7 Unique Safeguarding Challenges all International Schools Need to be Aware of!

The international school landscape is rapidly growing to now include nearly 12,000 schools, employing over 589,000 staff members to cater for more than 6.3 million pupils worldwide. With several hundred more schools anticipated to join this number in the near future, it is easy to see that this market is not slowing down any time soon.

As well as this, English Medium International schools have been seen to broaden their appeal,¹ attracting a larger number of pupils from local families in addition to the expat communities they have always served. Consequently, enrolment for international school places has increased by 7% yearly.

Considering this exponential rate of growth and the volume of children and young people now passing through these establishments, it is clear to see that there is an increased requirement for schools to protect and safeguard their diverse pupil-base.

Child Protection or Safeguarding?

In the UK, the term ‘safeguarding’ is used to describe actions that are taken to protect individuals, especially children, young people and vulnerable adults from harm. The NSPCC provides a useful distinction:

Safeguarding is the action that is taken to promote the welfare of [all] children and protect them from harm. Child Protection is part of the safeguarding process. It focuses on protecting individual children identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This includes child protection procedures which detail how to respond to concerns about a child.2

Thus, Safeguarding goes further than Child Protection in that in encompasses the early actions taken by Schools and other organisations to ‘enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes’.2

Schools in the UK are obligated to protect their students from harm and are guided by a series of thorough and relevant pieces of key statutory guidance (e.g. Keeping Children Safe in Education, Working Together to Safeguard Children). Pupils in international schools have just as much right to be protected from risks (e.g. mental health, online safety and bullying) as they do in UK schools. However, staff internationally may not be able to access the same useful resources as their counterparts in schools in the UK. It is also critical that staff in schools are able to stay up-to-date with the growing number of complex issues facing children and young people. For example, the digital landscape has introduced a wide range of new risks such as sexting, online gambling and cyber bullying.

Additionally, there are several challenges that international schools face in respect to preventing harm to those in their care, which differ from the issues that schools in the UK might experience.

What Are The Unique Safeguarding Challenges Facing International Schools?

1. Terminology

One of the first challenges for international schools is to navigate the variances inthe terminology in use. Often there are differences from country to country and school to school. In some cases, it may be necessary for schools to ensure that all staff, and in particular new staff, have the same understanding when it comes to the language being used.

2. The mix of boarders and local pupils

Many International schools are bursting at the seams with a rich variety of cultures and backgrounds, even more so now due to a rise in local children joining the mix of children from the expat communities in their area. This mix, combined with a number of ‘Third Culture Kids’ creates a brilliant ethos of understanding, tolerance and respect among pupils. It can, however, also lead to a complex dynamic which needs to be carefully managed.

Whilst a multi-cultural pupil-base comes with benefits in terms of cultural acceptance and a better understanding of different religions and beliefs, it also carries risks that all staff in international settings need to be mindful of. For example, bullying occurs in all schools, whether in the UK or overseas. International schools are well known for promoting a culture of openness, caring and acceptance, but it’s paramount that these schools can also maintain the correct processes to manage bullying and to record incidents in order to prevent situations from escalating.

3. Guardianship and Pastoral Care

Pupils in these settings can sometimes live a long distance from their home and family, bringing another set of issues and concerns which staff in international schools need to manage and respond to with sensitivity.

Pastoral staff and guardians in international schools take on overall accountability for parental controls and discipline of these pupils. They must also balance this with the need to become role models, nurturing their pupils and providing guidance, reassurance and advice when needed.

These demands can increase in complexity when being managed alongside the interpersonal challenges brought on by puberty, combined with the stress that can be felt by many students juggling the competing demands of exams and extra-curricular activities. These factors may even lead to behavioural issues or challenges when integrating with other pupils in the school. Some common issues and safeguarding risks experienced by pupils of this age worldwide include, eating disorders, anxiety self-harm or depression. It’s also acknowledged that 1 in 10 young people between ages 5-16 will suffer from a mental illness.3

Equipping your team with the right tools and guidance (such as relevant and up-to-date training and clear, robust reporting channels) to manage these issues, whilst creating a team around each pupil to record major, as well as (seemingly) minor, concerns will promote early intervention and facilitate prevention of harm.

4. Sharing Safeguarding Information with Staff

International schools can face high staff turnover, this in itself can present a challenge when safeguarding pupils. When staff turnover is high, it can be difficult to ensure that all staff are up-to-date with local safeguarding procedures and are appropriately trained on the safeguarding risks and trends in their school.

