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Child Protection at ISZL
By Colin Walker, Director of Student Life

The article below describes the advances made at ISZL over the past four years in the area of child protection. For the purposes of the article, child protection is defined as the aspects of safeguarding systems that protect children from harm through abuse of any kind. Child protection systems specifically focus on protection from physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. The more general term of safeguarding includes such aspects as protection from terrorism threats, ensuring safe buildings and facilities, ensuring safe transport systems, etc.

Before leading into the article I’d like to inform you of the next development in our child protection systems. It is of great importance that the entire community - students, staff and parents - are all working together to make our child protection procedures function well. Parent advisory groups met periodically during the initial developments of our systems, and we’d like to give all parents the opportunity to update their knowledge and understanding of our child protection measures. With this in mind, we have now developed an on-line child protection course on our VLE (Schoology) specifically for parents. The course is endorsed by the Travel Safe child protection organisation and is similar in content to the course that all ISZL staff are expected to complete on an annual basis. Completion of the course by parents is, of course, completely optional and voluntary but I’m sure all parents will find it to be very interesting and useful. It takes about 30 minutes to complete, although you can begin, log out, and continue from that point when you next log in. So you can dip in and out of the course a few times if you like, until you complete it. To do the course simply login to the ISZL VLE (Schoology) and on the first page that opens click on “Courses” at the top of that page. Select “ISZL Child Protection Course:2018/19: For Parents”, and from there follow the instructions. It would be great to have as many parents as possible do the course, and please let me know whether you find it useful.

Read on to find out about our journey with child protection developments over the past four years.

Child Protection at ISZL

Introduction

The global international schools system has seen massive growth over the past three decades. According to data from Matthews (1989, p15), Brummitt & Keeling (2013, p22) and ICEF Monitor (2014 and 2018), the approximate number of 1000 international schools existing in 1989 is now in excess of 9,600, is expected to exceed 12,000 by 2024 and to exceed 16,000 by 2028.

Year

Global no. of int’l schools

Global no. of int’l school students

Global no. of int’l school teachers

1989

1,000

0.5 million

50,000

2000

2,584

1 million

90,000

2013

6,400

3.2 million

300,000

2018

9,605

5.1 million

467,000

2024

>12,000

 

 

2028

>16,000

 

 

In my early years as an international school teacher in the 1990s, the majority of international schools had minimal suitability checks on incoming faculty members. Schools conducting police checks from candidates’ previous countries of residence were extremely rare and even thorough reference checking wasn’t always consistent. The formal training of staff through recognised child protection programmes was unheard of in those days and these institutions had no great desire to change that.

As we entered the new millennium, the Noughties brought along significant changes in the state-run education systems of many countries. Police checks and child protection training became standard requirements for individuals to be employed by organisations involving work with children, but international schools generally still did not follow this movement.

The Wake-up call

The wake-up call for international schools came in 2014 when two major incidents involving potential child abuse in international schools occurred. The first involved a teacher who had worked in about 10 international schools in his 40-year career, including Madrid, Athens, Jakarta, Caracas, London and Nicaragua. In the London school alone, he was found to have drugged and abused more than 54 children. He committed suicide before police could apprehend him. The second involved allegations at a well known and highly reputed international school in Eastern Asia that a number of teachers had sexually abused students. Two of those accused are currently serving an 11-year sentence, although there is strong belief by many that were associated with this case that these imprisoned staff are entirely innocent. The legal proceedings were of huge financial impact to the school.

It was clear, as international educators began to consider the vulnerabilities of international schools to child abuse more seriously, that major developments were needed in order to protect this special group of children. The picture below attempts to clarify reasons for the vulnerabilities of international school communities, and is one of the slides from our ISZL training courses.

The incidents described above rocked the global international school community and a number of schools and educators began to take action. An international task force was formed, the ITFCP (International Task Force for Child Protection), with input from the CIS (Council of International Schools), ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools), international police organisations, international legal firms and international school educators. At the same time, ISZL leaders gained approval to investigate these reported incidents at other schools, to assess the appropriateness of child protection systems at ISZL and to develop these systems in areas that were lacking. The ITFCP were at a stage of initial research and information gathering and had little advice or resources to provide. The Indonesian school, stunned by their abuse allegations was visited to find out more about the allegations, the systems in place before the allegations and developed thereafter, and to make contacts with the expert advisors that were guiding them through their difficulties. We found that two of their advisors were presenting at a conference in the area at that time so we attended the conference and made contact with them. Chris Gould of the Travel Safe child protection organisation was the main advisor to the Indonesian school regarding legal affairs and child protection system developments. Chris is a retired UK Police Detective Chief Superintendent with the Criminal Investigations Department, heading the Child Protection Group. He now runs an organisation advising schools and other child-related institutions all over the world on child protection matters. Dr Freda Briggs served as a Child Protection Officer attached to New Scotland Yard before becoming a child protection lecturer in 1970. She became Assistant to the Australian Minister for Education and was involved with the investigation of many high-profile abuse cases. She won the award of “Australian of the Year” in 2000 and was awarded the Order of Australia in 2005 for her work in child protection. These two contacts were obviously two of the most knowledgeable and highly regarded professionals in this field in the world, and we could not believe our good fortune when both agreed to come to Zug, Switzerland to present to our staff and begin training procedures at ISZL.

