Keeping your child safe at school

Keeping your child safe at school

We know that sending your child to nursery or school requires a lot of trust, particularly if your child’s support needs may mean they need extra help to keep themselves safe and well.

Your child has the right to be safe at school. Schools and nurseries, and their staff, have a duty of care for your child. This means they need to look after your child’s safety and wellbeing.

What does the law say?

The law says that local authorities in Scotland must take ‘reasonable care’ for the safety of children at school or nursery. This includes in the classroom, breaktime, lunch, playground and during school trips. There are also relevant local, national and international policies and guidance which say more about children’s rights, and what schools and nurseries should do. Here are the key ones for you to know about:

Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Act 1990

This Act says that ‘”every education authority…shall take reasonable care for the safety of pupils when under their charge” – s.3(a). ‘Education authority’ means the part of your local authority that’s responsible for your child’s education. This bit of law is often spoken about as them having a ‘duty of care’ for your child’s safety.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

The UNCRC is an international treaty that grants all children and young people under the age of 18 a set of fundamental human rights. These rights include:

Article 3 – The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. This also means that your local authority should follow good practice when it comes to things like health and safety in their schools.

Article 19 – The right to protection from harm, including violence, abuse and injury.

You can read more about the UNCRC on our young people’s website Reach page on UNCRC your rights.

Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC)

The Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) framework is the national approach to improving the wellbeing of children and young people in Scotland. It builds on the UNCRC (described above).

GIRFEC can help schools and nurseries support children and young people’s wellbeing. It sets out eight indicators that schools and nurseries should use when considering your child’s wellbeing, sometimes called the SHANARRI Indicators. The ‘wellbeing wheel’ below is used to show how the indicators are all part of a child’s wellbeing.

The “safe” indicator is about thinking about whether children are protected from abuse, neglect and harm. For example, the school could ask you and your child whether they know how to keep themselves safe at school, and if they understand who to go to for help.

You can read more about GIRFEC in our GIRFEC quickread.

  • Image of front page of GIRFEC quick read leaflet

    Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC)

    This short, quick read guide helps parents and carers understand GIRFEC language and how it can help you speak to your child’s school about their support needs.

I’m worried my child is not safe at school or nursery. What can I do?

If there has been a recent issue or something’s changed with your child’s support, it might have affected your trust and relationship with the school or nursery. It’s important to remember that everyone working with your child will have their safety as a top priority. They should work with you to try and anticipate risks, prevent harm, respond safely if a situation does come up, and communicate with you clearly throughout.

If you are worried, you should contact your child’s school or nursery to discuss your concerns. You could ask for a meeting to discuss what steps they are taking to keep your child safe. Depending on your child’s individual needs this might include:

  • Exploring and completing an individual risk assessment – this is usually a document where members of staff (with your input) set out the potential risks and hazards to health and safety in the school setting, and what can be done to reduce or manage these risks.
  • Using a written support plan to make clear how your child will be supported.
  • Arranging staff training to meet your child’s individual needs.

You might want to talk through the SHANNARI indicators mentioned above as each one can have an impact on safety & wellbeing. For example, you could talk to the school about what support is in place to keep your child Safe, but also how this planning can help your child to Achieve at school or to feel Included in school life.

For example, if your child runs away when they feel overwhelmed, talking to the school about this can help to get the right support in place. This should include planning to help prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed (reducing and removing triggers), as well as what steps will be taken if they do try to leave the class or school grounds. Having these conversations with your child’s class teacher, or the person at school responsible for additional support, can help you to feel more confident that your child’s school know how to keep your child safe. You could also ask that this discussion is recorded into a written plan.

If you are still concerned, there are further steps you can take. These are explained on our webpage Solving problems with your child’s school.

  • Avoiding and solving problems

    This factsheet explains the steps you can take if you are worried or unhappy about your child’s support, and some of the further steps you can take if you are in a disagreement with a local authority.

Can I keep my child off from school or nursery if I feel they are not safe?

If you are concerned about your child’s safety at school, you should contact the school immediately. You could speak to your child’s class teacher, or their guidance or pastoral teacher.

If you continue to have concerns, you could contact the head of support for learning, and beyond this, the head teacher. You should put your concerns in writing (an email or a letter) as it can be helpful to have a written record of what has been discussed.

It is understandable that you may want to keep your child at home until the issues are resolved. However, it’s important to understand your legal responsibilities in this situation.

By law, you must ensure that your children are regularly attending school while they are of school age (from age 5 until they turn 16). This means that your child should not be off school without a ‘reasonable excuse’. If you and your school or local authority disagree that you have a reasonable excuse, they can take action against you. It’s important to try and resolve your concerns at an early stage for this reason. It’s also important to think about the impact on your child’s learning if they were to be off school.

For more information you can look at our factsheet on School attendance and our webpage on Missing school for other reasons.

  • School attendance

    This factsheet explains the law on school attendance, and what happens if your child is struggling or unable to attend school regularly.

My child is being bullied. What can I do?

Bullying should be recognised as both behaviour (what happened) and impact (the effect it has on your child). It can be emotional as well as physical and can take place online as well as in person.

