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Is Your Governing Body Safeguarding Your Safeguarding Practice?

By Tiffany Farrell
Is Your Governing Body Safeguarding Your Safeguarding Practice?

As educational practitioners and leaders, you know that Safeguarding (SG) is a cornerstone practice in the duty of your school to care for its students. Implementing and practicing SG is, in many ways, like implementing and practicing Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Risk assessment, management, and response is something schools practice already. However, more institutions are understanding that they need to approach SG with intentional planning and implementation, which is an enterprise-wide undertaking. Safeguarding as a practice is most effective when every department of the school is involved and interlinked. Because intentional implementation of SG as a practice can and will affect every aspect of school operations, your governing body needs to be involved in safeguarding your Safeguarding practice.

I have been fortunate to play a role in safeguarding at the Board level for a school in Asia and on an advisory board level for a school in the United States of America. The Governors and Advisors I have had the honor to work alongside took their responsibilities seriously and wanted to do the right thing for the institution. The schools I have been honored to work with have been engaged in risk management and mitigation, incident management, and many of the other practices that are vital to SG practice. That said, Governors are human (myself included) and are subject to the same limitations as every other human. We are susceptible to accepting the status quo, having blind spots, and relying on the best of intentions to address issues when they arise. The best intentions are not the same as intentional planning, and best intentions are too often not enough when it comes to implementing a fully interconnected and cohesive SG practice. For SG to truly be an enterprise-wide practice and cornerstone of your institution, then your governing body needs to use the levers available to it to elevate and protect the practice. 

Engaging Governance to safeguard your SG practice as part of your school’s governance-level Strategic Policy matters for three crucial reasons:

First, your Strategic Policy is the foundation and guide for every decision your school makes. It may seem like it goes without saying that a school has a duty to care and to safeguard; however, we often discover that what we think is a common understanding might not be when the pressure is on, particularly in an international school setting where a variety of cultures and cultural norms are present within your community. Elevating the duty to care to an enterprise-wide level ensures that your SG practice stems from a rational, intentional, and broadly agreed-upon position. The Strategic Policy helps guide us when faced with tough choices and complex situations. We know there will be Safeguarding-related situations that arise that test how to implement care in your environment and will test if the systems you have put into place are sound. Just like you refer back to your school’s mission, vision, goals, and values statements to explain and validate curriculum or facilities decisions. When your school has Safeguarding as part of your mission, vision, and goals, you can refer back to your Strategic Policy to validate and explain decisions around how to best care for your students, both proactively (such as planning for off-campus trips and hiring faculty) and reactively (such as dealing with bullying or reports of inappropriate behavior by adults).

Second, implementing an intentional SG practice is an enterprise-wide undertaking, and part of what is known as Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). The “E” in ERM indicates a top-down, enterprise-wide view of all risks to the objectives and encompasses issues that require ongoing assessment and evaluation. SG is a prime example of an ever-evolving discipline that can pose an existential risk to an institution. As you know, practicing SG often requires coordination and cross-functional support, whether you are preparing for or responding to an event. Issues around SG can affect decisions about risk mitigation strategies and insurance coverage. Implementation of an intentional SG practice often benefits from a broad base of input across all constituents (including alumni and constituents such as summer program attendees). While Governors should not be involved in the minutia of your school’s SG protocols, such as reporting or discipline issues, Governance should be keeping an eye on what the school needs to ensure there is protection for the school and regular evaluation and assessment of risk. Risk can come from a variety of places external to a school’s operation, such as geopolitical changes or environmental issues. These are the kinds of things that governing bodies are meant to take into account when planning for the short-, mid- and long-term future and responding to current events that affect the school. Governance is an important part of the ecosystem of a vibrant, enterprise-wide view of SG.

Third, Safeguarding deserves to be part of Strategic Policy set by Governance because it ensures the practice is of foundational and enterprise-level importance. This safeguards SG practices from turnover of school leadership and/or Governors, budget changes, and other unforeseen events. This is both good for the school and good for the Governors. Governors come to their role wanting to do the right thing and are often “learning on the job” about what it means to provide strategic leadership and oversight in a school environment. Having SG as part of their responsibility and roadmap means the governing body has a mandate to learn about, understand, and prioritize Safeguarding as part of their duty to the school. Engaging the governing body in SG provides everyone with a common language and foundational understanding for what can be difficult conversations and decision-making around responding to day-to-day responsibilities such as budgeting, operational management, and crucially, responding in a crisis.

Governance’s day-to-day function is to set and continually monitor and adapt the enterprise-wide strategic direction and then oversee that the Head of School is executing in that direction. Governors want to do that well and strive to ensure that the school does the best job it can do with the resources available. While Governors should not be in the weeds with how SG is implemented, when educated and empowered, they can be your allies and use the levers available to them to support and safeguard your Safeguarding practices.


Tiffany  Farrell served on the Board of Directors as the Safeguarding Liaison at The American School in Japan in Tokyo, Japan.

Instagram: tiffarrell

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