The research phase

Time was needed for ISZL to assess the procedures currently in place at that time for child protection, and to determine the adjustments needed to create the best systems possible to safeguard our children. A Child Protection Committee, including Board member participation, was rapidly formed. The 25 members of the committee from all areas of ISZL worked in small sub-groups (most people involved with several sub-groups) to investigate aspects such as our child protection policy; procedures to be followed; reporting obligations; threshold levels; advisories, agencies and authorities; secure database filing; trips supervision and housing; finance and school insurance; training of all ISZL staff; and an educational programme for students. With advice from Dr Briggs and Chris Gould, rapid progress was made and in November 2015, Chris Gould visited ISZL to train a group of ISZL Child Protection Officers (CPOs). A number of these CPOs were also trained as trainers for the syllabus of the Travel Safe organisation. Following this, in February 2016 both Chris Gould and Freda Briggs attended ISZL to oversee the initial training of all ISZL teachers with the assistance of the trainers prepared by Chris in November. Staff were staggered, shocked and astonished by the presentations of Dr Freda Briggs. She explained how pictures drawn by children can indicate issues regarding their relationships and lives; she drew our attention to the subtle ways in which offenders can gain access to children; she described shocking experiences from cases she’d had to investigate. All who heard her speak were overwhelmed by her dedication and experiences.

Child Protection expert Freda Briggs speaking to staff in 2016

The February in-service days were a great success. We now had all teachers trained to protect our children and work within the new procedures being put in place at the school. Dr Freda Briggs passed away, aged 84, two weeks after presenting at ISZL. We had all been given her directive and blessing to continue her work in our small location.

Implementation of procedures

The Child Protection Committee continued its work after the February 2016 in-service days, invigorated by the input of our two expert advisors. They were working to a time-line of new procedure implementation for the start of the 2016/17 school year. One by one, the sub-groups gained approval for their recommendations and in August 2016 we had a Child Protection Policy, Child Protection Handbook, extensive guidelines document for staff, reporting procedures document and flowchart, Communication of Concern Form, child protection information documents accessible for staff in the faculty portal, a secure new database for child protection and all staff trained in their use. Communications were ongoing with other schools in our sports consortia regarding improvements to child protection procedures when students are housed with families on trips. Communications were ongoing with ISZL parent groups regarding the addition of material to the parent portal, and further contacts with external agencies and authorities were being developed. Teachers began to redesign the PSHE programme of the educational curriculum to include child protection material that would increase the awareness, resilience and security of our children in relation to abuse. The planning done by the teachers in that year, 2016/17, would be implemented in classes with students in the following year, 2017/18.

By the winter holiday 2016/17, we had trained all non-teaching staff as well as teaching staff, including cleaners, drivers, kitchen staff and sub-teachers, as well as the full-time non-teaching staff. By this time, we also had appropriate documents linked in the parent portal of the ISZL website and had agreements from other schools in the consortia regarding strengthened child protection procedures around housing.

The start of school year 2017/18 saw our proactive and reactive aspects of the child protection programme now fully operational. The proactive aspects are the education received by the children, procedures to avoid undesired situations and the training of the ISZL staff. The reactive aspects include the preparedness of our CPOs, support from agencies and authorities outside ISZL and the training of the ISZL staff.

Reflection and ongoing improvement

We feel that the systems we’ve put in place for child protection are now serving us well, but we do continue to find important aspects overlooked on occasion, after experiences we encounter. The largest area of adjustment has been in the area of staff training. It was found to be very difficult to schedule regular training and update sessions in the face-to-face training manner that we previously used. We have worked with our former trainer, Chris Gould, to develop an on-line training course for all staff which his company, Travel Safe endorses. The ECIS (Educational Collaboration for International Schools) has developed a very thorough on-line training course which covers far deeper knowledge than our ISZL course. Our CPOs must complete this course annually. Both of these courses incur no financial strain on the school because one has been made within our ISZL computer based systems while the other is included in our normal ECIS membership fee. This cost free aspect is an obvious, additional benefit. In addition to the above training, our CPO leaders attend extra training at CIS workshops that cover more specific and deeper level material.

As you have read before in this article, we have now developed an ISZL on-line parent training course in child protection, which we hope will enhance awareness of child protection issues throughout our community. This is our latest development, and you can be sure that we will always be working towards new refinements that maintain our high reputation in this area.

The ITFCP previously mentioned has now been in operation for 4 years and has developed significant materials and contacts that can assist us. They are currently working closely with Interpol to try to create an international database of offenders so that schools can more easily be aware of the backgrounds of suspect individuals. Although this is not yet near completion, we hope that we’ll benefit from it in the not-too-distant future. We are now often in contact with this group and the collaboration this provides is very useful.

ISZL has been asked to present its systems and procedures to educators from all over the world at the ECIS Educators’ Conference in Luxembourg later this month. As one of the world’s leading international schools, this is another area where ISZL shines the way forward.

 

 

Data sources:            

Matthews M. (1989), “The Scale of International Education” in M. Hayden (2006), Introduction to International Education, London: SAGE, p. 15

Brummitt N. & Keeling A. (2013), “Charting the Growth of International Schools” in R. Pearce (ed.), International Education and Schools, London: Bloomsbury

ICEF Monitor GmbH (18 March 2014), “New data on international schools suggests continued strong growth”, www.monitor.icef.com

ICEF Monitor GmbH (5 Sept 2018), “Annual survey finds continued growth in international schools”, www.monitor.icef.com

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