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Councils call for tougher powers to safeguard children in out of school settings

Council leaders are calling for tougher powers to oversee and regulate out-of-school settings (OOSS) after an independent report commissioned by the Government uncovered major safeguarding concerns.

16/01/23

Councils call for tougher powers to safeguard children in out of school settings

An independent report commissioned by the government has uncovered major safeguarding concerns, prompting local authority leaders to call for greater powers to tackle them.

A Department for Education-funded pilot assessed 16 council areas over an 18-month period into the oversight of OOSS examining safeguarding risks and existing legal powers available to councils. The pilot sought to demonstrate the benefits of multi-agency working between local authorities and relevant agencies.

The research identified multiple safeguarding risks, including physical chastisement and corporal punishment, as well as instances of grooming, sexual abuse, child exploitation and radicalisation.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, says the findings of the report reinforce long-standing calls for councils to be given greater oversight of such settings and powers to intervene and act where necessary.

Currently OOSS are not required to notify councils about their provision and allow access to their settings, while many parents also assume they are regulated in a similar way to schools or childcare providers.

The report found there was significant potential for safeguarding harm in OOSS, as unlike other educational settings and childcare services, the sector is unregulated under education and childcare law.

It found current legal powers to act are also not widely understood, making it difficult for councils to intervene.

In addition, there is low take up of offers of free voluntary support from councils for OOSS, despite councils’ efforts to encourage OOSS to engage with them and take up training and free DBS checks.

The LGA is calling on the Department for Education to act on the report’s findings and give councils tougher powers to ensure child safety, while ensuring they are adequately funded and resourced to do so.

It says while the vast majority of OOSS will provide safe and suitable environments for children, it is vital that they are required to register with their council, ensuring they comply with safeguarding checks.

The LGA has previously raised concerns over illegal schools and have called for councils to be given powers to shut these down. Where councils have raised this problem previously, they have been told to use fire, planning and health and safety powers, an arrangement that is wholly unsatisfactory.

As a result of the report, council leaders are calling for powers to require OOSS to register with their council; ensure settings comply with all safeguarding checks; and, ultimately, act on any concerns and close down unsafe premises as a last resort.

Cllr Louise Gittins, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said current laws make it difficult for councils to act and these settings are “flying under the radar” without being required to comply with any safeguarding checks.

“Most out-of-school settings will provide safe, positive and enjoyable environments for children, and have a key role to play in furthering their learning and development. However, parents and carers sending their children to an OOSS will rightly expect that they are subject to the appropriate regulation, as seen in schools or childcare providers.

“The fact an independent report commissioned by the Government has presented these findings is yet further evidence of why it is essential that councils are given oversight of such settings, requiring them to register and work with the local authority, while also ensuring the Department for Education gives councils the powers and resources they need to intervene where necessary.”

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