One of the major factors behind effective management of safeguarding is being able to securely and efficiently share relevant information with staff. Further to this, data protection laws clearly set out guidance which promote the sharing of critical information when there are concerns about the welfare of a child. The sharing of information to protect children will always be a priority over data protection, as failure to do so can lead to catastrophic outcomes!

To facilitate best safeguarding practice and secure information sharing, an electronic record-keeping system can be introduced. Dedicated safeguarding software such as MyConcern allows staff members to easily and quickly report, record and manage all safeguarding, wellbeing and pastoral concerns. These are then stored securely and can be shared safely with the relevant people. Staff can only ever see data that is relevant to their role in the organisation.

This can give peace of mind to establishments experiencing high staff turnover. When staff leave, you can be assured that the history of a student has been recorded and can be easily picked up by a new member of your team if needed.

5. Multi-Campus Establishments

Many international schools are spread over multiple campuses or large and complex sites. Without a secure digital recording system, this can present a barrier to sharing critical information about a pupils’ wellbeing. Other methods of communication (e.g. telephone/email) aren’t always appropriate and do not allow for an auditable record (should you later need one). Moreover, emails and spreadsheets can present data protection issues, as information might be intercepted or accessed by other staff members. Finally, schools using paper-based methods to log, track and manage pupil wellbeing face risks associated with fire, theft, flood, loss and tampering.

These methods are also widely considered ‘not fit for purpose’ as they are time consuming, laborious and don’t provide a high-level view of the challenges and risks that might be facing each pupil.

Systems like MyConcern offer a secure, effective and efficient solution. Online messages can be safely sent, and automated chronologies are created which can be relied upon years later if needed. Staff can receive secure notifications of wellbeing concerns and be updated in real-time, prompting immediate action. Key team members can be kept in the loop, even across different campuses.

6. Different Cultures

Managing a broad variety of cultures in a classroom can be challenging, especially when identifying differences in pupil behaviour. Non-verbal cues such as eye-contact, body language and respect for seniors can differ between cultures and are important to be recognised in order to give effective pastoral care to students. Especially as they can indicate distress or anxiety in pupils. Staff must be aware and able to respond to these indicators sensitively. This can be difficult for teaching staff, who are charged with a number of other responsibilities for a large number of pupils. The school needs to ensure that staff are supported and trained in this area.

It is also critical to identify and respond to differences in local laws (e.g. age of consent, legislation surround sexuality and corporal punishment) which might challenge traditional British values or beliefs. The solution to this is to have clear policies in place to handle these issues, giving staff the tools and knowledge they need to react to issues if they arise.

Key to this is hosting local policies in a central location which can be easily accessed by all staff. MyConcern has a dedicated library of resources where staff can quickly and easily access local policies as well as guidance, legislation and serious case reviews.

7. You’re not an island

Safeguarding is a team effort. You are not alone in your efforts to manage safeguarding responsibilities in your school to keep your pupils safe from harm.

Safeguarding challenges are increasing with the rise of technology and the invention of an endless stream of apps (each designed for good, but so many used to facilitate safeguarding risks and dangers to our children and young people). To combat this it is vital to have a team of people in place to support pupils through these complex issues.

Look for support and resources outside of your school too, such as those available from companies such as One Team Logic (the makers of MyConcern Safeguarding Software) who provide a wealth of free resources covering a wide range of topics.

Keeping children and young people safe from harm is everyone’s responsibility, as such it is critical to embed a culture of effective safeguarding throughout your establishment. Implementing tools such as MyConcern and maintaining a high level of awareness and training at all levels of your team will assist with this at the same time as encouraging compliance and enabling you to keep your pupils safe.

Elena Benito, Chief Executive Officer at the King’s Group explains, “As CEO and safeguarding Governor, MyConcern has enabled me to monitor the quality of safeguarding provision across our schools. Safeguarding is always our top priority across the group and the software allows us to continually monitor and review our provisions ensuring pupil welfare is at the forefront of our agenda.”

Read the Kings Group Case Study

Watch a free recording of our COBIS Webinar – Safeguarding Responsibilities in International Schools with guest presenter Mike Glanville (Director of Safeguarding Services for One Team Logic – the makers of MyConcern Safeguarding Software).


  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2019/01/30/international-schools-are-broadening-their-appeal-and-breaking-down-barriers/#7ea5c1f25cfc
  2. https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/safeguarding-child-protection/
  3. https://www.cobis.org.uk/blog/supporting-young-people-with-their-mental-health-a-guide-for-parents-and-teachers
Posted Date

25th February 2020

Martha Baker
International Account Manager

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