We consider what this means in practice and explore steps for schools to take to ensure that the legal requirements are met.
Requirement for a Written Policy
While schools have always made arrangements to protect pupils' welfare, since January 2015 academies are required to comply with Part 3 which includes the requirement to have in place a written policy and procedures for pupil welfare risk assessment.
In the absence of statutory guidance it is for each school to determine its approach to a policy on risk assessment, however this has often led to confusion around the type of documentation and the level of detail required. Although there is no requirement to have in place a standalone policy, schools should consider the following areas of coverage:
There is no prescribed format for reach risk assessment to be carried out, provided that it is 'suitable and sufficient' but many schools prefer to have a pro-forma document which allows appropriate detail, covers all reasonably foreseeable pupil welfare issues and addresses the actions to be taken by the school.
It is not enough to simply have in place a written risk assessment policy for pupil welfare, as schools should be able to demonstrate effective implementation. This feeds directly into the wider Part 8 requirement for persons with leadership and management responsibilities to actively promote the well-being of pupils as well as demonstrate their knowledge and skills to fulfil their roles and responsibilities.
Bearing this in mind, the policy should contain detail of when risk assessments should be completed and by whom. This could be a designated person or adapt depending on the circumstances and nature of the risk involved. Consideration should be given as to whether assessment is required on an individual basis or in relation to a cohort or group of pupils.
Thought should also be given to the systems in place for monitoring and evaluating risk assessments and any training requirements so that staff can easily identify the risks posed by a particular pupil or activity. A suitable plan of action should then be agreed with input from third parties such as school doctors and parents where appropriate.
One area which schools often fail to address is the need to continually monitor and evaluate a risk assessment once it has been carried out.
Schools should regularly review the initial risk assessment carried out and consider whether the agreed plan is sufficient to support the pupil and reduce the risks as they develop or change over time. This may be particularly relevant in the case of a pupil returning to school after serious injury or in relation to a current pupil who subsequently identifies as transgender. Follow up actions such as referrals to CAMHS or Children's Services should be carried out promptly and any further arrangements required should be documented accordingly.
Why Is This Necessary?
The intention behind Part 3 of the Regulations is not to create a risk-averse environment, but to ensure that schools identify pupil welfare risks at an early stage and reduce the risk of harm to pupils through sufficient planning and foresight.
This also has the added benefit of providing clarity to staff dealing with challenging issues and will facilitate information sharing not only internally but with pupils and their parents.