How Bridge International Academies leads the way in safeguarding
By Reuben Wambugu Mwangi, Group Managing Director at Bridge International Academies.
Since the very beginning, Bridge International Academies has made the safety of its students its number one priority. There is nothing more important. The first safeguarding training for Bridge Kenya teachers and school leaders occurred in December 2008, before the first Bridge school even opened in 2009. Safeguarding has consistently been part of training and professional development for school staff ever since.
Every Bridge International Academies employee takes part in mandatory safeguarding training at the time of joining the organisation. It is followed up with regular safeguarding capacity-building sessions. A commitment to child safeguarding has always been included in every teacher’s contract.
Since 2020, all staff are asked to affirm their commitment to child safeguarding every year by re-signing the ‘Child champion promise’
Safeguarding messaging is regularly sent out through the Teacher Messaging Service which appears on all teacher guides.
In addition, there are safeguarding sessions at the beginning of every term with students on how they can keep themselves safe and how they can report safeguarding concerns.
Since 2020, all students at Bridge are taught ‘cheers’ or energizers in their classrooms to help motivate and engage students; one of those is the ‘Magic number cheer’ where pupils are taught the customer care number by heart so they know how to report if they need to.
To maximise safety, there are a variety of reporting channels in operation in each and every school.
There is a toll-free customer care line, where all parents, teachers, and students can report a safeguarding instance and choose to be recorded as an anonymous reporter.
This number is printed out and is on the wall of all schools, on the school gates, and on the academy information poster located in the school manager’s office. It also appears on parents’ information fliers.
There is a whistleblowing email address: firstname.lastname@example.org in the case of Bridge Kenya; which can be used anonymously.
Safeguarding processes, policies, and reporting lines are in the staff handbook which every manager, teacher, and school leader is provided with. It makes clear that all staff must immediately report any safeguarding concern directly to the support office through any of the available channels or through attending the support office in person. If there is a safeguarding concern, usual management reporting lines do not apply.
In 2020, Tunza Child Safeguarding, Kenya’s leading safeguarding charity, conducted an independent review evaluating the impact of Bridge Kenya’s policies in practice – adhering to internationally recognised Keeping Children Safe Standards, recommended by UNICEF and Save the Children.
As Tunza makes clear, safeguarding across Kenya’s state education system is challenging. Its report says that in 2019, Kenya’s Teacher Service Commission, which registers and manages teachers in Government schools, said it had sacked 1,228 government teachers over the past seven years for having sexual relations with pupils.
“In Kenya, schools can become unsafe places where pupils become victims of sexual abuse,” states Tunza’s report.
When it came to Bridge Kenya, the review findings were resoundingly positive, showcasing the strong emphasis Bridge has on safeguarding and marking Bridge as a sector leader with best practice.
It found Bridge’s consistent, comprehensive, and clearly defined policies were forward-looking in Kenya; the report went as far as to suggest that Bridge policies and procedures be shared and adopted on a national level. Unsurprisingly, incidence rates in Bridge schools were substantially lower compared to other schools in Kenya.
Tunza Child Safeguarding Director, Martin Juma said:
“One of the case studies I highlight from my work at Tunza, is that of Bridge Kenya – a recognised leader in the field of child safeguarding – with strong child safeguarding procedures that have been implemented in schools for many years.”
In addition, the report found Bridge Kenya’s holistic approach to safeguarding has led to a strong focus on teaching Life Skills. This teaches pupils to deal with risky behaviours and situations, many of which relate to child abuse risk factors. The subject is embedded in the Kenyan national curriculum but is often missed as it is not a core examinable subject.
Despite such a positive review, Bridge Kenya can never rest on the issue of safeguarding. Any incidence of harm is too many. Where isolated cases have been found, we have always dealt with them swiftly and thoroughly and sought to improve our policies and practices still further.
Following the Tunza review, a number of recommendations were made to improve Bridge Kenya’s already strong Child Safeguarding procedures even further. A continued commitment to best practice meant these were implemented in full.
Bridge Kenya is a founding member of the Child Safeguarding Association in Kenya (CSAK), dedicated to raising awareness about safeguarding. CSAK was formed in 2022 through a visionary partnership between organisations with a shared vision to advance safeguarding awareness for children.
Bridge Kenya Director, Gender and Child Empowerment, Lillian Wamuyu said:
“Bridge Kenya has partnered to create a national platform that brings together like-minded organisations, in one voice, to form an association [CSAK] and champion matters of child safeguarding, leveraging on their unique experiences, networks, and resources, to drive transformative change in Kenyan society.”
Bridge International Academies continues to build on its commitment as a safeguarding leader, with regular policy and practice reviews. It always has put safeguarding first. It always will.