The DSL Role - What to expect from your training.

Sara Spinks 13 February 2023 8 min read
The DSL Role - What to expect from your training. feature image

In this article Sara Rawnsley looks at the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) role and examines the key areas vital to the foundation of DSL training.

Taking on the role of DSL may feel like a daunting prospect, the sheer level of responsibility and expected knowledge base may discourage many from even considering it. However, with effective training it can be a rewarding role.

Before becoming DSL (or a deputy) you should complete training that provides you with the knowledge and skills to perform the role. If you're joining a newly established school, such as a free school, you must complete the training before the school opens.

This training should be updated every 2 years. You should also update your knowledge and skills 'at regular intervals, and at least annually'.

These updates can include:

  • E-bulletins
  • Meetings with other DSLs
  • Taking time to read and digest safeguarding developments

Annex C of the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE), explicitly lays out the expectations of the role and is key to guiding practice. This key document should be the first port of call for those new to the role and should be read thoroughly alongside other HM Government guidance, such as What to do if you're worried a child is being abused: advice for practitioners and Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Whilst child protection arguably forms the majority of the work of anyone undertaking a DSL role, it is important to remember there is a wider safeguarding remit. DSLs must not only have a good working knowledge of this remit but also be able to foster a collective responsibility in order to safeguard children, colleagues and your organisation. These include:

  • Child Protection;
  • Child-on-child abuse, bullying, cyberbullying, internet and social media misuse;
  • Pupils with Child Protection Plans, Child in Need Plans and Early Help Assessments in place;
  • Thematic topics e.g. CSE, CCE, FGM, HBA, Forced Marriage, radicalisation / extremism and domestic abuse;
  • Health and Safety - on and off-site;
  • Risk Assessment - site, activities, off-site visits, known behavioural difficulties;
  • Vetting and barring;
  • Safer recruitment;
  • HR policy and procedures e.g. Code of Conduct, Whistleblowing Policy;
  • Critical Incident planning.

Key themes for effective DSL training

High quality DSL training should address a multitude of aspects of the role. Here are key aspects which should be included:

Overview of key legislation and statutory guidance

Legislative requirements place statutory duties on organisations such as schools, academies and colleges. A statutory duty is a duty by law which has been determined by Parliament and set down in statute e.g. The Children and Families Act 2014 which places statutory duties upon those who care for children. Statutory legislation may be superseded but is also often amended, so it is important for professionals to ensure they are adhering to the correct / most recent documents, such as the most up-to-date Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE), understand all aspects of it as well as the expected requirements placed on all staff working in educational settings.

School / Academy policy

Safeguarding and Child Protection policies are statutory requirements and may be produced as separate policies or combined into one policy. Your training should give in-depth details as to what should be included in these policies (often combined into one overarching Safeguarding policy) as well as the necessity for protocols. Protocols provide a useful way of summarising what action you expect to happen and the order for that action to take place.

The role of the DSL

Good training will give clear direction to all aspects of the role, including the statutory elements as set out in KCSIE and how the role relates to the statutory guidance PACE Code C 2019 which details the role a person undertakes when acting as the 'appropriate adult' while a student is being questioned or detained by the police.

Signs and symptoms of abuse

It is important for the DSL to foster a safeguarding collective responsibility to ensure staff are vigilant and share information but do not undertake an investigative role. Therefore, a DSL should have a deep and comprehensive knowledge of the signs and symptoms of abuse.

Working Together to Safeguard Children

In 2015, the DfE published Working together to safeguard children, to further safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In September 2019 the legislative duties of Local Safeguarding Children's Boards were removed and transferred to local 'safeguarding partnerships'. These tri-partnerships, now fully in place, consist of Local Authorities, Chief of Police Officers and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs). Each member agency has an equal and joint responsibility for safeguarding arrangements. They are required to formulate arrangements for working together with other 'relevant agencies' to safeguard children in their local area. It is important that a DSL fully understands the importance of information sharing, both within your school, and with the 3 safeguarding partners and other agencies, organisations and practitioners.

Decision Making and Thresholds of Need

There are four defined levels of need which DSLs should be familiar with in order to accurately identify concerns and ensure the most appropriate level of support is put in place at the earliest opportunity. Training should give the DSL the knowledge and skills to understand these and therefore give staff the confidence to promote the 'telling' culture of 'SEE IT THINK IT SHARE IT'.

