Safeguard-Me Blog

Who should regulate Out of Schools Settings?

Children looking over books at the camera with a quote from CS Lewis saying Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching
When it comes to our children's well-being, we expect a safety net. Schools, local authorities, and Ofsted play a crucial role in ensuring educational institutions meet standards. But what about the world of after-school clubs, sports teams, and enrichment programs? These organisations play a significant part in children's lives, but who's ensuring their safety and quality and why is it not the same as for schools?

There are thousands of organisations in this sector and they’re doing a great job of safeguarding but in the most part, they’re scared of doing the ‘right thing wrong’.

What’s, therefore, causing the concern?

As there isn’t consistent, single source of information or one regulatory body covering all areas of schools (heavily regulated), wraparound care (partially regulated) and OOSS (not regulated but has guidelines), where do the latter turn, especially for detailed advice?

Let's use DBS checks as an example. A DBS shows the historical criminal record for an individual and is used to help with recruiting staff. Parents take it on trust one has been done, it’s recent, clear and that someone has checked it. This is the accountability of the organisation to do and is also where it can get a bit grey. For example, some people could have a certain type of disclosure on their DBS, which is completely unrelated to their suitability to work with children. How do organisations make decisions in this case and who do they turn to?

It’s not just the DBSs though, it’s qualifications, working practices, policy and so on; this is where the gap lies for OOSS. Who should have oversight and help make sure it’s being done correctly, to rubber stamp they’re doing the ‘right thing right’.

Who should be ‘marking the homework’?

Schools often act as facilitators, connecting their students with these external providers, but may have limited oversight. Here's where the debate gets interesting:

  • Ofsted: Expanding their remit to include out-of-school activities (OOSS) could offer a standardised approach. However, concerns exist about Ofsted's capacity and the potential stifling effect on smaller organisations.
  • Local Authorities (LAs): LAs already have some involvement in areas like safety checks and safeguarding. Expanding their role could leverage existing infrastructure. However, consistency across regions and resource limitations are potential drawbacks.
  • Schools: Schools are already accountable for any organisation using their premises. They must get confirmation that the vetting checks have been done on the staff that will be on their site with children. That isn’t the case if they facilitate an offsite organisation but most apply the same rigour in this case even though it’s not a legal obligation. The other issue is that not all organisations are connected via a school.
  • Self-Regulation: Industry bodies could establish standards and accreditation processes. This fosters flexibility but raises questions about accountability and enforcement.

What Should Be Monitored?

  • Staff Credentials and Vetting: This includes qualifications, DBS checks and references to prevent unsuitable individuals from working with children.
  • Staff-to-Child Ratios: Ensuring proper supervision is critical, especially for younger children.
  • Activity Suitability: Activities should be age-appropriate and well-designed to deliver advertised benefits.
  • Safeguarding Policies: Clear procedures should exist to prevent abuse and harm, and staff should be trained in recognising and reporting.

How can parents play a part?

Parents can play a powerful role. Whilst the onus shouldn't solely fall on them, until regulation is brought in the weight of accountability feels disproportionately put on their shoulders. There’s a problem with this, however, and it’s called ‘assumption’.

From parents we’ve spoken to, which is backed up by the 2022 report by the DfE on OOSS, evidence shows that a lot of people are making assumptions:

“We assumed the school checked the organisation”

“We assumed the organisation have done all the necessary checks themselves”

“We assumed they have the same rules as the school”

“We assumed they must be fine as they’re one of the larger, nationwide organisations”

Sound familiar or ever said any of these yourself? These are common phrases we hear time and again. We assume someone has done the checks or simply that a large organisation with heritage rigorously check staff. This brings to mind the metaphor of: Where’s the best place for a grain of sand to hide? Answer: On a beach.

Here's some tips on what parents can do to help ensure they organisation they’re using have good practices in place for safeguarding.

  • Stop making assumptions: Any time you find yourself starting a sentence, “I assume..” check to see if it’s actually true.
  • Ask Questions: Investigate qualifications, safety policies, and staff vetting procedures.
  • Research Independently: Look for reviews, accreditations, and references.
  • Stay Engaged: Have great and open communication with the provider and be observant of your child's experiences.

The Way Forward

A collaborative approach is key. Here's what could work:

  • Clearer Government Guidelines: Establishing national standards for OOSS operations, staff qualifications, and safeguarding procedures.
  • Local Authority Involvement: LAs could maintain a register of approved OOSS providers, conducting spot checks and providing resources for parents.
  • Industry Standards: Collaboration between OOSS providers and relevant professional bodies to develop best practices and offer accreditation.
  • Increased Parental Awareness: Government and educational institutions can work together to inform parents about their roles and empower them to make informed choices.

For us a child needs protecting whoever is looking after them, wherever and whenever that is as; it makes no difference if they’re in or out of a school setting. We need a common approach across all settings, centralised regulation and collaboration to make that a reality.