Earlier this year the Education and Skills Funding Agency published guidance on indicators for potential fraud. It provides a helpful list of generic indicators and/or risk factors associated with potential fraud. It also highlights that due to the nature of fraud, the indicators/risk factors listed are not designed to be an exclusive list but instead may be helpful for use as a checklist where concerns exists that fraudulent activity may be taking place.
The Department for Education also published additional guidance to raise awareness of cyber-crime and cyber security, with the aim of helping schools to identify and address the risks by putting in place appropriate and proportionate controls. Again, although this was not aimed at independent schools, the cyber security risks (such as email hacking and phishing) are the same for all education providers and the guidance therefore provides a helpful summary of strategic and cyber security questions to help schools assess the risk to their organisation. Schools can help mitigate the risks identified by, for example, staff training; using firewalls, antivirus software and strong passwords; and routinely backing up data and restricting devices that are used to access can all assist in reducing the risk.
- Independent review of the Prevent programme
The Home Office has announced that Lord Carlisle will be leading an independent review of the Prevent programme, which safeguards vulnerable people including children and young people from being drawn into terrorism.
Lord Carlisle has commented: ‘The nature of the terrorist threat is ever-changing and government policy must evolve in order to tackle it… I look forward in my new role to seeing Prevent work in action and hearing views from supporters, critics and everyone in between to see the evidence of what is and isn’t working. The review will be strongly evidence based.’
The review will focus on the current delivery of the Prevent programme and make recommendations for the future and is expected to report to Parliament by August 2020.
- County lines
County lines has received much press coverage recently. Reports from the children’s commissioner for England claiming around 50,000 young people were known to be affected by county lines (with concern that the actual figure was likely to be much higher); the National Crime Agency reports an increase in the number of children and young people being referred to the National Referral Mechanism; and the BBC published findings following analysis of police-recorded crime which show a shift in where drug crimes are being committed (with towns on the peripheries of cities seeing an increase as drug gangs find new markets within easy commuting distance of their home cities).
It has been noted that there may be difficulties for schools in trying to spot signs of county lines exploitation e.g. children may only miss school for short periods to avoid raising suspicions on attendance levels. The Children’s Society also highlights the issue of children forcing schools to send them home – through tactics such as not wearing the correct uniform – to allow them to complete tasks for gangs or children misbehaving to ensure exclusions, allowing them to be available for drug-running.
The TES has published a blog by primary school teacher Helly Douglas which provides a helpful summary of how to safeguard students effectively:
- Look beyond the stereotype and do not assume a child is safe because they come from a stable home and/or affluent background;
- Be alert to changes over time e.g. through deteriorating grades, attendance and escalating behaviour problems. Attendance should be monitored, for example, to help highlight those who may be repeatedly absent for short periods;
- Expensive phones, personal items and/or large amounts of cash may be an indication a child is being groomed;
- Avoid, if at all possible, sending pupils home during the school day;
- Explicitly teach about the dangers of exploitation e.g. through age-appropriate lessons and assemblies and shift the message away about general “stranger danger” to the risks associated with those who children may view as friends;
- Ensure pupils are aware of the systems to report concerns to staff (anonymously, if they wish) and ensure such concerns are recorded and evaluated to help identify patterns;
- Encourage parental engagement and support e.g. by offering meeting or sending information booklets home on the risk of county line exploitation.