Contextual Safeguarding in new government guidance for schools


Last week the Department of Education published a revised version of Keeping Children Safe in Education, which is open for consultation until 22 February 2018. Alongside this, they also published a new guidance document:  ‘Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges’.

The new guidance provides an overview of abuse and harassment taking place, details of schools’ and colleges’ legal responsibilities,  a rationale for a whole school approach to safeguarding and further guidance and principles for responding to reports of abuse and harassment.

The Contextual Safeguarding team are extremely pleased to see the publication of this guidance which demonstrates that important steps are being taken to support schools to respond to abuse and harassment in schools.

This is a vital step taken by government, given the evidence of abuse and harm taking place in schools, colleges and other educational environments (Barter et al 2009; EVAW 2010, Ringrose et al 2011). A recent BBC Panorama episode, for example, highlighted that over 30,000 reports of peer-on-peer abuse have been made to the police since 2013, nearly 10% of which had taken place on school premises. A survey published last week found that 37% of female students at mixed-sex schools have personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at school (UK Feminista and National Education Union 2017), while this figure was 60% in a recent GirlGuiding report (Girl Guiding 2017).

These findings are supported by research we are currently conducting into harmful sexual behaviours (HSB) in schools , which has evidenced the widespread nature of HSB – from sexist name calling and unwanted touching to violent sexual assault (forthcoming, 2018). As well as the nature and prevalence of HSB in schools, our research has also identified that a lack of robust guidance and lack of support are barriers for schools dealing with such behaviours. In one focus group with multi-agency staff, for example, a practitioner called for ‘national guidance for schools on procedures, including a list of approved provider training and interventions’. As we present in this short video, schools have an essential role to play in responding to peer-on-peer abuse, and must be supported to do so. The publication of guidance will, then, partly address this identified barrier, providing a helpful tool for practitioners working in or with educational settings.

While the publication of the document itself is a cause for celebration, the Contextual Safeguarding team is especially delighted to see that that the guidance – alongside the revised Keeping Children Safe in Education document –  includes a section on Contextual Safeguarding, directing schools and colleges to consider wider contexts in order to effectively safeguard children and young people. The guidance provides schools and colleges with an overview of the Contextual Safeguarding model as well as examples of a contextual approach in practice and a link to the Contextual Safeguarding Network. By doing so, the Department of Education highlight Contextual Safeguarding as best practice for responding to abuse and harassment – and one that has direct implications from the point of assessments and referral through to intervention.

Contextual Safeguarding Network member Martin Watson from the Avenue Centre for Education in Luton commented:

‘It’s incredibly important for us in a secondary pupil referral unit to have as much understanding as possible of the context of the lives of our young people. When they come to us their behaviours are hugely influenced by their experiences and background. In order for us to even begin to work with them to change their behaviours and try to keep them safe we must tackle what has got them to the situation they are in now. It’s great to see this new guidance begin to look at the context of young people’s lives. It’s exciting to see how this can be developed and how professionals should look beyond the presenting behaviours to what has led to that behaviour in the first place.’

We will  be responding to the consultation to outline ways that a contextual approach can become more embedded into the education system.  For example, practitioners may also consider: what information is captured by their assessment framework; whether all types of HSB across the spectrum are captured in reporting systems and how these are systems are monitored; the types of incidents staff feel confident to report and/or refer; whether any trends can be identified around particular issues and locations within the school; the types of interventions in place and whether any work with peer groups rather than individuals is taking place.

The research and resources on our website support practitioners to think through and implement these considerations. For example:

Farrer and Co, in collaboration with Dr Carlene Firmin, have also launched a new peer-on-peer toolkit alongside the new guidance, to support schools and education practitioners to respond. The toolkit can be found here.

Finally, in February 2018 the Contextual Safeguarding team will be holding a learning event for members of the network to explore some of these issues and resources available to support schools, as well as share learning around contextual approaches implemented in education settings. Full details of the event can be found on our website and you can register via this link.

If you would like to join the Contextual Safeguarding Network then you can do so via this link.

Please email with any questions or comments.




Barter, C., McCarry, M., Berridge, D., & Evans, K. (2009) Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships. London: NSPCC

EVAW (2010) Almost a third of girls experience unwanted sexual touching in UK schools – new YouGov poll. Available: Gov_poll_for_EVAW_on_sexual_harassment_in_schools_2010.pdf

Girlguiding (2017). Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017. London: Girlguiding. Available:

Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S., & Harvey, L. (2011) A Qualitative Study of Children, Young People and ‘Sexting’. London: NSPCC

UK Feminista and National Education Union, (2017). Its just everywhere: A study of sexism in schools and how we tackle it. Available: