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Education Sector

WHISTLEBLOWING IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR

There are a variety of concerns that can arise when working in the education sector, and it is not always easy to know who to speak to about them. The best option can vary depending on the nature of your concern and the type of school, university, or other institution which you work at.

You can read about what might be the best process for the relevant type of school or university here, and find out more about raising concerns to specific bodies and regulators below. Please note this information is primarily based around educational institutions in England. Educational institutions and their regulators in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland differ and so some parts of the advice on this page may be more relevant than other parts. If you are in one of these regions, and in need of further advice, please consider contacting our Advice Line for guidance tailored to your situation.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

**If you think a child or young person is in immediate danger, you should call 999**

Guidance by school / university type

The options available for raising concerns will vary depending on the type of educational institution you work at. Click on the relevant dropdown below for guidance relevant to different types of schools or universities.

Generally, raising concerns with your employer will be the quickest, safest and most effective way to get the issues resolved. In some cases, regulators and other external bodies may also want evidence that internal options have been considered, before they are able to get involved. The law does not require you to raise concerns with your employer first, though, and there will be times when it is safer and more effective to go straight to a regulatory body. This might be when there are reasons to assume that your employer won’t appropriately investigate the concerns, or when there are reasons to believe that they will victimise you for raising concerns.

In whistleblowing law, some bodies are explicitly prescribed as regulators that you can contact. This means that it will usually be more straightforward to come under whistleblowing protection in reporting your concerns to them, as long as other legal tests are met. Whistleblowing law can still apply to disclosures made to other external bodies, but the legal tests involved are different. You can read more about prescribed persons and ‘wider disclosures’ here, or contact our Advice Line for more information.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

If you have raised concerns with a regulator and been told that they are unable to assist because you have not yet raised it to your employer, but this does not appear to be an appropriate option, contact Protect for advice.

Options for raising your concerns with your school
Your school may have a “whistleblowing” or “speak up” policy which outlines who to go to with your concerns, but you could also speak to some or all of the following:

  1. Your line manager or another trusted senior member of staff
  2. Your school’s designated safeguarding lead, if your concern relates to safeguarding, safeguarding policies at the school, or the wellbeing of a child. Information about contacting a school’s safeguarding lead should be available on their website.
  3. Your school’s designated SENCO lead, if your concern relates to SEN (special educational needs) provision or arrangements at your school
  4. Your school’s Board of Governors; often this would be the final internal option in terms of escalation and so it can be most appropriate and most effective to consider the other internal options first

Options for raising your concerns with a prescribed regulator
Some regulators are *prescribed* by the government to receive whistleblowing disclosures. When raising concerns with them, legal protections are more straightforward, and so these organisations will generally be preferred:

  1. The Department for Education
  2. The NSPCC, for child welfare and protection issues
  3. Ofqual

Options for raising concerns elsewhere
There are other bodies who may be able to help too that are not prescribed under law, meaning going to them would amount to a *wider disclosure* where legal tests are different. You should contact us for further advice if you are considering any of the following bodies:

  1. The Local Authority, particularly in relation to specific concerns about a child’s welfare
  2. Education Skills and Funding Agency

If you are unsure which of the above options is the best choice in your situation, you can contact us for further advice.

If you have already raised your concerns to one of the options detailed above, then please consider our guidance on what you should do when you’ve raised your concerns but they remain unresolved.

For more information on *prescribed bodies*, see “Disclosure to a Prescribed Person” here.

For more information on the meaning of *wider disclosures*, see “Disclosure in Other Cases” here.

Generally, raising concerns with your employer will be the quickest, safest and most effective way to get the issues resolved. In some cases, regulators and other external bodies may also want evidence that internal options have been considered, before they are able to get involved. The law does not require you to raise concerns with your employer first, though, and there will be times when it is safer and more effective to go straight to a regulatory body. This might be when there are reasons to assume that your employer won’t appropriately investigate the concerns, or when there are reasons to believe that they will victimise you for raising concerns.

In whistleblowing law, some bodies are explicitly prescribed as regulators that you can contact. This means that it will usually be more straightforward to come under whistleblowing protection in reporting your concerns to them, as long as other legal tests are met. Whistleblowing law can still apply to disclosures made to other external bodies, but the legal tests involved are different. You can read more about prescribed persons and ‘wider disclosures’ here, or contact our Advice Line for more information.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

If you have raised concerns with a regulator and been told that they are unable to assist because you have not yet raised it to your employer, but this does not appear to be an appropriate option, contact Protect for advice.

Options for raising concerns with your school
Your school may have a “whistleblowing” or “speak up” policy which outlines who to go to with your concerns, but you could also speak to some or all of the following:

  1. Your line manager or another trusted senior member of staff
  2. Your school’s designated safeguarding lead, if your concern relates to safeguarding, safeguarding policies at the school, or the wellbeing of a child. Information about contacting a school’s safeguarding lead should be available on their website.
  3. Your school’s designated SENCO lead, if your concern relates to SEN (special educational needs) provision or arrangements at your school
  4. Your school’s Board of Governors; often this would be the final internal option in terms of escalation and so it can be most appropriate and most effective to consider other internal options (like those above) first

Options for raising your concerns with a prescribed regulator
If you still think you need to raise your concern further, there are certain *prescribed bodies* who you can go to with your concern

  1. The Department for Education
  2. The NSPCC, for child welfare and protection
  3. Ofqual, for examination and assessment regulation issues

Options for raising your concerns elsewhere
There are other bodies who may be able to help too that are not prescribed under law, meaning going to them would amount to a *wider disclosure* where legal tests are different.

  1. The Local Authority, particularly in relation to specific concerns about a child’s welfare

If you are unsure which of the above options is the best choice in your situation, you can contact us for further advice.

If you have already raised your concerns to one of the options detailed above, then please consider our guidance on what you should do when you’ve raised your concerns but they remain unresolved.

For more information on *prescribed bodies*, see “Disclosure to a Prescribed Person” here.

For more information on the meaning of *wider disclosures*, see “Disclosure in Other Cases” here.

Generally, raising concerns with your employer will be the quickest, safest and most effective way to get the issues resolved. In some cases, regulators and other external bodies may also want evidence that internal options have been considered, before they are able to get involved. The law does not require you to raise concerns with your employer first, though, and there will be times when it is safer and more effective to go straight to a regulatory body. This might be when there are reasons to assume that your employer won’t appropriately investigate the concerns, or when there are reasons to believe that they will victimise you for raising concerns.

In whistleblowing law, some bodies are explicitly prescribed as regulators that you can contact. This means that it will usually be more straightforward to come under whistleblowing protection in reporting your concerns to them, as long as other legal tests are met. Whistleblowing law can still apply to disclosures made to other external bodies, but the legal tests involved are different. You can read more about prescribed persons and ‘wider disclosures’ here, or contact our Advice Line for more information.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

If you have raised concerns with a regulator and been told that they are unable to assist because you have not yet raised it to your employer, but this does not appear to be an appropriate option, contact Protect for advice.

Options for raising concerns with your school
Your school may have a “whistleblowing” or “speak up” policy which outlines who to go to with your concerns, but you could speak to some or all of the following:

  1. Your line manager or another trusted senior member of staff
  2. Your school’s designated safeguarding lead, if your concern relates to safeguarding, safeguarding policies at the school, or the wellbeing of a child
  3. Your school’s designated SENCO lead, if your concern relates to SEN (special educational needs) provision or arrangements at your school
  4. Your school’s Board of Governors; often this would be the final internal option in terms of escalation and so it can be most appropriate and most effective to consider other internal options (like those above) first

Options for raising your concerns with a prescribed regulator
Some regulators are *prescribed* by the government to receive whistleblowing disclosures. When raising concerns with them, legal protections are more straightforward, and so these organisations will generally be preferred:

  1. The Department for Education
  2. The NSPCC, for child welfare and protection issues
  3. Ofqual, for examination and assessment regulation issues

Options for raising concerns elsewhere
There are other bodies who may be able to help too that are not prescribed under law, meaning going to them would amount to a *wider disclosure* where legal tests are different. You should contact us for further advice if you are considering any of the following bodies

  1. The Local Authority, particularly in relation to specific concerns about a child’s welfare
  2. ISI

If you are unsure which of the above options is the best choice in your situation, you can contact us for further advice.

If you have already raised your concerns to one of the options detailed above, then please consider our guidance on what you should do when you’ve raised your concerns but they remain unresolved.

For more information on *prescribed bodies*, see “Disclosure to a Prescribed Person” here.

For more information on the meaning of *wider disclosures*, see “Disclosure in Other Cases” here.

Generally, raising concerns with your employer will be the quickest, safest and most effective way to get the issues resolved. In some cases, regulators and other external bodies may also want evidence that internal options have been considered, before they are able to get involved. The law does not require you to raise concerns with your employer first, though, and there will be times when it is safer and more effective to go straight to a regulatory body. This might be when there are reasons to assume that your employer won’t appropriately investigate the concerns, or when there are reasons to believe that they will victimise you for raising concerns.

In whistleblowing law, some bodies are explicitly prescribed as regulators that you can contact. This means that it will usually be more straightforward to come under whistleblowing protection in reporting your concerns to them, as long as other legal tests are met. Whistleblowing law can still apply to disclosures made to other external bodies, but the legal tests involved are different. You can read more about prescribed persons and ‘wider disclosures’ here, or contact our Advice Line for more information.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

If you have raised concerns with a regulator and been told that they are unable to assist because you have not yet raised it to your employer, but this does not appear to be an appropriate option, contact Protect for advice.

Raising concerns with your university
Your university may have a specific “whistleblowing” or “speak up” policy which outlines who to go to with your concerns, but you could speak to some or all of the following:

  1. Your line manager, head of department, or another trusted senior member of staff
  2. Any ‘designated contact’ outlined in your university’s policy documents or staff handbook
  3. The whistleblowing team if there is one

University’s internal arrangements can vary, but other places where you may be able to raise your concerns could include:

  1. The Board of Trustees (if your university has one)
  2. The Council
  3. The Senate (especially in terms of academic work)
  4. Any form of ‘Governing Body’ or ‘Academic Body’

Options for raising concerns elsewhere
Higher education institutions are typically unregulated so if your concerns remain unresolved and you are considering other options you should consider contacting our Advice Line.

  1. Office for Students

If you are unsure which of the above options is the best choice in your situation, you can contact us for further advice.

If you have already raised your concerns to one of the options detailed above, then please consider our guidance on what you should do when you’ve raised your concerns but they remain unresolved.

For more information on *prescribed bodies*, see “Disclosure to a Prescribed Person” here.

For more information on the meaning of *wider disclosures*, see “Disclosure in Other Cases” here.

Raising concerns to a prescribed regulator - who can I speak to?

Generally, raising concerns with your employer will be the quickest, safest and most effective way to get the issues resolved. In some cases, regulators and other external bodies may also want evidence that internal options have been considered, before they are able to get involved. The law does not require you to raise concerns with your employer first, though, and there will be times when it is safer and more effective to go straight to a regulatory body. This might be when there are reasons to assume that your employer won’t appropriately investigate the concerns, or when there are reasons to believe that they will victimise you for raising concerns.

If you are unsure whether to raise concerns with your employer or a regulator, you should contact Protect for further advice.

If you have raised concerns with a regulator and they have said that they are unable to assist because you have not yet raised it to your employer, but this does not appear to be an appropriate option, contact Protect for advice.

In whistleblowing law, some bodies are explicitly prescribed as regulators that you can contact. This means that it will usually be more straightforward to come under whistleblowing protection in reporting your concerns to them, as long as other legal tests are met. Whistleblowing law can still apply to disclosures made to other external bodies, but the legal tests involved are different. You can read more about prescribed persons and ‘wider disclosures’ here, or contact our Advice Line for more information.

The Department for Education (DfE) is the government department responsible for children’s services and education policy. DfE is a *prescribed person* under whistleblowing law.

