Safeguarding: The Role of a Form & Class Teacher

The following article comes from Pauline Stirling, UK.

Safeguarding is about promoting the welfare of children and young people and protecting them from abuse and maltreatment. Effective safeguarding prevents harm to their health and development, enabling them to have the best outcomes.

Child protection is part of the safeguarding process. It focuses on protecting the individual identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This includes child protection procedures which detail how to respond to concerns about a child or young person.

All organisations that work with, or come into contact with, children and young people should have effective whole-school safeguarding policies and procedures to ensure that every child and young person, regardless of their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, has an equal right to protection from harm.

Organisations include voluntary and community organisations and faith groups, as well as hospitals, sports clubs and schools. Safeguarding in schools is essential for keeping children and young people safe. All adults within a school setting, that both staff, volunteers and visitors, should read, understand and follow the school’s child protection policy and procedures, which should include a definition of abuse and information about how to respond appropriately.

Training should be available for both staff and volunteers. Schools need to create a culture where:

  • children and young people feel confident to speak out if they have a concern about their own or another’s safety
  • adults feel confident to recognise and respond to safeguarding and child protection concerns
  • leadership is confident in responding to and referring concerns and is working effectively with other agencies.

Pastoral care, defined simply, is the provision a school makes to ensure the physical and emotional welfare of its pupils. It is the foundation upon which learning can take place. That said, schools with high standards of pastoral care go far further than a basic commitment to welfare, with pastoral care extending to every aspect of school life to foster pupils’ personal development as much as their academic progress.

There are a variety of different systems of pastoral care within schools. Most schools group pupils in form groups (or class groups in primaries), ensuring a range of abilities, gender and backgrounds within each form. Some schools have a ‘house system’: different schools will have different numbers of houses, with different numbers of pupils per house depending on the total number of pupils attending the school. Pastoral care may be provided on a house basis to a greater or lesser extent. Being part of a house gives pupils a sense of identity and belonging. A Head of House might lead a team of staff responsible for the pastoral care of a set number of pupils. Alternatively, a Head of Year might be a pastoral leader. Whichever system of pastoral care is in place, the role of form (or class) teacher is crucial: form teachers see their pupils every day.

Continuous professional learning and staff development must be a school priority so that staff: understand risk and resilience; can respond actively to problems and difficulties; understand child and adolescent development; and can help pupils with predictable change and transition. All staff should be able to connect appropriately with approaches to behaviour management.

Staff need to be able to understand the causes of poor behaviour and be able to respond to bring about positive outcomes, but staff require effective training and support. Poor pupil behaviour causes staff stress. Staff ought to be positive role models for pupils, whether as subject teacher, form teacher or class teacher: from adults within the school (as well as at home) pupils learn social and emotional skills.

Teaching resources should promote wellbeing across the whole curriculum. The Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum, in particular, should promote mental and physical wellbeing and give pupils the knowledge and confidence to lead safe and healthy lives.

All schools are currently expected to provide PSHE education. This expectation has been strengthened since Health Education and Relationships Education (primary)/Relationships and Sex Education (secondary) aspects of PSHE became compulsory in September 2020.

Some secondary schools deliver PSHE in pastoral (form) time whereas others have a weekly or a fortnightly timetabled curriculum slot. In primary schools, PSHE is likely to be taught by the class teacher. In secondaries, sometimes PSHE is taught by a subject specialist, but more often, PSHE is taught by the form teacher. The form or class teacher may not feel confident teaching PSHE due to perceived lack of current subject knowledge or they may worry about classroom management when discussing sensitive issues. However, as the adult in school that knows a set group of pupils well, sees this group of pupils every day, and has built positive relationships with these pupils, the form or class teacher is in a good position to deliver the PSHE programme

I knew these were developments for me to take seriously.

Advice for the form/class teacher:

  1. Know your school’s safeguarding policy and procedures. Know who your Designated Safeguarding Lead is. Know how to report concerns.
  2. Get to know your form or class well. Liaise with pastoral leads so that you are aware of any issues with individual students.
  3. If possible, be available at the end of form/pastoral/PSHE time (door open etc) to listen to pupils who don’t wish to speak in front of the class or (and hopefully this won’t happen too often) have something to disclose. However, never promise confidentiality.
  4. Have a Class Agreement from the first form/PSHE session. Pupils and adults need to create the Class Agreement together. This should be referred to at every session and amended as necessary. The Class Agreement helps to ensure a positive and safe learning environment.
  5. Double-check that the topic and your resources, especially for PSHE, are appropriate for the age and ability of your form/class.
  6. Have a variety of activities ready: brainstorming, pair work, small group work, independent work… and for PSHE, it’s often better if students work with their friends.
  7. Always build in time for reflection and feedback. Listen to what pupils have to say.
  8. Try to finish a lesson on a positive. For PSHE, if you have discussed coercive and controlling relationships, for example, make sure you finish by talking about healthy relationships. For some topics, you might need to let pupils know where they could get further help and advice. You could have a list of ‘help’ websites displayed in the classroom which you could refer to and add to, as necessary. Whatever the subject/topic, words of encouragement from the form/class teacher go a long way towards improving self-esteem.
  9. Don’t think you need to be an expert on all PSHE/wellbeing topics. Don’t be afraid to tell pupils that you are not an expert on a particular subject. For instance, you are not expected to know the current street name of every illegal drug! However, do make sure you can signpost pupils to relevant sources of information that they can access themselves.
  10. Build in ways to measure the impact of your PSHE sessions. This will help your future planning and will build your confidence. Remember that you, as form/class teacher, will probably be developing your skills and knowledge too!

Author: Pauline Stirling


Now retired from teaching, Pauline taught for over thirty years: most recently as Head of Citizenship and PSHE. She is author of Hodder’s Explore PSHE at KS3 series. Passionate about global learning and learning outside the classroom, she is also a British Council Schools and a Teach SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) ambassador.

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