New EYFS Safeguarding Consultation

Sam Preston 28 May 2024 11 min read
New EYFS Safeguarding Consultation feature image

The Department for Education has opened a new consultation seeking the views of all people associated with childcare for children aged 0 to 5 years.

Feedback is invited on proposed updates to the safeguarding standards in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The consultation is open to everyone, especially those involved in childcare, such as childminders, educators, parents, and organisations related to the sector.

The consultation seeks input on enhancing safeguarding measures to better protect children in early years education and care, gain perspectives to aid in crafting comprehensive and robust requirements for practitioners, and ensure the safety of our youngest learners.

The DfE states that by extensive engagement and feedback, they have identified areas for improvement in safeguarding requirements, and the consultation seeks to gather diverse perspectives to inform their decisions.

So, what are the key safeguarding areas?

Safer recruitment

The DfE intends to introduce a requirement for providers to obtain a reference when recruiting new staff members in addition to the existing requirements around criminal record checks and the suitability checks carried out by Ofsted and childminding agencies.

Acknowledging that many providers already have recruitment policies and procedures in place which require them to obtain references before employing a new member of staff, by adding this requirement to the EYFS, the DfE aim to ensure that all providers are considering safer recruitment and making sure that early years providers are robustly and consistently checking the suitability of their staff before employment.

The proposed changes aim to enhance the process of obtaining references for childcare providers and assistants. It outlines guidelines such as not accepting open references, ensuring references are from reputable sources, and verifying the candidate's employment history. Additionally, there are suggestions for updating safeguarding policies to include procedures for checking the suitability of new recruits. The proposal also includes requirements for recording staff qualifications and vetting processes, aligning improvement of safer recruiting practices in childcare settings with those in schools.

Child absences

The consultation suggests requiring providers to follow up on unexplained or prolonged absences, potentially signalling safeguarding concerns, and maintaining an attendance policy shared with parents. Additionally, it proposes increasing the number of emergency contacts per child to more than two to ensure prompt emergency communication. Furthermore, it suggests changing the term 'lead practitioner' to 'Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL)' to align with terminology used in other education settings and to clarify roles within childminder settings. These changes aim to improve clarity, consistency, and efficacy in safeguarding practices across early years settings.

Safeguarding training annexe

The proposed changes suggest the creation of an annexe within the requirements, outlining minimum criteria for effective safeguarding training. This annexe will cover essential topics such as understanding safeguarding principles, identifying signs of abuse, responding to concerns, and familiarising EYFS practitioners with relevant legislation and policies. Additionally, it mandates that Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) complete specialised training covering organisational safety, safe recruitment, and referral procedures. Training renewal every three years (unlike the two-year requirement for schools) and consideration for annual refresher courses are also recommended. These changes aim to ensure that all practitioners and childminders have the necessary knowledge and skills to safeguard children effectively.

Safeguarding training information in safeguarding policies

The consultation proposes adding a requirement for safeguarding policies within early years settings to include information on how safeguarding training is delivered and how practitioners are supported in implementing this training into their daily practice. This initiative acknowledges that while safeguarding training provides knowledge, its effective application requires ongoing support from experienced staff members.

Paediatric first aid (PFA) for students and trainees

The proposal suggests two changes relevant to early years settings for PFA.

First, it proposes explicitly requiring students on long-term placements, volunteers (aged 17 or over), and apprentices (aged 16 or over) to hold a valid and current Paediatric First Aid (PFA) qualification if they are included in staff-to-child ratios. This clarification aims to increase the number of PFA-qualified staff in early years settings to enhance child safety and enable swift response to emergencies.

Second, it proposes updating the footnote regarding the selection of PFA training providers to offer greater clarity and flexibility. Providers are advised to select competent training providers without a hierarchy, but those working under specific bodies, such as trade bodies with approval and monitoring schemes and Voluntary Aid Societies, are fully regulated. This change aims to provide clearer guidance for early years providers in selecting appropriate PFA training providers.

Safer Eating

The proposal aims to enhance safety during mealtimes and snack times for children in early years settings. It suggests adding a "safer eating" section to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to provide clarity and guidance on best practices for ensuring children's safety while eating. Key points include obtaining information on dietary requirements and allergies, developing allergy action plans in collaboration with parents and health professionals, preparing food according to each child's developmental needs, preventing choking hazards, ensuring appropriate seating arrangements, and maintaining supervision by staff with paediatric first aid certification. Additionally, it emphasises the importance of promptly recording and addressing any choking incidents to mitigate future risks. These measures aim to minimise choking incidents and allergic reactions, promoting a safer eating environment for children in early years settings.

Toileting and Privacy

The proposal aims to emphasise the importance of balancing children's privacy with their safeguarding needs during activities such as nappy changing and toileting in early years settings. It suggests that providers and childminders should respect children's privacy while also addressing their safeguarding and support requirements. This initiative acknowledges the significance of maintaining children's dignity and privacy while ensuring their safety and well-being.

After each section, the consultation asks participants for their opinions on these proposed changes. It ends with the opportunity to express whether participants can foresee any positive or negative consequences due to these proposed changes.

So, what are my ‘takeaway’ thoughts on these proposals?

