The role of the DSL still carries the “Ultimate lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection”. Phil Naylor explores the issues surrounding Safeguarding and how schools might collaborate efficiently with external agencies to triage Safeguarding concerns.

The days of a sole DSL with absolute responsibility for all safeguarding concerns in schools is coming to an end. Systems in which one person picks up and deals with all concerns are flawed and unsustainable. Keeping Children Safe In Education 2021’s arguably biggest change is not in content but in emphasis.

Despite many children living in riskier environments during the pandemic, referrals to children’s social care fell dramatically1. This was partly due to schools having less contact with all children in the school environment1. School safeguarding referrals have anecdotally risen significantly following schools’ full reopening.

The pandemic reversed a trend of decreasing child protection and care interventions1. The results of societal pressures exacerbated by the pandemic have seen a 23% increase in calls to childline1 and a 134% increase in under 18’s being referred to mental health services. This is particularly evident in schools serving more disadvantaged communities. KCSIE 2021 does allow for the appointment of one or more Deputies to assist the DSL.

“It is for individual schools and colleges to decide whether they choose to have one or more deputy designated safeguarding leads. Any deputy (or deputies) should be trained to the same standard as the designated safeguarding lead”

The benefit of one person being responsible makes sense from an accountability and contact viewpoint. In my view, this is too small a team for large 2/3 form entry primaries and most secondary schools, particularly those serving disadvantaged cohorts. It is also not in the spirit or the ethos of the new iteration of KCSIE to have one person making all decisions in the best interest of a child

Managing a high number of safeguarding referrals, attending child protection conferences, liaising with partner agencies, spending time with pupils and families, supporting students’ mental health and meticulously completing the attendant paperwork is in practice not the work of just one or two people.

To mitigate this, schools have increasingly invested in safeguarding teams and the relevant training. Speaking regularly with school leaders as I do on my podcast, here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the safeguarding team positions discussed:

Child protection officer

LAC co-ordinator

Family support workers

Early help co-ordinator’s

Mental health lead

Mental health practitioners

Pastoral managers

Heads of Year

As these staff feed into the overall safeguarding of all students, it is firstly vital that these staff are appropriately trained. As DSL, I ensure that all staff working in pastoral teams are trained to level 3. This ensures that they have a full understanding and appreciation of the work of the DSL and are up to date on the complexities of child protection.

Secondly, we have an easy, attractive and timely system of reporting2 that is constantly reinforced through posters, briefings, CPD and line management.

Thirdly as individual members of the team will know the child better in some instances than the DSL, we enable colleagues within the team to act within the system as KCSIE 2021 states:

“Ultimately, all systems, processes and policies should operate with the best interests of the child at their heart”

In order to ensure that we have a whole school approach to safeguarding; with child protection at the forefront of process, policy and practice, we have introduced a triage process to manage our referrals.

What is a safeguarding triage?

All safeguarding concerns are recorded (on the system of choice) and discussed with the named DSL on duty as soon as they occur. The DSL will assess the nature and severity of the concern and then triage to the most appropriate colleague or deal immediately when an imminent risk of harm is identified.

This process will be logged in a chronology with a time frame. When actioned the concern form will be updated accordingly and returned to the DSL. An example could be a concern around a student’s mental health. This could be triaged to the mental health lead who will be able to either provide or access further support.

How can we set up a triage meeting?

In order to support the DSL’s decision-making and to provide professional scrutiny, a weekly triage assessment meeting occurs. This meeting includes all stakeholders from the safeguarding team at intervals (for confidentiality purposes) working through caseloads with DSL and the Headteacher.

The Headteacher through this process is fully informed of all relevant cases and is able to professionally question the decisions made by the team and offer support and suggestions. The multi-disciplinary and sometimes multi-agency team can therefore work more holistically and in the best interests of each child. These meetings then inform chronologies allowing cases to be revisited and periodically reviewed.

The DSL is also supported monthly by a supervision meeting from a trained Educational Psychologist. This is an opportunity for the DSL to receive support in a confidential environment and to maintain their emotional stability in what is always a challenging but rewarding position.

The future of safeguarding in schools still sits with the DSL but is ably supported by a multi-disciplinary team of highly trained and skilled practitioners. The linking together of these teams is vital to ensure clarity of decision making and acting holistically with the best interest of the child at the centre of practice.

The processes put in place make the role of the DSL sustainable and more effective; ensuring they continue to have the ultimate lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection.


1 – performance tracker Children’s Social Care



Phil Naylor is Deputy Head at an academy in Blackpool and is the creator and presenter of the Naylor's Natter podcast, where he interviews teachers and school leaders to discuss pedagogy, curriculum and school leadership.

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