The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued 22 improvement and prohibition notices to general FE colleges in the last five years. However, the safety of learners at college is not just inspected by the HSE, explains Paul Joyce.

Inspectors draw upon a range of evidence when deciding if safeguarding arrangements are effective.

In order for students to acquire the knowledge and skills that will help them advance to FE, training or employment, it’s vital that colleges and other FE and skills providers offer safe environments for them to learn in.

So it is no surprise that the word safeguarding appears frequently in the new common inspection framework and FE and skills handbook.

Although a number of things have changed with the introduction of the new framework, safeguarding remains very much at its heart.

But what do we actually mean by safeguarding in the context of FE and skills providers?

Although a number of things have changed with the introduction of the new framework, safeguarding remains very much at its heart

Well it is about ensuring learners are protected from harm and ensuring their welfare, it is about making sure students feel safe and are safe in their learning environments wherever that may be, in the classroom, the workshop, or in the workplace.

Inspectors draw upon a range of evidence when deciding if safeguarding arrangements are effective. They will ask the following kinds of questions — has the provider assessed the risk to students’ safety effectively?

Do students say they feel safe? Do staff understand the range of risks to students? For example, would they recognise signs of internet bullying, child sexual exploitation or vulnerability to extremism? Do they know to whom to refer such cases where they have concerns? Can the provider demonstrate where they effectively handled an incident or accident? Has the provider put in place necessary and proportionate steps for safe recruitment? What steps have they taken to review cases and policies?

You will see that we have published a new guidance document: ‘Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings’ which sets out our general policy and practice [visit feweek.co.uk for link].

This complements the handbook for the inspection of FE and skills providers. Inspectors will evaluate whether a provider’s safeguarding arrangements are effective or not on all full and short inspections.

On full inspections this judgement will be made as part of the ‘effectiveness of leadership and management’ key judgement and will obviously have a bearing on that judgement and thus on overall effectiveness.

Furthermore, an important criterion in the personal development, behaviour and welfare key judgement on full inspections is ‘how well learners know how to protect themselves from the risk associated with radicalisation, extremism, forms of abuse, grooming and bullying, including through the use of the internet’.

On a short inspection, if inspectors find that safeguarding is not effective, then the short inspection will always be converted into a full inspection.

A lower grade may well follow. Certainly, unless a provider has effective safeguarding arrangements and keeps its students safe, then it cannot be judged to be good or outstanding.

The good news is that most providers have ensured they safeguard their learners since we started making a specific safeguarding judgement a year ago.