What can I raise?
You can contact the DfE about a broad range of matters relating to the following educational institutions in England: – 

  • Maintained schools
  • Maintained nursery schools
  • Independent schools (including academies and free schools)
  • Non-maintained special schools
  • Pupil referral units
  • Alternative provision academies
  • 16-19 academies (and free schools)
  • An institution within the further education sector
  • Special post-16 institutions

Contact details
Tel: 0370 000 2288
Find out more or submit a form online: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education/about/complaints-procedure

The NSPCC is a UK children’s charity. The NSPCC is a prescribed person under whistleblowing law.

You can report your concern by contacting the NSPCC helpline. The NSPCC can (and, in many cases, must) pass on information to social services and/or the police as appropriate. The NSPCC does not investigate reports itself.

What can I raise?
You can contact the NSPCC about:

  • Matters relating to child welfare and protection

Contact details
Tel: 0808 800 5000
Email: help@nspcc.org.uk

Ofsted is a non-ministerial department of government that inspects education and skills services for learners of all ages and inspects early years and children’s social services in England.

What can I raise?
Ofsted is a prescribed person under whistleblowing law for certain concerns, which are:

  • The welfare of children in boarding schools, residential colleges and residential special schools, and
  • The regulation and inspection of children’s social care.

As Ofsted also inspect educational establishments in England, there might be circumstances when it is appropriate to raise whistleblowing concerns with them that don’t fit into the above categories. This might be, for instance, when they are about to inspect the establishment which you work at.

As Ofsted are not *prescribed* for these purposes, the law would treat this type of disclosure differently. You should contact Protect for more advice if you are considering this option.

Contact details
Ofsted helpline: 0300 123 1231
Find out more online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whistleblowing-about-childrens-social-care-services-to-ofsted/sharing-concerns-and-information-with-ofsted-about-childrens-social-care-services#contact-us 

Ofqual is a non-ministerial department of government that regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England. It is a *prescribed person* in whistleblowing law

What can I raise?
You can raise concerns to Ofqual about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice in England in relation to:

  • Activities of awarding organisations or the qualifications they offer
  • Assessments schools, colleges, and training providers
  • Your employer’s role in delivering a qualification

Contact details
Tel: 0300 303 3344
Email: whistleblowing@ofqual.gov.uk
Read more online: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ofquals-whistleblowing-policy 

The Children’s Commissioner for England is a prescribed person* in whistleblowing law. It is independent from Parliament and the Government and is responsible for promoting and protecting the rights and interests of children.

You can contact them about:

  • Matters relating to the rights, welfare and interests of children in England

This may be relevant as an option if your concern relates to a national issue affecting children across England, rather than one specific to your employer or one institution.

Contact details
Tel: 020 7783 8330
Email: info.request@childrenscommissioner.gov.uk
Website: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales is a prescribed person* in whistleblowing law. Its role involves championing the rights of children and young people in Wales.

You can contact them about:

  • Matters relating to the rights, welfare and issues affecting children, young people and those who care for them, in Wales

This may be relevant as an option if your concern relates to a national issue affecting children across Wales, rather than one specific to your employer or one institution.

Contact details
Tel: 0808 801 1000
Email: post@childcomwales.org.uk
Website: www.childcomwales.org.uk

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales is a prescribed person* in whistleblowing law. Its role involves championing the rights of children and young people in Wales.

You can contact them about:

  • Matters relating to promoting and safeguarding the rights of children and young people in Scotland

This may be relevant as an option if your concern relates to a national issue affecting children across Scotland, rather than one specific to your employer or one institution.

Contact details
Tel: 0131 346 5350
Email: inbox@cypcs.org.uk
Website: www.cypcs.org.uk

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) is a prescribed person under the Public Interest Disclosure Order. Please note that the law applicable in Northern Ireland is the Public Interest Disclosure Order rather than the Public Interest Disclosure Act

You can contact them about:

  • Matters relating to the safeguarding and promotion of the rights and best interests of children and young people

This may be relevant as an option if your concern relates to a national issue affecting children across Northern Ireland, rather than one specific to your employer or one institution.

Contact details
NICCY have a web page where workers can make disclosures: https://www.niccy.org/protecteddisclosure

HSE is a *prescribed person* in whistleblowing law and is responsible for enforcing health and safety at various workplaces including schools and colleges.

