This is England. This is England, where you can be a villain or a victim. Kano

No-one wants to be part of a historical inquiry in to child abuse. As important as it is now to ensure voices are heard; we should be confident that we have the best system possible to deal with child protection abuses – right now. If history has taught us anything it must be that. Everyone knows that in the past children were abused by adults and the system itself made this possible.. As adults responsible for the future generation, what are we doing now? Have we learnt from the obvious lessons?

As headteacher I take nothing more seriously than the principles of child protection. My concerns litter my blogs and I would argue that, even over results, it is the most important thing we do in schools. Child protection should not be watered down as safeguarding. Child protection is something, I believe, that stands alone and I am heartened that it seems to be taking precedence over the safeguarding rhetoric again. In education it is now absolutely at the forefront of every school I work with. I believe we have become much better at identifying, reporting and supporting the issues we come face to face with in our daily jobs. 

And yet many people working in schools have never been more afraid or frustrated. Today, at a head teacher meeting, EVERY head teacher around the table shared their frustration, for more than an hour nothing but concern from the front line.

And then there is the mess that is the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. The world of child protection seems to still be a desperate, confused and uneven world. Not hidden away as it was in the past but as a school leader I feel we are now reaching a critical point where our ambitions can not be achieved unless we truly invest and support the services needed to fully address the issues that seem to be more and more prevalent. Invest at a time of austerity where we are either cutting or not matching funding for crucial front-line services. Invest when politics and power seem to high-jack an independent inquiry in to historical abuse and have utter disregard for past victims of abuse. 

What hope for the future?

I walked out of a meeting about safeguarding this week, for a number of reasons but chiefly because I felt that through trying to do a basic thing – identify, report and support children (and families) whose life chances are at a critical junction, limited and often beyond their control – we are becoming lost through creating complex and pointless systems. We do this, it would seem, because of one simple reason and that is FEAR. Most of the people responsible and accountable for creating these systems no longer have any idea what is really happening on the ground (they are detached from the day to day realities). They have no idea what it is like to speak to families in crisis, on a daily basis. They are half terrified someone is coming to get them for the wrongs they are ignoring. If I create a robust system then surely someone else can take the blame for error? I imagine my frustrations would be echoed by doctors, mental health staff, police officers, LA officers and many other professionals. That is why I hear different advice, expectations and accountability up and down the country. That is why I hear and see FEAR.

I would like to think my school’s child protection procedures are exemplary. Our forms have evolved over time based on constant feedback from staff, families and other agencies. Our training and constant updating is clear and concise, my senior team meet once a week to review all disclosures and ask if the right decisions were made (this can make for uncomfortable reflection). We then update the forms and ensure all paper work is up to date; we run a computer program of all issues (from attendance to CP issues) for key children which is then reviewed and updated weekly (often daily); we review all files twice yearly (including an independent review) and that feeds back in to a data base with key questions. In my 13 years as head teacher never has child protection been more of a priority and constant school focus.

And yet I am writing this – and I feel that it is only a matter of time before another person is hauled over the coals because of a tragedy they did not prevent. Preventing tragedy must be at the heart of our moral purpose but making lives better must also be something we feel is achievable for those who really need it. We must be able to tackle this without fear… And yet the call to FEAR is used daily. I can not count the number of times Ofsted is quoted as a reason to do things that any intelligent person can see is just a smoke screen. Do it, or suffer the consequences and even the thought of the consequences will keep you awake at night.

After my petulant outburst this week I wrote to all the local heads to apologise. I should not have stormed out of the meeting and I should have been more professional (before and after) but I have been a head for too long to be complacent about child protection. I have seen and faced too many terrible things to be complacent,(many of which I cannot write about – I have 3 unwritten blogs and they are all about my desperate attempts to keep people safe and how the system lets them down) but I need to stop pointing the finger as much as everyone else. I need to understand everyone has good intentions.

If only good intention was enough to keep children safe, but they are not. Investment is crucial and so is trust. 

We need investment in key ‘on the ground’ services which pick up the issues that schools can not. We need true investment to do the best we can. We need a real safety net around children and the people who support children and real investment in services that have the capacity to meet the need. Trust needs to be more than just a belief in the will to do good. We need more than that.We need to be heard – the services who face this each and every day – just sit in on a headteacher round table and listen to each and every voice. It is the most heated and desperate topic – far more than the health of our SATs results. I can only imagine what it must be like for Social Workers or NHS staff?

We NEED real investment and we need it now! How can anyone in politics sit on their bench and not see what they are ignoring in 2016?

We need this rather than fear, blame and last ditch reactions to try and second guess what the front line is dealing with. Until this happens will we ever really keep children safe? Or will we continue to read those stories, see those lives ruined and shake our heads at the injustice served up through a broken society? Have we learnt nothing?

We need a system that we embrace rather than one where we hide behind the sofa, terrified, hoping the shadows suddenly leave us alone and in peace; a system where politics don’t hijack the agenda; where action and investment actually make a real difference (right now) rather than pretend to offer hope for the future. We need leadership on this and we need it at a national level.