Safeguarding: Reflections on school board training
Safeguarding: Reflections on school board training
Safeguarding: Reflections on school board training
CIS staff photo of Leila Holmyard

By Leila Holmyard, CIS International Advisor



We are pleased to launch an update of the CIS Safeguarding and Governance Briefing for 2022 to include a shift in terminology from peer-on-peer to child-on-child abuse, integrate references to identity-based harm, and provide expanded guidance around the development of a safeguarding strategy and implementation plan. Our members can find a link to the briefing at the end of this post.

Group of adults learning from a trainer to depict school board members attending child safeguarding training

As we do so, I offer some reflections on safeguarding training for international school boards, having supported schools in my CIS role as International Advisor and having heard from safeguarding leads around the world as part of my PhD research into the unique safeguarding challenges of international schools.

Like all safeguarding training, training for a school board should include all items on the International Task Force on Child Protection training checklist.

However, there are some unique considerations we should take into account when planning safeguarding training for the board.


1. Time

It can be difficult for school boards to find the time to give safeguarding the attention it needs, given that many board members have professional careers in addition to their board role.

Safeguarding can be integrated within an annual board retreat, but increasingly this time is dedicated to important generative discussion led by outside providers, leaving little time for training.

One school overcame the time challenge by using their online learning platform to create bespoke asynchronous training for board members to be done during onboarding and as an annual refresher.

This included not only basic safeguarding training but also provided specific information relating to how safeguarding is managed at the school as well as the role of board members.

One notable point of reflection for board members after the training was regarding their position of power in the community and how a friendship could be cultivated as a protective measure against a future allegation.

The school was concerned, however, about whether online training was sufficient and followed up with an optional virtual Q&A with the school safeguarding leads.

This enabled the board members to voice questions or concerns about the school’s safeguarding practice and their own roles.

Further, it strengthened the board members’ understanding of who has oversight of safeguarding at the school and to who they could report if they ever had a concern.


2. Context

Safeguarding training can be used to share the wider context of international schooling with the school board.

Many board members might not know how their school fits in with the wider international school community or how safeguarding connects with accreditation.

I have found that telling the story of how the International Task Force on Child Protection came to be and how its expectations for schools are now embedded in multiple school accreditation processes is helpful for boards to see the larger picture of how safeguarding connects with other foundational school processes.

Indeed, if board training includes references to organisations, such as CIS and CIS Affiliated Consultants, that schools can lean on to provide guidance and frameworks for action, this can give boards confidence that the school is well-supported and that internal practices are grounded in external standards.

I have found this to be particularly important in times of crisis, for example, when responding to an allegation. Making the board aware of these contacts and resources ahead of time can be helpful for maintaining a calm and strategic approach.


3. Strategy versus operations

One concern that has been expressed many times to me and my colleagues is that board members might get too involved with the operational aspects of safeguarding if the door is opened to their involvement in this area.

This is a valid worry: one Serious Case Review following abuse by an educator in a UK school found that the board’s involvement in the day-to-day running of the school negatively impacted its ability to set and oversee the strategic direction.

To mitigate this risk, board member training should explicitly set out the role of the board and of the safeguarding trustee.

This should include board members learning about the role of the safeguarding trustee (an example is provided in the briefing) and clear differentiation between case management (operational) and overseeing risks and trends (strategic).

Our members can find the updated CIS Safeguarding and Governance Briefing here: CIS Community portal > KnowledgeBase > Briefings & reports, along with a thematic report that describes case study examples of international schools which are successfully engaging the board in the strategic oversight of safeguarding and may be used alongside the CIS briefing as a resource for a school board as part of the training or to support the board in defining its role with regard to safeguarding.


4. Case studies and scenarios

The use of scenarios is a valuable way to engage the board and help its members to understand the weight of their role.

Scenarios can also be used to help the board and senior leaders of the school reach agreement, at which point the board's chair person and/or the board might be notified or involved in specific cases.

Serious Case Reviews, in particular the Vahey case, can be used to communicate the reality of the risk that exists within the international school community, whereas fictional scenarios can be tailored to include cultural, legal and other situational factors specific to your school community.


5. Adding value

One school safeguarding lead expressed to me, 'I just don’t know how we can help one another'.

They were hesitant to directly involve the board in safeguarding because they felt the board members did not have enough of an understanding of education and how a school works to be able to offer any meaningful support in this area.

In response, I offered a story from another school that was struggling to find the answers to legal questions relating to safeguarding.

The school’s safeguarding training referenced an old law, and after noticing this while completing the training, a board member offered to help the school investigate how the laws had changed.

As it turned out, the board member volunteered hours of their time exploring legal questions the school had never before had a clear answer to, including:

  • What laws and regulations are there regarding interfamilial harm?
  • What does the law say about the viewing, exchange and/or sharing of nude and semi-nude images?
  • Does the ‘abuse of position of trust’ crime exist in this country?

This work led to the proactive creation of a reference document which means that the school now has this information at their fingertips if there is an incident, rather than trying to answer questions during a crisis situation.

But, it is not just legal expertise which could be leveraged.

Board members with medical training or those who simply have connections in the community may be able to share resources and contacts can be a valuable source of information for the safeguarding team.

Safeguarding training, therefore, provides board members with an opportunity not just to learn but also to reflect on their own skills and knowledge and how they may be able to further support the school.

For more guidance on safeguarding training for your community, visit the ICMEC Education Portal.

Note: Jim Hulbert and Julie Dugdale were co-authors of the CIS Safeguarding and Governance Briefing.


  • Child-on-child abuse: Abuse by one child of another child, both inside or outside of school, in person or online). Learn more: Addressing child-on-child abuse: a resource for schools and colleges 
  • Identity-based harm: harmful or abusive behaviours targeted at people's personal identities, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. Learn more on this topic in a new blog publishing soon.
  • Safeguarding strategy and implementation plan: These set out what the school intends to achieve in the long term to keep children safe and well. It typically includes a broad statement setting out the school’s commitment to safeguarding alongside several priority areas and includes a plan for how the school will move their strategy forward
  • Safeguarding Trustee: a Board member who is appointed to take lead responsibility for overseeing the school’s safeguarding arrangements

Related content: 

Briefing & Thematic report: Our members can find the updated CIS Safeguarding and Governance Briefing here: CIS Community portal > KnowledgeBase > Briefings & reports, along with an accompanying thematic report.

Workshops: View our schedule for upcoming child protection and safeguarding training opportunities.

Perspectives: Read more posts from across the CIS community about child safeguarding, including:



Safeguarding: Reflections on school board training
  • Child protection
  • Intercultural learning & leadership
Safeguarding: Reflections on school board training