July 2022 edition: Safeguarding: What Trusts need to know about managing low-level concerns

Safeguarding: What Trusts need to know about managing low-level concerns

Stone King was delighted to be at the CST Annual Conference in June, which was bustling throughout the two days. Alongside the host of eminent speakers and workshops, we met and re-connected with so many members of the education community and it was a great opportunity to meet people face to face once again.

At the Conference, Stone King hosted a well-attended session on the topic of safeguarding and managing low-level concerns to give attendees an understanding of the nature of these concerns, how to implement a low-level concern policy and guidance on navigating the problem areas.

This article is a summary of what the live session covered.

Why are low-level concerns important?

On a daily basis schools and Multi-Academy Trusts are handling minor employment matters, but low-level concerns must be properly understood and recorded in the right way and in the right place to ensure that employment law is complied with. The importance of this is not just a tick box exercise for schools to be legally compliant, but in order to recognise patterns of behaviour that may, in the worst case, add up to a major concern and thereby help to keep staff and pupils safe. By recording any concerns in a suitable way will also provide schools with the evidence they may need to justify any future course of action deemed necessary, such as disciplinary proceedings or dismissal.

What is a low-level concern?

In the government’s statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education ("KCSIE”) Part 4, it describes a low-level concern as:

"any concern – no matter how small, and even if no more than causing a sense of unease or a ‘nagging doubt’ - that an adult working in or on behalf of the school or college may have acted in a way that is inconsistent with the staff code of conduct, including inappropriate conduct outside of work and does not meet the harm threshold or is otherwise not serious enough to consider a referral to the LADO.”

Having a clear policy for low-level concerns is likely to increase perception of potential issues and therefore lead to early detection.

Surinder Kaur Dhillon

It is important to note that an employer, in this case the school or Trust, must consider whether a concern that it has received meets the threshold of an allegation. For this, it must take into account all evidence and influencing factors, including any previously recorded low-level concerns, being cautious not to dismiss a concern where there may be a history of an inharmonious relationship.

If the concern is deemed to meet the threshold of an allegation then schools should consider whether formal internal processes should be instigated, beginning with a fact-finding exercise and alerting relevant individuals.

If the concern is deemed not to amount to an allegation, it should still be recorded as a low-level concern and monitored in case it becomes relevant in future.

Recording a low-level concern

KCSIE offers no practical guidance on how concerns should be recorded. However, in our view it is important to identify key personnel in a school or Trust who will be responsible for the recording, maintaining and reviewing of concerns on a regular basis to identify any pattern of behaviour and when a concern can be reclassified as an allegation.

This is of course highly sensitive information, so schools need to consider carefully who should have access to the information recorded and how concerns generally within an individual school or wider Trust are monitored. We would advise that concerns should be recorded centrally and that schools have a clear policy outlining how concerns will be managed.

What should be recorded?

The information logged needs to include sufficient detail so that it could be used in the event of a future disciplinary hearing. In particular, a recording of a low-level concern should include;

  • Date, time and circumstances in which the employer was notified of the concern

  • Who reported the matter. If the disclosure was made anonymously, this must be clearly recorded

  • Details of how the disclosure was investigated, any resulting meetings or discussions, including a note on the period of time over which this took place

  • The employee’s explanation. It is important to accurately record how the subject of the concern responded and explained the incident or actions

Practical steps – policy and training

The key to managing low-level concerns is to encourage an open and transparent culture, to identify early signs and minimise the risk of abuse.

Having a separate policy and process for recording concerns may empower staff to share their concerns and report matters which in isolation may seem trivial. Having a clear policy for low-level concerns is likely to increase perception of potential issues and therefore lead to early detection. It is advisable for all staff to receive training including real-life examples so that they are aware of specific behaviours and what amounts to an acceptable culture at a school or Trust.

All staff should be trained, including volunteers and agency staff. In respect of the latter, schools should consider whether changes are required to supply contracts so that the agency provides assurances of how they manage low-level concerns when they are reported to them.

We were pleased that this topic was well received at the CST Annual Conference and look forward to exploring further topics at future CST events.

Stone King is a CST Platinum Partner.