DfE sets out 'red flags' for parents who use out-of-school settings

New draft guidance by the Department for Education seeks to help parents identify “red flags” in the safeguarding policies of out-of-school settings.

The guidance, put out for consultation today, is part of a wider clampdown by the government on non-school provision that violates safeguarding rules or seeks to promote extremism. It has been published alongside a draft voluntary safeguarding code of practice for out-of-school settings themselves.

The new consultation is the second on out-of-school settings in recent years. The first was held between November 2015 and January 2016, but the government’s response wasn’t published until this spring.

I remain concerned about the small minority of settings that may be putting children at risk of harm, or encouraging views that are extremist or dangerous

It follows concerns that children excluded or otherwise removed from the mainstream school system are ending up in unsafe, unregulated provision.

Earlier this year, in its response to the original consultation, the government abandoned plans to force out-of-school settings to register with their local authority following a backlash from faith leaders, opting for a voluntary code instead.

Out-of-school settings include part-time tuition or learning centres, after-school clubs, some youth centres, supplementary schools and religious settings which offer education in their own faith.

Lord Agnew, the minister for the school system, said the “overwhelming majority” of out-of-school settings offer “strong provision in a safe environment”.

Lord Agnew

But he admitted he “remains concerned, however, about the small minority of settings that may be putting children at risk of harm, or encouraging views that are extremist or dangerous”.

“I hope this guidance will help parents and provide reassurance about the places they are sending their children. It will also help the settings themselves understand what good practice looks like.”

The guidance informs parents that they should avoid settings where staff are not DBS checked, there is no child protection policy or there are signs of abuse on other children who attend the setting, like unexplained bruises.

If the provider is unable to name a designated safeguarding lead, or if that lead has has not had relevant training, those too should be red flags. Similarly, if the setting allows children access to the internet and has no filtering or monitoring systems in place, they should be avoided.

The guidance also warns against the use of settings within a dangerous physical environment, for example, those with loose wires, damp, no fire escape or no first aid kit. Settings with no designated first aider, no parental consent form or no requirement for emergency contact details should also be avoided.

If other adults who are not staff coming into the out-of-school setting, or if there is a lack of clarity
on the roles of different adults in the setting, these also should be red flags, as should the absence of a health and safety policy or fire escape plan.

If parents spot any of these red flags, they “may wish to send [their] child to a different setting” and “may also wish to report serious incidents to the NSPCC or the police”, the government said.

The draft voluntary code of practice aims to inform out-of-school settings of their duties and best practice when it comes to health and safety, child welfare, the suitability of staff and volunteers, governance and finance.

By signing up to the code, providers “will be making a commitment that they have implemented policies and practices to safeguard children using their services”, the government said.

The DfE has also published a list of questions parents can ask of out-of-school settings in order to identify poor provision.

The questions parents should ask

  1. Have staff and volunteers undertaken DBS checks? How recent were the checks?
  2. Will any adults besides the instructor be present at the venue while my child is there? If so, will they be there on a regular basis?
  3. What training have staff had?
  4. May I have a copy of your child protection policy?
  5. Who is your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and what training have they had? How recent was this training?
  6. My child has Special Educational Needs and / or a disability (SEND). What steps will you take to accommodate this?
  7. My child needs help with: using the toilet; changing; feeding; their medication, etc. How will these personal care needs be addressed?
  8. How are you securely storing the information you hold on my child? Who has access to it and are you giving it to anyone else?
  9. Is my child allowed to access the internet unsupervised?
  10. Do you have filtering and monitoring systems in place? What are they?