Radical safeguarding – online event this Monday evening

radical ed forum

Although many of us are missing face-to-face encounters at this time, the proliferation of online events means that some of us can take part in things we otherwise would have found it difficult to attend. The ‘Radical Education Forum’ is a London-based collective of people working in a wide range of educational settings who meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved in education. Some of us have gone along at times, and found their discussions and events a stimulating way to build solidarity and learning across the education sector. The following event on radical safeguarding looks particularly interesting; the details below have been provided by the organisers.

Radical safeguarding: How can we mediate power and policy outside of school?

A panel discussion of what safeguarding really is, who it benefits, and how it can be reconfigured.

Monday April 13th, 7-9pm, free. Book herethen check your emails before the session for your ticket.

During our last Rad Ed Meeting, a number of people powerfully discussed the relationship between safeguarding and Covid-19. There was a general consensus from participants that the sudden and radical shift to online learning and homeschooling offers a range of threats and opportunities for learning. These opportunities (in bold) and threats can often contradict each other, for example:


It is highly unlikely that any children will be proactively disciplined or excluded from school for failure to do work, however, many young people will be excluded from learning due to their circumstances i.e. poverty, abuse or neglect at home, being a young carer, not having access to a consistently adequate working space and/or ICT facilities etc.

Vulnerability has never been so exposed and present, both in terms of state violence but also of health and the home and moreover, however, this is caused by the ‘profit over people’ ideology of free market capitalism – however, this also creates a danger of ‘vulnerabilisation’ of young people (Kate Brown) and families, which the state will use for greater paternalism and control.
For the time being, teachers have far greater control of the curriculum and in the absence of exams are not condemned to teach to the test, however, everything teachers do online is subject to the threat surveillance both by individual abusers and hackers, but also from the interrelated and mutually beneficial networks of multinational cooperations and local, national and international governments.
Teachers can have a far greater degree of individual communication with a greater number of young people and build deeper learning relationships as young people may feel more at ease having critical discussions from home, however, safeguarding policy is paternalistic and claims neutrality while being designed to protect the status quo. Greater surveillance means greater professional vulnerability.
What is needed is a radical re-envisioning of how educators can keep children safe. Whilst this must include freedom from neglect and abuse, it also needs to be proactively empower people to safeguard against the ‘predatory ambitions and moral indifference’ (Fielding & Moss) of transnational and surveillance capitalism (Zuboff) in the same way as we would from other more local threats. Therefore, radical safeguarding must develop the freedom to choose. For example, to choose what the good life is, to choose meaningful positive relationships, to choose the kind of justice that can transform society and with this, ultimately, radical safeguarding must allow the freedom to make mistakes. Interestingly, from an international perspective, this view is not radical at all, and could all be justified (not unproblematically of course) with the ‘UN convention on the Rights of The Child’ (UN 1989).
QUESTION: Can radical safeguarding that supports the dignity and freedom of all be possible in the current state schooling system in the UK? Can we reform, or must we rebel and remake?
Our next meeting will begin with a panel discussion from education leaders, who have all explored the boundaries of safeguarding policy both within and outside of schools:
Bea Herbert – Founder and Director States of Mind
Graeme Tiffany – Informal and Community Education Consultant
Lita Wallis – Citizenship Youth Worker The Winch / Take Back the Power
Sophie Christophy – CEO Phoenix Education
Zahra Bei – Founder No more Exclusions


For anyone new to safeguarding policy in schools please find a brief (and imperfect) history to begin discussion below:


Brief History of the contradictions in Safeguarding policy in the UK (also see NSPCC)

‘Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interest of the oppressor (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism… the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced or implemented by the oppressors'(Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Freire)

‘The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instil convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any’ (Origins of Totalitarianism: Arendt)

The Children Act 1989 first coined the legal duty of adults to ‘safeguard’ the welfare of children, however, it was not until the Children Act 2004 that these responsibilities were extended to teachers and schools. It is a sad fact that most changes in safeguarding policy are rarely proactive and most often come about in response to the public outrage and blaming of child protection services who failed to save children such as Victoria Climbié and Peter Connelly.


Safeguarding policy rarely engages with the cultural-historical and socio-economic reality of families and communities and instead utilises tragedy to exert greater power and control over defining the roles and ‘outputs’ of institutions, adults and children. For example, most teachers in England would experience this as being told never to be alone with a young person, never to divulge personal or political information and maintain the ‘teacher-student’ relationship. Many now see their duty to produce results only interrupted to when identifying ‘at risk’ behaviours. Once this is identified, they are told to recite a script and then make a referral to the safeguarding lead of the school (e.g. “it’s good that you have told us and now I must pass it on so you are safe”). More often than not, referral is where the role of the teacher ends; it then becomes the work of senior leaders and safeguarding leads in schools to support children through multiagency working, for instance, between schools, social Services, NGOs, charities, police, Disclosure and Barring Service and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)- although referrals to external organisations are important for of child protection, a reactive system is not designed to make change, since ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ (Lorde).


The most recent safeguarding guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children (2019), begins by stating that ‘nothing is more important than children’s welfare,’ yet these words are meaningless when uttered by a conservative government that has imposed a decade of austerity, in the face of overwhelming evidence that free market capitalism (Gerhardt 2010) and poverty (Wilkinson & Pickett 2010) feeds abuse and neglect.


It is deeply concerning that more recently, ‘safeguarding’ has been extended by the government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act(CONTEST) to include the Prevent Strategy, which requires schools to protect children from the risk of radicalisation (DfE 2015), this has become known as the securitisation of education. Schools now need to ‘promote’ Fundamental British Values, including ‘democracy’ but,


The idea that democracy is a place of agreement and an abstract value that we can all share, forgets the intensity of disagreement about what democracy meant only one hundred years ago. By presenting extremism as the opposite of democracy, it seems easy today to imagine that we can take sides with one against the other. The actual champions of democracy in the past, however, were not always so easy to spot. After all, were not the Suffragettes among the terrorists of their day? (Wolton 2017:130)

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