Well, positively, I think that:

  • Enhanced Safeguarding:
    • Safer Recruitment: Mandating the obtaining of references and specific criteria for these references ensures that all staff members are thoroughly vetted, enhancing child safety.
    • Child Absences: Following up on absences ensures that potential safeguarding issues are identified and addressed promptly, potentially preventing harm to children.
    • Consistent Terminology: Changing "lead practitioner" to "designated safeguarding lead (DSL)" aligns early years settings with schools, reducing confusion and clarifying roles.
    • Training Requirements: Specifying training criteria and renewing requirements ensures that all staff are up-to-date on safeguarding practices.
  • Parental and Community Involvement:
    • Transparency with Parents: Sharing policies on absences and dietary needs with parents increases transparency and helps parents understand the procedures in place, fostering trust.
    • Community Feedback: The consultation process itself is inclusive, inviting input from a broad range of stakeholders, ensuring that the changes reflect the needs and concerns of the community.
  • Improved Child Safety:
    • Safer Eating Practices: Clear guidelines on food preparation and supervision during meals reduce the risk of choking and allergic reactions.
    • First Aid Requirements: Increasing the number of staff with paediatric first aid certification ensures that more individuals are capable of handling emergencies, increasing overall child safety.
  • Professional Development:
    • Training Annex: Providing detailed criteria for effective safeguarding training supports professional development and ensures that all practitioners have the knowledge and skills needed to protect children.
    • Ongoing Support: Emphasising the role of the DSL in providing ongoing support helps create a safer and more supportive environment for both staff and children.

However, my negatives are:

  • Recruitment Challenges:
    • Obtaining references before an interview can jeopardise recruitment as current employers might discriminate against staff seeking other positions.
    • This proposal could hinder recruitment, especially in the private sector, as employers may act unfavourably towards staff looking to leave but not successfully securing new positions.
    • The proposal should clarify that employment offers are conditional on positive references, allowing follow-up questions where appropriate to protect applicants from issues with current employers. Schools often allow candidates to indicate whether their current employers can be contacted before an interview, which could be a useful mitigation strategy.
  • Cost Implications:
    • The proposals could lead to significant cost increases, which may be too expensive for many small providers.
    • Additional costs would likely be passed on to parents through higher fees, making childcare more expensive.
    • To mitigate this, cost-effective training packages and facilities for staff training without incurring additional staff hours should be considered.
  • Increased Burden on Staff Time:
    • The proposals will increase the burden on practitioners and administrative staff, increasing the workload in an already busy sector.
  • Paediatric First Aid (PFA) Requirement for Volunteers and Work Experience Staff:
    • The necessity for volunteers and work experience staff to have PFA certification is questioned.
    • This requirement could only allow settings to accept additional help if these individuals are surplus to the required ratios.
    • Clarity is needed on whether work experience students and volunteers can work in EYFS settings if they are additional to ratios.
  • Duplication of Safeguarding Requirements:
    • Early years settings within maintained schools, academies, free schools, and maintained nursery schools must adhere to both KCSIE and the EYFS, leading to complex and overlapping safeguarding duties. Alignment is needed to prevent this.
  • Inconsistency in DSL Training Requirements:
    • There is a discrepancy in the required frequency of DSL refresher training: every three years under the consultation versus every two years under KCSIE. The rationale for this difference is unclear, especially as DSLs in larger settings are likely to consolidate their due to more frequent exposure to concerns / incidents than those in smaller or single-person provider roles.
  • Increased Administrative Burden:
    • Documentation and Compliance: New requirements for obtaining and verifying references and maintaining detailed records increase the administrative burden, which can be particularly challenging for smaller settings.
    • Policy Updates: Providers must update their policies and share them with parents, which is time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  • Training and Implementation Costs:
    • Financial Strain: The need for additional training, particularly PFA certification for more staff, could impose financial strain on providers with limited budgets.
    • Time Commitment: Regular training and updates require significant time investment from staff, potentially impacting their availability for day-to-day childcare duties.
  • Potential Resistance to Change:
    • Cultural Shift: Aligning early years settings with schools and changing terminologies may face resistance from practitioners used to the existing framework.
    • Implementation Challenges: Adapting to new policies and ensuring consistent implementation across all settings may be difficult, particularly for those with less support or resources.
  • Privacy Concerns:
    • Balancing Privacy and Safety: Ensuring children's privacy during toileting and nappy changes while maintaining safeguarding standards may be difficult, potentially leading to concerns from staff and parents about how this is managed in practice.

Conclusion

The new Government consultation on safeguarding in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework seeks to enhance child protection and invites stakeholders to provide their views on the proposed updates. While the proposals offer many benefits, they also present challenges. Key questions for discussion include:

  • Recruitment Practices:
    • How can the requirement for obtaining references before an interview protect applicants from potential discrimination by current employers?
    • What strategies can ensure safer recruitment without hindering the hiring process?
  • Cost Implications:
    • How can financial burdens on small providers be mitigated while enhancing safeguarding standards?
    • What cost-effective training options are available, and how can staff training be facilitated without additional costs?
  • Burden on Staff Time:
    • How can increased administrative and training requirements be managed to avoid overwhelming staff?
    • What support systems can help staff adapt to new requirements, most especially with single or small providers?
  • PFA Certification:
    • Is PFA certification necessary for volunteers and work experience staff, and should there be flexibility in requirements for non-ratio staff?
  • Inconsistency in DSL Training:
    • Should training intervals for DSLs under the consultation and KCSIE be aligned?

There is no doubt that this consultation seeks diverse perspectives to shape effective safeguarding practices, ensuring child safety while addressing practical challenges faced by providers. However, whilst many of the proposed changes aim to enhance safeguarding measures, it's crucial to ensure that they are practical, feasible, and balanced to effectively protect children https://ssslearning.co.uk/safeguarding-training/child-protection-nursery while supporting the smooth operation of early years settings.

The consultation closes on 17 June 2024.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director