Assessment and Referrals

Quality training will ensure that a DSL gains confidence in how to make effective assessments and the procedures for making referrals, both when a child is deemed to be in immediate danger and not. Additionally, a DSL should learn and understand the multi-agency child protection process and Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC). An ICPC must be convened when concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. An ICPC will be convened after an assessment led by Local Authority children's social care under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, known as a Section 47 Enquiry. A Section 47 Enquiry includes gathering information from other professionals and must be completed within 45 days from the point of referral. It is the responsibility of the DSL to provide information, or ensure a representative from your school or academy provides information, which will inform the decisions taken to protect the child or children.

Child Protection Plans

If deemed necessary a Child Protection Plan will be devised at an ICPC. This details how a child is to be kept safe, how their health and development is to be promoted and, if appropriate, ways in which professionals can support the family in promoting the child's welfare. The DSL's role will be to provide information to help formulate the plan and to ensure the proposed action to be taken by the school or academy is appropriate and deliverable. This includes information on educational attainment and progress, behaviour and any intervention, liaison or referrals the school or academy has been involved with or made. The DSL will then attend Core Group meetings within 10 days of the ICPC, with further core group meetings held on a regular basis until the Review Child Protection Conference (RCPC). Training should cover all aspects of these processes.

Child In Need (CiN)

Training should give DSLs clarity of the CiN process. A child in need is a child who is thought to need extra support or services to help them to achieve or maintain 'a reasonable standard of health or development'. A CiN plan may also form part of a step-down process from a child protection plan where the child is not deemed at risk but supporting intervention is still required. This is usually for a period of up to 6 months. A CiN plan requires consent from those with parental responsibilities and will initially be reviewed within 3 months and every 6 months thereafter for the term of the plan. As with Child Protection Plans, it is the responsibility of the DSL to implement aspects of the plan in the school or academy.

Early Help Assessment Plans (EHA)

These plans are early intervention tools which, through multi-agency presence, prevent children and families from having to tell and re-tell their stories and co-ordinates multi-agency support. Parental consent to raise an EHA must be obtained. An EHA Action Plan is completed if, following completion of the initial EHA form, needs have been identified. It may not be possible for your school or academy to meet the needs identified and, in such cases, help from other professionals or services can be sought. This forms a ‘Team around the family’ (TAF) whose purpose is to bring people with specialist knowledge together to work out how best to support the family. The DSL will form an integral part of the TAF and often are the lead professional.

Recording & sharing information

Whilst there is no specific legislation in respect of child protection records, schools and academies should ensure that the principles of the requirements under the legislation and guidance are adhered to remembering that a court may require you to provide full records held on the child. As stated in the statutory guidance KCSIE, when a child moves to another school or academy the DSL is responsible for ensuring that copies of relevant child protection records are transferred to the DSL of the receiving school or academy. Training should cover best practice processes and the ability to keep detailed, accurate, secure written records of concerns and referrals.

Critical Incident Planning

This is a complex and essential part of safeguarding. Basically, this is the process where schools and academies develop policy and protocols for situations that hopefully will never happen, but should that be the case, there will be safeguarding directives that staff and the organisation can implement. It is essential for the DSL to take an active role in critical incident planning to ensure plans consider measures for children and young people known to be at risk and who may need additional support or protection.

Thematic knowledge

Training should cover all aspects of thematic topics within the safeguarding remit such as:

  • Domestic abuse;
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM);
  • Breast Ironing;
  • Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE);
  • Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE);
  • Forced Marriage;
  • Honour Based Abuse (HBA);
  • Prevent Duty;
  • Child-on-child abuse, including sexual violence and harassment;
  • County lines;
  • Serious violence.


DSLs should have training to understand the unique risks associated with online safety and be confident they have the knowledge and capability to keep children safe while online at school. Training should provide knowledge on cyberbullying; victim behaviour; e-safety legislation; radicalisation; the Dark Web; online Child Sexual Exploitation; Child Criminal Exploitation; Child Financial Exploitation; sexting; online Profile Management and cybercrime. Training should help DSLs to formulate Internet Use Policies and clarify the responsibilities of the school or academy as well as give examples of best practice.

As a new DSL choosing the right training is fundamental to ensuring the importance of providing information and support in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Training should instil an understanding of the lasting impact that adversity and trauma can have, and what is needed in responding to this to promote educational outcomes. It should also develop a DSL’s confidence as well as their knowledge and skills to face the day-to-day challenges of this demanding role.

DSLs need to be able to access up-to-date resources quickly and efficiently as well as be alerted to any changes or current issues. A good quality training provider will do this in addition to ensuring any relevant or refresher training courses are available.

Find out more about our safeguarding courses.


Department for Education (2022). Keeping children safe in education. GOV.UK

Department for Education (2015). Child abuse concerns: guide for practitioners. GOV.UK

Department for Education (2018). Working together to safeguard children. GOV.UK

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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