Facing bullying can make a child feel unsafe at school and can be upsetting for parents and carers, too. Schools should do what they can to prevent bullying and to act quickly to respond when incidents do happen. Find out more about the steps you can take if your child is being bullied on our webpage on Bullying.

What should staff do if my child is at immediate risk of harming themselves, or someone else?

If your child is at immediate risk of harming themselves or someone else, staff should always try and de-escalate the situation. De-escalation means finding ways to calm things down. For example, helping a child to move away from a stressful or upsetting situation and support to help them regulate their emotions in a safe way.

What steps staff take will be based on how well they know your child and what helps them feel calm and safe. There’s no one approach that could work for every child. It is important that everyone remembers that all behaviour is communication – considering why a behaviour is escalating can help to find better ways to put supports in place that work for your child.

If you and the school or nursery know that your child can sometimes escalate into a place of distress, you can work together with them to discuss de-escalation strategies that might help. It’s important that your child is included in this in a way that’s appropriate to their age and needs, so that they can share what things help them, and what things can trigger them to feel unsafe, frustrated, or distressed. The approaches staff should use could then be set out in a support plan or risk assessment. Everyone working closely with your child should know about these approaches.

If de-escalation strategies aren’t working or if the risk is very urgent, there might be some situations where staff do something to restrict or limit a child’s movement in some way. For example, an adult holding a child in a safe position so that they cannot put themselves in physical danger or removing the other pupils from the classroom but keeping your child in the class. This is sometimes called ‘physical intervention’. There are different forms of physical intervention like ‘restraint’ or ‘seclusion’. See more about this in the next sections.

When can restraint be used?

There is no single agreed definition of restraint in current laws or guidance for schools. It usually means an adult doing something that restricts or limits a child or young person’s movement. It would not cover a child having a harness for safety, being moved by a hoist, or a belt on their wheelchair.

Restraint should always be a last resort. This means it should only be used when absolutely necessary. Guidance on restraint says that it should only be used:

  • to prevent injury to your child,
  • to prevent injury to someone else.

Your child’s school should have plans and policies on the safe use of restraint for if, as a last resort, it is potentially needed. Risk assessments should be used to identify what steps staff will take to prevent harm. In settings or circumstances where restraint may be needed regularly, staff should be properly trained.

All incidences of restraint should be properly recorded, dated, and signed in a log kept for that purpose.

If your child requires restraint, this should be recorded in an individual plan or protocol. It should explain what your child’s triggers are, and what strategies are successful to support them. It should also include the times and outcomes of any incidents. The plan should be agreed with you, and your child where appropriate.

As we mentioned above, to avoid the need for restraint, schools and staff should focus on getting the right support in place for your child. This can include planning to help staff understand your child’s triggers, and having strategies to de-escalate situations that could (or have in the past) lead to restraint being needed. You can read more about how planning can work in our website section on  How support is planned.

  • Planning your child’s support

    This factsheet explains the different ways that your child’s support might be planned, including descriptions of the types of written plans that might be used.

  • Avoiding and solving problems

    This factsheet explains the steps you can take if you are worried or unhappy about your child’s support, and some of the further steps you can take if you are in a disagreement with a local authority.

When can seclusion be used?

Sometimes a child is put in a place, or made to stay in a place, separate from their peers and which they cannot leave. For example, your child might become distressed and wish to leave the school building, however it is not safe for them to do so. Or they may be temporarily put in a room and prevented from leaving, to avoid them causing harm to others and to allow them to calm down.

If your child is unable to or stopped from leaving a place this is usually called ‘seclusion’. It is another type of ‘physical intervention’ like restraint.

Sometimes, children spend time at school learning in separate spaces from their classmates, alone or in small groups. This is not seclusion. However, all children should feel included at school. If your child is feeling isolated at school, or not spending much time with their peers, then this is something you should discuss with their school. You could use the SHANARRI indicators mentioned above (and in our GIRFEC quickread) to help you explain your concerns.

Like physical restraint, seclusion should only be used as a last resort to ensure the safety of your child or others. Schools and local authorities should be very careful about the use of seclusion as they should consider the impact that it might have on your child.

Some people have raised legal concerns about the use of seclusion and whether it should ever be allowed to happen. They argue that seclusion could go against Article 5 of The Human Rights Act which gives a right to personal freedom and liberty.

If your child’s school think seclusion might be used, it should be included in your child’s support plan. Your views and your child’s views should be listened to as part of this planning.

If your child is secluded:

  • it must be in a safe place
  • the school should ensure that the seclusion does not cause any additional distress to your child
  • your child should be supervised while they are secluded to make sure they are safe; the school should take into account the additional support needs of your child before using seclusion; and
  • the seclusion should be for a limited time.

What can I do if I’m not happy with the school’s use of restraint or seclusion?

If you are concerned about your child’s school’s use of restraint or seclusion you can raise your concerns with the school. It can be helpful to ask for a clear plan and details of their policies and procedures.

If you are not satisfied with the response from the school, you can escalate your concerns directly to the local authority. You can find the contact information that we have on our local authority contacts page.

There are further steps that you can take if you continue to be concerned. These are explained on our webpage Solving problems with your child’s school.

  • Avoiding and solving problems

    This factsheet explains the steps you can take if you are worried or unhappy about your child’s support, and some of the further steps you can take if you are in a disagreement with a local authority.

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