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Giving Child Abuse the Red Card - Changing Attitudes to Safeguarding in Sport

on Friday, 23 June 2017.

The recent media attention surrounding historic child abuse in football has brought safeguarding in sport into the spotlight, but what does this mean for your school?

Schools have rigorous safeguarding and child protection obligations, which apply to their own staff and pupils, and to the engagement of contractors to work with them. These will be familiar to you. What are the implications of permitting your pupils to attend sports clubs elsewhere? What should you consider when allowing sports clubs to use your school's facilities?

The School's Duties

Many independent schools and parents themselves engage with sporting bodies and private providers to develop the sporting talent of children. This is done through documented relationships with academy programme providers, or through informal arrangements with private organisations or individuals for recreational purposes.

Schools should consider carefully the extent of their duty to ensure that their pupils are safe when doing so. This is likely to vary depending upon who makes the arrangements and on whether a pupil is a day pupil or a boarder: when schools have a duty of care to their pupils and/or make the necessary arrangements for pupils to attend such activities, they must take appropriate steps to ensure that pupils engaging with these providers are safe, both on and off-site.

Schools will also need to consider their duty towards pupils where external sports clubs or members of the public use the school's sporting facilities. With this in mind we have considered the relevant legal frameworks.

The Safeguarding Framework for Sporting Providers

External Sports Clubs

Schools have mandatory safeguarding obligations which are clearly set out in legislation (Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (SVGA)), secondary legislation (the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014) and statutory guidance, such as Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE, 2016).

Of these, only the SVGA applies to sports clubs and then only insofar as it relates to their eligibility to undertake enhanced DBS checks for their staff and volunteers. There is no specific legislation or statutory guidance setting mandatory safeguarding obligations for sports clubs and no requirement for them to undertake suitability checks for their staff.

Safeguarding is clearly best practice and some sports organisations will have safeguarding requirements imposed on them with reference to the way they are constituted or funded.

The way in which an organisation is constituted will affect the safeguarding obligations imposed on it. For example, a wide range of organisations and individuals working with children and families (more details on pages 52-63 of the government's guidance: Working Together to Safeguard Children) are required to have in place arrangements that reflect the importance of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This guidance can have statutory effect.

Where an organisation has charitable status, trustees must act in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries. The Charity Commission requires trustees to ensure their charities adopt a culture of safeguarding. It has issued guidance for those who work with children to assist trustees on what best practice may look like[1] and has identified safeguarding as a focus area.

Sports Academies

Some sports academy providers working with schools are affiliated to a governing body, for example the RFU for rugby. They are required to implement an effective safeguarding policy and procedure as part of the affiliation process. However, this requirement is recent in application and has not been applied consistently across all sports.

In the absence of a specific overarching legal framework for safeguarding in sport, the NSPCC and Sport England set up the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) in 2001 to help national governing bodies and county sports partnerships minimise the risk of child abuse associated with sporting activities. They have issued Standards for Safeguarding and Protecting Children in Sport. These provides helpful guidance to sports providers but they are not legally binding.

In addition, Sport England and UK Sport published a Code for Sports Governance (2016). Their funding agreements contain specific obligations concerning safeguarding which reflect this.

Ultimately the effectiveness of safeguarding measures in youth sport will depend on the understanding of societal safeguarding duties and the proper implementation and scrutiny of appropriate policies and procedures, both at a national and local level. Schools should play their part in undertaking appropriate due diligence of providers and hirers and in raising awareness generally.

What Should You Be Doing Now?

When engaging with providers of sporting activities to children and vulnerable adults, you should consider the arrangements carefully and take a risk-based approach to the arrangement with regard to issues such as:

  • whether the club or group is affiliated to a sporting or governing body with their own safeguarding policies and procedures

  • whether the club or group receives funding from Sport England and/or UK Sport

  • whether the club or group has a safeguarding policy covering the reporting of concerns about children or vulnerable adults, and allegations against staff

  • the nature of the activity and opportunity for unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults

  • whether it has appropriate recruitment procedures - have all those working on an unsupervised basis been subject to appropriate checks

  • notification requirements for safeguarding issues

Contractual Arrangements

We recommend that schools ensure there are clear contractual terms for organisations using their facilities, and for third parties who provide training or activities to their pupils.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The issue clearly falls within the remit of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), but it is not currently the subject of direct investigation.

We anticipate that the IICSA will establish a specific investigation relating to child sexual abuse in sport or within youth clubs and associations more widely.

Schools have already been advised to retain records relating to child sexual abuse. We recommend that when doing so, you retain records that you or your trading subsidiaries may hold about such issues insofar as they relate to sports providers, whether or not associated with or contractually retained by your school.

What Next?

Given the scale of allegations of historic child sexual abuse in youth sport, we anticipate a large number of concurrent and wide-ranging investigations, both top down by IICSA and by governing bodies and sector regulators, and at grass roots level within clubs, whether or not safeguarding allegations are known to have been made.

We would encourage all schools to ensure that they have considered their safeguarding arrangements in place to protect children and vulnerable adults, not only when engaging the services of external sports providers but also in permitting external sports clubs to use school facilities.

Education of school staff, parents and pupils, all of whom may be involved in out of school sporting groups will play a vital role in increasing awareness of rights and responsibilities in this sphere and will help in the identification of signs of abuse and the reporting of concerns.


If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or if you are concerned about allegations made about your club or organisation, please contact Tabitha Cave on 01173145381 or John Deakin on 01173145335.


[1] Safeguarding Children and Young People; Charities: how to protect vulnerable groups including children

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