Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me that was struggling to tolerate hearing her neighbour call her 5-year-old, a ‘good for nothing’ f****** bi*** on a daily basis. It doesn’t happen once or twice during the day, but throughout the time that she’s home. She’s heard the man tell her to keep her voice down, but nothing else! I can’t recall what I said but she must have realised what I was thinking and responded with ‘I’m not going to call and tell anyone’

I was taken aback by her reaction, and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. Recently, I attended training about Safeguarding and it’s made me want to write this article. I hope you find it useful.

Which words do you associate with whistle-blowing?

  • snitch
  • nosey
  • protector
  • prevention
  • traitor

This is one of the things where I struggle to see the grey. If someone’s life can be saved, their mental well-being safeguarded, their access to good opportunities not being taken away from them, and reducing the amount of time they have to endure abuse or neglect, I can’t understand why anyone would stand by silently.

Can we report something without saying who we are?

Yes.

This is what the NSPCC have to say:-

Don’t wait until you’re certain if you are worried about a child. If you have any concerns or suspicions, contact our free helpline service to speak to an NSPCC counsellor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

We will listen to your concerns, offer advice and support and can take action on your behalf if a child is in danger.

You don’t have to tell us who you are if you don’t want to, or you can ask us not to share your name or contact with the police or social services. Find out more about how you can remain anonymous.

This is what the Government advises:-

If you’re worried that a child or young person is at risk or is being abused contact the children’s social care team at their local council.

You’ll be asked for your details, but you can choose not to share them.

Call 999 if the child is at immediate risk, or call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed.

Advice from Action for children:-

If you are unsure that it is a concern worth reporting, you can call the team and talk it through. They will be able to advise if it is a child protection concern, or whether other help should be provided for the child and family.

You can remain anonymous when reporting.

The more detail you are able to provide, the better the team will be able to help. Remember, if you have noticed that there is something wrong, then other people may well have done too. A teacher, health visitor or other person that knows the family may have already alerted the local authority. So, your piece of information might fill in a crucial missing part of a whole picture of concerns for the child that others have contributed to.

What could happen if we don’t voice our concerns

It might be the case that, we got it wrong, and withholding our concerns was fine, and all was well with the child that we were worried about.

Alternatively, expressing concerns could have resulted in preventing tragedies like the ones described below.


Victoria Climbié

Victoria was born in the Ivory Coast in 1991. She was 8 years and 3 months old when she died.

Timeline of events

  • Her great-aunt took her to France to educate her
  • She was regularly absent
  • A Child at Risk Emergency Notification was issued in 1999
  • A social worker realised that there was a difficult relationship between Victoria and her aunt
  • In 1999 they moved to London where the aunt pretended to be Victoria’s mother
  • She wasn’t enrolled in any form of education
  • They moved into a bedsit with the aunt’s partner
  • Victoria was forced to sleep in the bath
  • She was tied up in a bin bag and beaten
  • They felt she was possessed by an evil spirit because she was incontinent and had skin problems

Cause of death

  • Hypothermia, resulting from malnourishment, a damp environment and restricted movement
  • 128 separate injuries were found on Victoria’s body, which had been inflicted by a range of sharp and blunt instruments

There was poor communication between agencies, agencies had focused on the needs of the perpetrators instead of the child and bureaucracy was prioritised over outcomes for people.


Lauren Wright

Lauren became known to social services soon after her birth in 1993. She died when she was 6 years and 10 months of age.

Timeline of events

  • There were concerns that she was being neglected and physically abused by her mother
  • Her grandmother took over Lauren’s care
  • In 1999 Lauren began primary school and care was transferred to her father and new step-mother
  • School staff noticed bruising towards the end of 1999 and anonymous allegations of neglect and emotional abuse were made against Lauren’s stepmother
  • Her stepmother was known to hit, scream at, and taunt Lauren
  • She fed Lauren pepper sandwiches and put bugs in her food
  • She withheld water from her and forced Lauren to stand fully dressed in front of a hot stove for hours

Cause of death

  • Blow to the abdomen
  • Extreme bruising was noted all over her body

No connections were made between Lauren’s current and previous experiences and there was a lack of collaboration between social services, health and education, despite similar concerns.


Daniel Pelka

Daniel lived in the UK and he was nearly five years old when he was murdered by his mother and stepfather.

Timeline of events

  • During the last six months of his life he was subjected to physical and emotional abuse and neglect
  • Daniel started school in 2011
  • He spoke very little English and staff relied on his mother and older sister for help with communication
  • Daniel was often isolated
  • Daniel and Anna had poor attendance and often arrived late
  • Daniel was obsessively hungry, taking food at every opportunity, including discarded food from bins, and beans planted in soil
  • His mother told school staff that he had medical problems
  • Daniel’s mother was seen as caring by most staff. However, some felt she was too severe, to the extent they stopped telling her about Daniel’s eating problems
  • An inquiry into his death found that, at home, Daniel was force fed salt to induce vomit
  • Daniel started to come to school with bruises and unexplained marks
  • These injuries were viewed individually and were also not linked to staff concerns about his behaviour around food
  • None of Daniel’s injuries were referred to social care or the police
  • Daniel’s mother and stepfather persistently deceive and used Daniel’s sister to confirm their lies

Cause of death

  • Head injury, following months of physical and emotional abuse, and neglect

Before he started school, police and health visitors were involved with Daniel’s family numerous times due to domestic violence and alcohol misuse. The school was not made aware of this.

