If the school was serious about putting its house in order, you would have thought that the one thing they would do is to work as quickly and thoroughly as possible to make the school's safeguarding policy into a model of best practice.
One particular key point is that whenever there is an allegation or incident, not only of abuse, but also of misconduct related to safeguarding, the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO) must be informed immediately.
The LADO has the training and independence to make a decision as to whether the allegation needs to be followed up, whether Social Services need to be called in to investigate, and whether a crime may have been committed and the police need to be involved. So, all allegations must be reported initially to the LADO.
But the school's policy doesn't say that. Section 30 of the policy says the following.
30. Action by the Designated TeacherItem (a) shouldn't need to be said, the school's policy as written should already conform to those procedures. It also is a copout in that the school is claiming to follow procedures which it neither publishes not makes a direct reference to. The parent is left with the job of trying to find out what those procedures are.
The action to be taken will:
a) conform to the local inter-agency procedures of the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board.
b) ensure that the school will not investigate concerns but refer them to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), SSD or police.
c) satisfy the wishes of the complainant's parents, provided they have no interest which is in conflict with the pupil's best interests and that they are properly informed. Again, it may be necessary, after all appropriate consultation, to override parental wishes in some circumstances. If the Designated Teacher is concerned that disclosing information to parents would put a child at risk, he or she will take further advice from the relevant professionals before making a decision to disclose.
d) respect duties of confidentiality, so far as applicable.
e) ensure that a child’s interests are paramount.
f) ensure that, if there is room for doubt as to whether a referral to SSD should be made, the Designated Teacher will consult with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) or other appropriate professionals on a no names basis without identifying the pupil. However, as soon as sufficient concern exists that a child may be at risk of significant harm, a referral will be made within 24 hours. If the initial referral is made by telephone, the Designated Teacher will confirm the referral in writing to SSD within 24 hours. If no response or acknowledgment is received within three working days, the Designated Teacher will contact Social Services again. The Designated Teacher will agree with the recipient of the referral what the child and parents will be told, by whom and when.
Item (b) is wrong, the school should immediately report to the LADO. The LADO then makes the decision to bring in other agencies as needed. If the school contacts other agencies directly, this should be in addition to its report to the LADO, not as an alternative.
Item (c) is very dangerous. It has happened in many independent schools that the school has persuaded the parents of a victim that the last thing that their child needs is the further trauma of answering questions, and so the parents' consent to notify the authorities is withheld. So, the child and its family don't get the professional help and support they need at a very traumatic time, and the actions of the alleged abuser don't get properly investigated. And so the abuse can continue. Such a scenario is entirely consistent with this clause of the school's child protection policy, and completely undermines any claim that the school will automatically report all incidents.
Item (c) is also inconsistent with item (e). If the child's interests are to be regarded as paramount, then automatic reporting must occur, so that the necessary professional support is made available to the child.
Item (f) is also dangerous. We don't need weasel words about cases of doubt. If there is any doubt, you report to (not consult with) the LADO anyway, and then let the LADO decide whether a referral to SSD (Social Services Department) is needed.
There are several other severe shortcomings in the school's safeguarding policy. If the school wanted to make sure it prevented any repetition of the errors of the past, it should have been as keen as mustard to make the safeguarding policy an absolute model of clarity and thoroughness. Instead, the policy has been left muddled and contradictory, and with no more than grudging improvements on the policy in place at the time of Father David Pearce's sentencing, which was one long excuse never to report anything to the authorities.
The policy is better than it was, but in the circumstances parents had a right to expect a whole lot more than this. There is no justification for waiting for Lord Carlile to report before doing anything, these shortcomings have been obvious for ages and work should have started immediately. If Lord Carlile happened to make additional recommendations, then they could be added to the policy afterwards.
But the school hasn't done that, they have done the bare minimum. This doesn't offer confidence that they are serious about safeguarding. If the policy were left as it is now, then when Lord Carlile's fees have been paid, the press has lost interest and the parents have forgotten about the brouhaha, this policy would enable an abuser to get into the school and not be detected and reported for some time. And then we will be back where we started. It's just not good enough.