In the past five years, 84 safeguarding referrals have been made regarding incidents taking place at after-school clubs in England and Wales. A high number of these incidents have included assaults, neglect, and sexual abuse, as reported by BBC News following Freedom of Information requests made to local authorities. In one shocking incident which has led to a parent taking legal action against the school, an eight year old boy was made to clean his five year old sister after she had soiled herself. So what is the position regarding regulatory oversight of after-school clubs? And what can education and children’s social care providers do to protect both the children in their care and themselves?
In England, many providers of after-school clubs do not require an Ofsted registration. It is only mandatory for after-school clubs to obtain Ofsted registration if they are caring for children for more than two hours per day, unless they fall within one of Ofsted’s specific registration exemptions (such as, for example, if the setting is within a holiday club that operates for 14 days or fewer in a calendar year). Registration in England remains voluntary for providers who do not fall within those brackets. Further, when providers do register, only 10% are inspected annually, so the majority of after-school clubs, either unregistered or registered, are not inspected on a regular basis.
It is realistic to expect that schools can and will find means to maximise cash income, especially in light of the current challenging economic climate. After-school clubs ran by third party providers can prove to be profitable. However, if schools do not ensure that their after-school club providers are Ofsted registered and have recently been inspected, they leave their pupils vulnerable to safeguarding risks and the school themselves to irreversible reputational damage.
Schools are required to ensure that they are responsible for the safeguarding of their own pupils and should have strict internal policies and procedures implemented to protect the children in their care. Where schools allow their premises to be used by after-school clubs, there are precautions they can take to eliminate opportunities for safeguarding risks to present themselves. One important precaution is for schools to implement a detailed written agreement between themselves and third party providers in which specific requirements are assigned to each party and the safeguarding obligations of each clearly set out. These should include the need for the third party to have undertaken Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all staff and to have appropriate policies in place. Additionally, schools can ask for proof of the provider’s Ofsted registration and insist on being kept up to date in respect of any forthcoming Ofsted inspections.
With regard to after-school club providers, as stated, many will not be required to register with Ofsted but are able to do so on a voluntary basis. Such providers should carefully consider obtaining Ofsted registration. Registration lends credibility as a regulated provider, and a good Ofsted rating demonstrates them to be reputable and trusted, both of which promote financially profitable positions. On the other hand, registration requires the provider to ensure regulatory compliance at all times and will subject them to Ofsted scrutiny and inspection. Furthermore, due to the current lengthy time-periods between inspections, it can prove difficult for providers to recover from a poor inspection rating.
Whilst there is a clear need for after-school clubs and they can be a good source of income for education and children’s social care providers, the importance of safeguarding children in the care of the provider cannot be underestimated. If you are an education or social care provider and require advice and assistance in this area, please contact us. We can help you to best protect the children in your care and the reputation of your organisation. Our team are on-hand to assist with your regulatory queries.
Article co-authored by Heather Flaherty, Solicitor Apprentice at CMS.