider applying on their behalf (para 276).

· Further that while DBS checks are needed for those visiting the school in a professional capacity, they are not for visiting parents. There is also a need to check the appropriateness of what visiting speakers are delivering (para 284-6).


Finally, there is an interesting reminder in the section on individuals who have lived or worked outside the UK that ‘holding a teaching qualification (wherever it was obtained) does not provide suitable assurances for safeguarding purposes that an individual has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing or misconduct, and or is suitable to work with children’ (para 267). A key safeguarding message!


Role of DLS

Despite the indications from the consultation document, there is little substantial change in the role of the DSL. Yet there are several key elements that add robustness to the role . These look at the DSL’s responsibilities for

· ensuring that the voices of children are heard including developing knowledge and skills to encourage a culture of listening and reducing barriers to disclosure.

· working relationships with others within and outside school, including referrals to the Channel programme and police, well as relationships with parents and staff including the SLT and mental health support team.

· as a source of support, advice and expertise for all staff

· increasing focus on their role for promoting educational outcomes for children who are or have been open to social care, ensuring that schools know who these children are, make adjustments to support them and have high expectations for them.

There is no inclusion or information about the changed role for the virtual headteacher announced in June to support this.

Also no information on supervision for DLSs.


Extension of Early Help Assessment

Paragraph 19 extends the list of children who might benefit from EHA to include children who

· have a family member in prison or are affected by parental offending,

· at risk of HBA such as FGM or forced marriage,

· are persistently absence from school including for part of the school day.


Increased information about Child Criminal Exploitation

· Throughout the guidance there is an emphasis on the increased risks of exploitation including links to peer on peer abuse and additional vulnerabilities for those attending alternative provisions or missing from education. There is more information and explanation about the range of activities involved in CCE and CSE, the different impacts on boys and girls, issues of entrapment and children as perpetrators and the extent of child sexual exploitation (para 36- 39). It is also linked with increased risk factors for serious violence (para 52). This is extended in Annexe B.

· Paragraph 63 sees the re-inclusion of contextual safeguarding and the need to include as much information as possible when making referrals about harm outside the home.


Mental health

After last year’s emphasis on mental health, there is little additional material in this area. However there are additional mental health resources (para 44) and reference to a not yet mandatory senior mental health lead role. (para 173)


Vulnerability of those not in school

There is a growing focus on the increased vulnerability of those not in school with strengthened guidance on those missing from education (para 164) and new guidance about children in Elective Home Education (para 165-66).


Use of school premises

There is new information on the use of school premises for non-school activities. If the school hires or rents out their premises to an organisation or individual, they should ensure that appropriate safeguarding arrangements are in place. If they provide the services themselves the school’s safeguarding arrangements will apply. If the services are provided separately, then the governors or proprietor should seek assurance that safeguarding policies and procedures are in place and this should be part of the contract with the provider (para 155-56).


Other changes and additions in Annexe B, not also included, elsewhere are:

· Child abductions and community safety incidents

· Modern Day Slavery including the national referral mechanism

· Domestic Abuse to bring the guidance in line with the 2021 Act recognising children as victims in their own right and the issue of abuse within intimate relationships.

Possible Actions for Schools

· Review the Child Protection Policy to include the new areas and ensure clarity particularly around peer on peer abuse, sexual violence and harassment and low level concerns.

· Embed safeguarding training within the school culture and ensure that the relevant areas are included as above. Consider additional staff training around sexual violence and harassment between children and low level concerns.

· Consider if there are any staff, not working directly with children, who would benefit from reading Annexe A instead of the full Part One and Annexe B. The governors need to have oversight of this.

· Include the low level concerns element within the Staff Code of Conduct. The Low Level Concern Toolkit from Farrer & Co is very helpful on this, but be aware that it is being updated for September.

· Ensure all Governors have received appropriate training to develop a secure understanding of increased risks relating to online safety and peer on peer abuse

· Consider the introduction of a policy on the use of phones and smart devices in school, linked to the Child Protection Policy. I would recommend this for both children and adults, if this is not already in place.

· Develop a clear system for recording low level safeguarding concerns for staff. Ensure that expectations and means of reporting are shared with staff. The records need to be reviewed regularly to identify patterns of behaviour for individuals or relating to the whole school culture.

· Review contracts with any organisations using school premises, in line with para 155-56.

· Consider the appointment and role of a senior mental health lead on SLT.

· Check safer recruitment policy and procedures, including the use of the DBS update service, are fully embedded and compliant.

· Ensure the concept of transferable risk is included in the staff code of conduct.

· Embed the language of sharing nudes and semi-nudes across the school along with the UKCIS guidance if not already done.

· Review procedures for the transfer of child protection files to new schools and settings to ensure that this happens within 5 days of a child moving.