Myth-busting and fact-finding
A conversation with Tim Gerrish OBE
In mid-November, educators from 56 schools in 24 countries gathered in Dubai for the CIS Child Protection Workshop, second in a series of four workshops around the world. Local educational officials from KHDA, the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority, also attended to provide local perspective and advice, as agencies around the world work collaboratively to strengthen school standard for child protection. Among the outstanding strand leaders, Tim Gerrish OBE worked with attendees in the School Policies and Practices strand, covering how safeguarding should be strengthened in the leadership dimension. With more than 30 years working in law enforcement, including many years of working with schools around the world to implement or strengthen safeguarding policies, Tim has seen a lot of good and bad practices. But he admits that he still learns something new every time he works with schools.
Following the workshop in Dubai, he reflected on varying levels of experience and knowledge from attendees in the past two workshops: “You will learn a lot—not only from the experienced consultants, but also from your peers.” Tim’s session “Child Protection Audits, Policies and Practices” laid out the foundational steps to building a safe environment for children in school. First, there must be a clear safeguarding policy. Second, there needs to be a staff code of conduct specifically regarding safeguarding that is read, understood and signed by everyone who works at the school, not just teachers. Third, reporting guidelines should be set in place. Through all of these steps, proper training is key. Tim is explicit: “This does not simply mean having a set of documents on a shelf; it is about having procedures and a culture that are implemented and practised day in, day out by every single member of the school, in every area of operation.”
From his perspective, a lot of what schools go through in order to create this foundation can be qualified as ‘myth-busting’ and ‘fact-finding.’ For example, some schools have the impression that reporting to local authorities may be in-effective. This could be true in some cases. But it could be an assumption that has never been challenged. Additionally, school staff can be all together unaware about basic laws in their local community. Tim noted that a number of schools don’t know what the age of consent is in their region. Thus, his role in these workshops is in large part helping schools figure out which myths should be investigated and which fundamental facts need to be gathered.
The empowerment that schools attain in these child protection workshops are two-sided, according to Tim. Schools should feel empowered to reach out to external authorities and consultants for support and expertise. At the same time, schools should be empowered to upskill themselves so that they have the capacity to respond to certain situations internally. In doing so, Tim emphasized, “Schools should not underestimate the influence they can have in upskilling their local community, including the police or child protection services in certain countries. Make them part of the process. If done diplomatically, they can become teachers in the community.”
This task in front of educators and school leaders can seem monumental. “It’s very easy to be overwhelmed. But this workshop allows you to have a structure and get advice. Once you have these foundational stones set, things can fall into place very organically.” Along with general and specialist child protection training, Tim confirmed that accreditation is a major driving force to strengthening safeguarding practices in schools across the globe. Every school going through CIS Accreditation will soon (if they have not already) encounter the standards on child protection in the new CIS International Accreditation protocol. Many schools will need to find additional resources to ensure the quality and sustainability of their processes. Attending a CIS Child Protection Workshop is a great place to start. Tim reassured, “As long as schools are beginning their journey, it will be enabling.”
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