This is the text of a speech that Tanya Carter gave last week to a group of concerned parents about safeguarding, Safer Recruitment and our campaigning work.
“Hello and thank you for inviting me here to speak on behalf of Safe Schools Alliance.
I’m Tanya, some of you may already know me, for those of you that don’t, I’m one of the Safe Schools Alliance spokeswomen. I’m a mother, an early years practitioner and an ex chair of governors. Along with the rest of Safe Schools Alliance I am passionately committed to upholding safeguarding for all children so that they may grow up in the best circumstances possible and reach their full potential.
At Safe Schools Alliance we put a huge amount of time, effort and energy into producing our resources. We aim to make the law, parents, children’s and teachers rights and safeguarding frameworks accessible and easy to understand. We do this on an incredibly limited budget and rely on donations from supporters. We hope that they have been helpful to some of you in supporting your children and challenging your schools, if they have then that makes it all worth while.
We are focused on upholding safeguarding frameworks and correct interpretation of the Equality Act in schools. We are mainly working with English legislation. When assisting Scottish parents we seek assistance from For Women Scotland, Welsh parents’ group Merched Cymru, and there is a group of women we work with in Northern Ireland.
We challenge guidance, practices, individuals and groups that undermine safeguarding. In the U.K. we have very good safeguarding frameworks as a result of previous campaigning and inquiries, stretching back decades into Victorian times and beyond. Many people before us, particularly women and mothers have campaigned in much harder circumstances than we find ourselves in now. Now it is our turn to ensure that these hard-won rights are not lost and that the next generation have an easier time when it comes to their turn to campaign.
Previous generations have ensured that children are now in schools, not pits, mills or chimneys. The age of consent has been raised, corporal punishment has been outlawed and children are now immunised and receive free medical and dental treatment throughout their childhoods. Indeed their medical care commences in utero, with scans that can determine sex from early pregnancy. All of this means that death in childhood is now thankfully rare; so rare in fact that now when a child dies and abuse or neglect is suspected to be a factor a Serious Case Review is carried out. There are always learnings from these reviews that then feed into our frameworks and understanding of safeguarding so that we may try and prevent future deaths.
One of the recent developments in safeguarding is Safer Recruitment training. Safer Recruitment training was introduced as a result of the findings of both the Warner report that looked at widespread physical and sexual abuse of children in residential homes and the Bichard Inquiry. The Bichard Inquiry was carried out following the murders of ten year olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by their school caretaker, a man who should have been nowhere near a school or any child due to previous convictions and concerns that had already been raised about him.
Safer Recruitment involves stringent checking of references, qualifications, previous convictions and concerns raised about individuals wishing to work with children. Not only that, but it encourages thorough vetting of individuals at interview to explore their values and motivations for working with children. People who wish to work with children, not for the benefit of the children themselves, but to fulfil some need within themselves are unsuitable individuals and must be prevented from entering organisations that work with or for children. One of the key points of Safer Recruitment is that it is much easier to prevent an unsuitable individual, or worse a predatory individual from entering a school or other group, than to remove them once they are there. It is known that predators may make themselves ‘indispensable’ to prevent their removal or the alarm being raised. Safer Recruitment reminds organisations to operate a culture of vigilance where all members of a community feel able to and supported to speak out if they have concerns about another member’s behaviour, no matter how small.
More recently we have had the Sheldon report that has looked at abuse in sport and which you can read more about on our website and at the moment the Truth Project is just releasing investigation reports from the independent inquiry into childhood sexual abuse. The final report is due to be published later this year and hopefully this will strengthen safeguarding once more. There is also currently a government consultation on the latest edition of ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’. We will be contributing to this consultation and would encourage you to do so too.
Safeguarding training teaches you to be vigilant, to be aware that nobody is above suspicion no matter who they are, be it your friends; family; liked and respected colleagues, even your intimate partners. Nobody is above suspicion and allegations must be taken seriously.
Safeguarding teaches you to be alert to grooming and boundary pushing, whilst remembering that however many years training and experience you may have you can still be susceptible to grooming. This is why safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. You may not notice that somebody is attempting to groom you, but someone else might. Listen to that person. Safeguarding training teaches you about how perpetrators hide in plain sight and silence those who do notice what they are doing.
A particularly abhorrent method of hiding in plain sight has been paedophiles posing as gay men and then calling those raising concerns ‘homophobic’. This is a method we are now seeing used nationally, as materials that groom children into lowering their boundaries, normalising dangerous sexual practices, breaking familial bonds and removing the very children they purport to help from safeguarding frameworks are snuck into schools. This is happening under the Trojan horse of LGB and trans inclusion. Once again when those who understand safeguarding raise objections there are cries of ‘homophobe’, ‘transphobe’ and ‘prude’ from those who at best have an insufficient understanding of safeguarding and at worst some incredibly dubious motivations.
Safeguarding and Safer Recruitment have been at the forefront of every decision we have taken since launching Safe Schools Alliance in May 2019. Since then our team of volunteers has worked flat out. We have worked hard to build our reputation and ensure that it is clear to all that safeguarding is always our guiding principle. We work with journalists, parliamentarians, other groups, parents and teachers. We always protect our sources and ensure that the privacy of claimants in legal case we have supported has not been breached. We are very clear with journalists that we will not give access to children or adults that could lead to children being identified. Sometimes this has meant turning down media offers, but we will not sacrifice the safety of one child to safeguard others. All children deserve to be safeguarded at all times. We stick rigidly to that principle.
We have continued to work hard all through Covid although obviously the inability to meet face to face has slowed us down and the pandemic dominating the media has prevented us getting our message out as much as we would’ve liked. Over the past year we have produced well researched resources on Mermaids and Stonewall which have enabled teachers and parents to successfully challenge their use in schools. We joined together with many other women’s rights groups such as Fair Play for Women and Woman’s Place U.K. to challenge the incorrect recording of sex in the census. We have reviewed many materials used in schools and published critiques; we have had our research on porn published for use in schools; we campaigned in the London Mayoral elections in an attempt to get all candidates to commit to making child safeguarding a priority; we have contributed to many government consultations to improve things such as toilet provision and RSE materials for all children. We have lobbied the EHRC and the DfE to release safeguarding-compliant guidance for schools on single-sex spaces; we will continue to do so until we are satisfied that all children are effectively protected. We have produced well-received Advice Notes for parents on raising concerns and making complaints at their children’s schools, on challenging social transition and engaging with schools on RSE and PSHE. These have been widely used and led to many positive changes.
We have presented to groups of Parliamentarians to drive change nationally and I am proud have been given the opportunity to speak on safeguarding at the first annual conference of the LGB Alliance. I am so grateful that this group of veteran activists is so committed to strengthening the rights of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men worldwide. As the mother of a lesbian it is so important to me that these brave and resilient individuals are campaigning so hard to keep and improve the rights that she and her girlfriend will need as they go through life. Their work now will make it so much easier for them when it is their turn to uphold rights for the next generation.
We have challenged everyone who has failed to uphold safeguarding this year, from individual schools, to teaching unions to Girlguiding and government departments and we will continue to do so. Nobody should be exempt from scrutiny. Safeguarding children is the responsibility of every single adult in society; we take that responsibility extremely seriously and we expect others to do so too.
So thank you very much for having me here, it’s been an honour to come and speak to you, we are all big fans of your work and your dedication to supporting and safeguarding your children, so please do take a look around our website if you haven’t already done so. If you would like to share your families’ story in order to help others we would be happy to host it in the our stories section on our website. As ever if you have not already written to your MP and other representatives please do so. Like everybody they have a responsibility to safeguard children and they need to be held to account if they fail to do so.”