You can contact them about:

  • Health and safety concerns at work

Contact details
Tel: 0300 003 1647
Online form: www.hse.gov.uk/contact/concerns.htm

Although not a regulator, MPs are also prescribed under whistleblowing law. This would not necessarily be a typical step to take in most situations. If you are considering this option, please contact us for advice.

Raising concerns elsewhere

In whistleblowing law, you can also be protected when making a disclosure to an external body which is not a specific prescribed person. However, the legal protection is more complicated. If you are considering this because none of the prescribed persons above seem appropriate, please contact us for advice.

Ofsted is a non-ministerial department of government that inspects education and skills services for learners of all ages and inspects early years and children’s social services in England.

What can I raise?
As above, Ofsted is a prescribed person under whistleblowing law for certain concerns, which are:

  • the welfare of children in boarding schools, residential colleges and residential special schools, and
  • the regulation and inspection of children’s social care.

As Ofsted also inspect educational establishments in England, there might be circumstances when it is appropriate to raise whistleblowing concerns with them that don’t fit into the above categories. This might be, for instance, when they are about to inspect the establishment which you work at.

As Ofsted are not *prescribed* for these purposes, the law would treat this type of disclosure differently. You should contact Protect for more advice if you are considering this option.

Contact details
Ofsted helpline: 0300 123 1231
Find out more online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whistleblowing-about-childrens-social-care-services-to-ofsted/sharing-concerns-and-information-with-ofsted-about-childrens-social-care-services#contact-us 

Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

ESFA is an executive agency of DfE. They regulate academies, further education colleges, sixth form colleges, and training providers.

What can I raise?
Reports can be made to ESFA about:

  • Certain types of suspected fraud or financial irregularity in academies and other institutions
  • Complaints processes in academies and other institutions
  • Other types of concerns in ESFA-funded post-16 education and training providers

Find out more about ESFA’s role in relation to complaints about academies here, and in relation to post-16 education and training providers here.

The relationship between the ESFA and DfE means that the DfE may communicate with the ESFA in whistleblowing situations where relevant. Given that the DfE’s position as a *prescribed person* is more straightforward in whistleblowing law, it may be advisable to contact the DfE in the first instance as legal protections may be more simple in this regard.

Contact details
Find out about the process of contacting the ESFA here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-esfa-handles-whistleblowing-disclosures

The Independent Schools Inspectorate is a government-approved independent inspectorate for independent schools.

What can I raise?
You can contact them about:

  • matters relating to independent schools which are full members of the associations which form the Independent Schools Council

You can find out more about raising concerns to the ISI, and their approach to concerns here: https://www.isi.net/parents-and-pupils/concerns-about-a-school.

Contact details
Tel: 02076000100
Email: concerns@isi.net
Website with further contact details: https://www.isi.net/contact

Some universities and colleges are registered with the Office for Students which has a role in regulating certain aspects of their provision.

You can contact them about:

  • matters relating to universities or colleges failing to meet OfS’s requirements

You can read more about the types of issues you can notify OfS about here. It could include issues around teaching quality, academic support, mishandled complaints, university management, or fairness and equality.

Contact details
Tel: 0117 931 7317
Read more at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/for-students/ofs-and-students/notifications/
Email: notifications@officeforstudents.org.uk

Local Authorities are not a *prescribed person* under whistleblowing law for these purposes meaning that reporting to them will generally be a *wider disclosure* where different legal tests may apply. Local Authorities do however have responsibility for overseeing maintained schools and for the safeguarding of children within their area. As such, it is likely that they will become involved in many whistleblowing investigations, even though they are not *prescribed* to receive disclosures. This doesn’t mean that concerns can’t be raised directly with them, but legal protection is clearer if going to a prescribed body instead.

If in your situation you need to, or already have, raised concerns directly with the local authority, then you can contact us for more advice on how the law would apply. ​

The police are not *prescribed * meaning the law would treat disclosures to them as wider disclosures with different legal tests. You should consider contacting us for further advice on this.

The media are not *prescribed * meaning the law would treat disclosures to them as wider disclosures with different legal tests. You should consider contacting us for further advice on this.

Want to know more?

You can find more information on the legal protections available to whistleblowers here.

You can find further advice about raising concerns on our pages here.