Professionals did not think the unthinkable.


These cases highlight failures which include lack of record keeping, agencies not communicating, and schools not being made aware of previous concerns. But what if someone in the local area, a family member or someone else had called the police? Might these innocent children have been saved?

As a result of these cases, and others, Safeguarding policies have been analysed and amended, yet I feel the need to stress that these occurrences are not someone else’s problem. If you know something, if you suspect that someone is being harmed, please call the police or the NSPCC or the council.

What’s your reason for joining a supply agency? 

I know of teachers who have set up a company and provide supply cover to schools directly. However, most teachers tend to join an agency that will provide opportunites for work.

I started looking at agencies because I’ve taught in one school for over 15 years, and I wanted to find out what other schools are like.

Should you register with one agency or multiple ones? 

I emailed several agencies and explained that I wanted to do supply teaching in/near Harrow. I asked them what the rate of pay would be to help me reduce the number of agencies that I had to choose from.

I began a conversation with someone at one agency, but before I met him to register, he’d left. His replacement rushed me through registration, saying she had lots of work for me, but she couldn’t discuss it until I passed their clearance procedure. I passed and waited, and waited, and waited. After hearing nothing but ‘we’re working on it’, I was finally told that they were retracted the rate that the original recruiter had promised me. They said they didn’t pay that amount for any daily supply roles.

This wasn’t the right agency for me, and it taught me not to put all my eggs in one basket.

How do agencies differ?

I joined about 5 agencies in the end, and the following summarises the process involved.

  • one recruiter met me at a mutually convenient location and took photos of my ID to avoid me having to come in to their office and meet the clearance officer
  • another recruiter arranged a video call, which she used to ‘see’ my ID
  • three agencies insisted that I came in to their office

Do all agencies get the same opportunities for work? 

I assumed that all agencies would be inundated with positions that they needed filled, especially due to the shortage of people joining teaching, or reminaing in it, once they’ve qualified. However, this wasn’t the case.

  • The ‘clearance officer’ at the agency where the recruiter met at a mutually convenient location, insisted that I went ahead with the meeting even though my CRB Certificate hadn’t come through. She said they would send me for supply work, and the school could verify the CRB Certificate for them. My file remained marked as ‘not cleared.’ Thus no work came through and the certificate wasn’t be verified. It took them ages to get their act together, send me offers that were within the distance I wanted to travel etc. After that I worked for them for five days or less.
  • I didn’t get any opportunities from the agency I had the video call with
  • Of the three companies whose offices I went to, one didn’t communicate unless it was to send inappropriate roles. After several weeks, I found out that the recruiter knew he was ‘leaving’ and he signed me up, knowing that they didn’t cover any schools in Harrow! The other was great at communicating but didn’t get me any work on the days I was available. The remaining one was amazing! My file cleared on the same day that I met the recruiter, and I was offered work the next day. That recruiter would look at my availability, consider how far I was willing to travel, and which roles I preferred, before she called to offer a pre-booking. She did this regularly and consistently whilst I was available for supply teaching.

A check-list that will help you work out which agency will be the best for you 

  1. work out what you’re willing to do
    • which year groups do you want to teach?
    • are you happy to teach in faith schools, single sex schools, academies, free-schools etc?
    • are you happy to work in schools for children with special educational needs?
    • how far are you willing to travel?
    • can you work half days?
    • what’s the lowest rate of pay you’ll accept
    • how many days can you teach
    • do you have set days that you’ll be available for work
    • do you want to be in lots of different schools or go to a select few?
    • do you want to teach a class, take intervention groups or do some other sort of cover?
    • do you want pre-bookings or are you happy to call and find out what’s available on the day?
  2. send a clear and concise email telling the agency what they need to ensure their offers meet your needs/terms
  3. before you register, ask them how many schools are signed up to them in the areas that you’re willing to travel to
    • if they only have one or two schools on their books, might you be better off registering with an agency that has a contract with a greater number of schools in that area?
  4. ask them if the pay will vary or if it’s a set amount
    • some agencies let the recruiter decide how much to pay, and that could vary according to how far you’re travelling, if you need to pay for parking, if they feel that you have been given an ‘easy’ role
    • some recruiters offer a set amount if you’re taking a class, but a different amount for PPA cover
    • most pay less money for daily supply, as opposed to, a teacher who signs up for a long-term post as a class teacher
    • recruiters operating in different areas of the same company may offer different rates for the same role e.g. Harrow may pay less than Watford
  5. find out how they will pay you i.e. PAYE or through an umbrella company
    • most umbrella companies can tell you how much they would pay for working a set amount of days per month, vs how much you’d earn through PAYE
    • do any benefits make up for the various amounts they deduct
    • find out about sick pay, opting in to a pension and so on

This is what I’ve learned whilst working as a supply teacher for about three months. If you have anything to add, or if you’ve had a different experience, please do get in touch. 

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