Closing our first day was Nigel Heritage on child protection, a subject about which he told us he was "passionate," adding "and I hope you will be by the end of the session." previous entry << >> next entry
If you've seen Nigel in action before you'll know he's enormously tall, which is why his decision to raise a golfing umbrella above his head to demonstrate what he was talking about was so imposing that at least one delegate snapped a picture.
His argument was simple: yes, there is a legal obligation for language centres to have a duty of care for their under-18s, but there's more to it than that. "You do it because it's the right thing to do. It doesn't matter whether it's a legal requirement or not. That's because you're looking after other people's children."
That, he said, was the difference between a tick-box attitude to child protection and creating a culture in your language centre where under-18s are protected.
In a lively session, he emphasised the importance of risk assessing, particularly in times where students were often unsupervised, such as in travelling, and put in places measures to reduce risk.
It was important to behave as a caring parent would, he said, emphasising that not all children's actual parents would behave in that way. "Think of your own child going off to Beijing or Moscow... places where the culture is quite different and the script is quite different. Our studetns don't read the social signals. When you start thinking about real people it becomes more real," he said.
DBS checks weren't foolproof, he said. "It's only valid till the moment it's been done, and it says you haven't yet been caught."
"We tend to be very good at asking practical things, checking qualifications, but rarely ask about attitude to working with children. If you do ask why people are applying for this job, or why they want to work with children, you might get few replies make your antennae go 'I don't think I like the sound of that.' Ask what they know about appropriate boundaries or how they would deal with bullying." It was important to take up references, too.
The code of conduct was also vital: managers from the room suggested that it could be sent out with contracts, it must be accessible to students, on the website, and that it might say particular things.
It was also important for group leaders to be involved and know about the course of conduct.
Heritage said the Jimmy Savile case had brought a lot to light about the 'abuser pathway' where the person grooms the adults about him and gets closer to children. Last year, he said, 2,660 people were added to the DBS barred list. It was important for the code of conduct to become a culture in school, with clear boundaries, that a leader responds. "It does require everybody to look after each other to challenge if boundaries crossed: in that environment it's harder for an abuser to make any progress. Whistleblowing, talking about colleagues, that's what's hard," he said.
At this point the conference broke up for an hour or so before a socialising drinks reception in the grand Palm Court bar of the Marriott hotel, and then dinner in the Palm Court room, accompanied by language school supremo Mark Waistell singing and playing the guitar.
The bar was busy with networking managers. For Viv Canal of Excel English, it was his "sixth or seventh" time at the event. "I really enjoy it. When you are a Director of Studies especially it's a good opportunity to speak to other people in similar positions find out how things are going, look at the training and management side of things and so on."
Pauline Loriggio of International House in London, relaxing on a red sofa with a well-earned glass of wine after a swim in the hotel pool, was at the event for the second time. "I was asked if I'd come, as part of my CPD," she said. "There have been some really interesting seminars and I can see if we're on the right track. I liked the presentation on international trends, task-based learning, and it's been good to get the global perspective."
While the dinner broke up shortly after 10, at least one group from the event were partying in Bristol until late into the night. All things considered, most delegates look remarkably well this morning....