Keeping children safe in international education

With safety and security at the top of business agendas worldwide, we explore how relocating families can choose a school that follows best practice in child safety protocols.

Keeping children safe in international education

See more features about education in the Autumn 2016 issue of Relocate magazine on our Digital Issues page.


Every child has the right to be safe in school. In recent years, however, there have been incidents of child safety breaches within international schools that have shocked and saddened the international education community.These incidents have spurred leading international educators to tackle the challenges of working collaboratively across the globe to ensure that a set of comprehensive standards for protecting children is universally recognised and put into practice. 

International task force

In April 2014, Jane Larsson, executive director of the Council of International Schools, became chair of the newly formed International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP).“There were a number of events that shocked and saddened us all,” Ms Larsson explains. “Child abuse is not new, but because the events were so personal for many of us, they became a catalyst for action. How could this have happened? How could people that we know abuse children and we didn’t even recognise it?” In order to tackle the challenges, the ITFCP brought together more than 90 volunteers from leading education organisations such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), theCouncil of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), alongside business and security managers, school accreditation, inspection and recruitment professionals, and law enforcement officials. The ITFCP drew up a very specific aim from the start, says Ms Larsson. “Our charter is to apply our collective resources, expertise, and partnerships to help international school communities address child protection challenges.”Building on the work of the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA), which was responsible for publishing the internationally respected Child Protection Handbook for schools, the ITFCP sought to revise and strengthen the child protection standards for international schools across the globe.The organisation initially identified weaknesses in international teaching recruitment practices. This, alongside the underdeveloped legal systems in some of the more challenging relocation destinations and the opportunities for ease of mobility that go hand in hand with international teaching positions, can make schools particularly vulnerable.

New standards for child protection

Since 2014, the task force has examined the current standards for child protection in international schools, looking at the areas of staff recruitment, training and development, detecting and reporting unusual behaviour, and compliance with legal and statutory requirements.A new set of standards established by the task force and its sub-committees offered recommendations in the form of essential questions and expectations related to safeguarding and child protection that should be “comprehensively considered” by international schools.“Demonstrating strong collaboration, accreditation and inspection agencies evaluating international schools have now officially agreed and signed their names to a document which commits us all to the implementation of enhanced standards for child protection in schools,” says a delighted Jane Larsson.“It was an historic morning in Atlanta on Sunday 7 February, as all of the US regional accreditation agencies and CIS came together and signed the new standards for child protection.”TheIBO,COBIS, the UK Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and agencies conducting British inspection overseas have also added their signatures to the agreement.

International teacher recruitment

The task force recognises the highly challenging nature of screening and assessing internationally mobile teaching candidates; indeed, it has highlighted this as one of the more difficult areas to address.
In order to formulate a clear way forward, the task force conducted a year-long pilot in 75 schools globally to develop a robust set of ‘essential recruiting practices’ for international school communities. This included a checklist of core and recommended practices for schools to use when conducting background checks for candidates.The task force has recommended that all schools post a ‘statement of commitment’ to these agreed safer recruitment practices, including on their public websites. It would be advisable for parents and relocation professionals, when selecting a new school in a new relocation destination, to ask whether the school is aligned with the recruitment practices and recommendations of the ITFCP.

Child protection training 

In 2015, the ITFCP conducted a study of more than 700 international educators and found that almost half of the respondents “lacked confidence” in their abilities to detect abuse, and that 90 per cent believed annual training in this area should be required and provided. They identified cultural difference as one of the primary barriers to reporting abuse.Forming a partnership with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), the task force recently launched a new (education portal) for educators to share and upload training and best-practice resources and report suspected or known abuse. The new standards and essential questions for schools can also be found there. Families will find useful information on the education portal, with detailed advice on internet safety and specific information for parents about spotting the warning signs that their child may be vulnerable to abuse. “This is a significant step forward,” says Jane Larsson, “as we now have a reliable source for trusted resources. In an advisory role, the ITFCP will continue to curate resources for the site, and provide guidance and access to reliable experts in law enforcement, so that school communities can confidentially seek advice when they suspect or detect abuse.”

Interpol background checks

The task force recognises that different countries vary in their ability to offer comprehensive background checks. This is why a partnership with Interpol has been established to tackle the discrepancies between international legal requirements and policing systems. 
As a result of this partnership, Interpol has launched an initiative to create a single police certificate, which would reflect criminal background checks in all 190 member countries.The CIS, a long-established international school accreditation body of more than 650 schools and 500 universities and colleges, is leading from the front by requiring all its educator candidates to undergo background checks.“Child protection is non-negotiable,” says Jane Larsson. “If a school is failing to protect children, it cannot be accredited.”The CIS demands that its new recruits obtain a current police background check from their current country of employment/residence, as well as appropriate documentation from any previous countries in which they have worked. Further details, such as fingerprints and birth certificates, are required to ensure that there are no errors in identification.The task force has created a recruitment toolkit, which is available for all international schools on its education portal.

British safeguarding

In the UK, teachers have to undergo the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (formerly the CRB check) that is required for anyone working professionally with children in England and Wales.But, as Colin Bell, executive director of COBIS, explains, while the majority of international schools have access to umbrella bodies that administer the DBS service, there is a further international screening check, the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC).“The ICPC has been designed for schools that cannot access the DBS and organisations such as children’s homes, activity centres, churches, orphanages and NGOs based outside the UK,” says Mr Bell. “Similar to the DBS, the ICPC has been introduced to help to stop unsuitable individuals from gaining positions of trust with children and is a police check for UK nationals, or those who have resided in the UK for any time, who have chosen to travel and/or work overseas.”Many international schools worldwide are recognised for their quality teaching and robust safety procedures, but it is the responsibility of everyone involved in a child’s journey through the education system to help keep them safe, Jane Larsson believes.By continuing to work together, schools, education associations, legal practitioners and everyone in the global mobility profession can help by reaching out to their local communities and communicating the importance of safeguarding measures within schools, she says.After all, as Ms Larsson observed at this year’s COBIS annual conference, “International schools are not islands, and expat communities are really good at solving problems.”

For more news and features about education in the UK and across the globe, visit our Education and Schools section. 

The following sections may also be of interest: International AssignmentsCulture and Language

Guide to International Education & Schools

Relocate Global’s annual Guide to International Education and Schools provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice.

Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory