Sunday, 10 November 2013

Daniel's Law

There are two aspects to what Mandatory Reporting is designed to achieve.

The first is the kinds of cases described by Panorama last week, of schools or other institutions which deliberately decide to hide abuse in order to protect the own reputations. There's no real way of knowing how many such cases there are still hidden. What we do know is that quite a number of cases have come to court, sometimes decades after the event, of teachers convicted of child sex crimes against the pupils in their care. The following is a non-exhaustive list of recent cases
  • Fr David Pearce (St Benedict's School, Ealing)
  • Richard White (Downside School)
  • Bruce Roth (Wellington College and Kings School Rochester)
  • Stephen Skelton (St Benedict's School, Ealing and West Hill Park School, Titchfield)
  • Nigel Leat (Hillside First School)
  • Michael Brewer (Chetham's School, Manchester)
  • Jeremy Forrest (Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne)
The additional thing all these cases have in common is that in every case, concerns about abusive behaviour were known to management of at least one of the schools concerned, and those concerns were either ignored by management or handled "in house" without notifying the authorities. In each case the matter later came to the attention of the police by a route that didn't involve the school.

One can theorise that some kinds of schools are more at risk than others - that the vulnerability correlates with the extent to which the school is dependent on  its reputation for its future. So independent schools might be considered more of a risk than state schools, because they operate as business. Faith schools might be regarded as more vulnerable than secular schools because they have the reputation of their sponsoring religion to consider. And academies might be more at risk than schools under local authority control because they compete for pupils (and the money that follows them) against their neighbours.

But these are only rules of thumb. The list above contains two Catholic independent schools, three secular independent schools, one specialist music school, one C of E assisted academy and one community school under local authority control. There is no variety of school that is immune to the possibility that management will hide abuse.

The other thing that Mandatory Reporting will help is where abuse isn't reported because of incompetence and disorganisation in a school, without any malicious intent. The Daniel Pelka Serious Case Review described the following.
Of considerable concern during this period of time in either late 2011 or early 2012, was that the school noted injuries on Daniel which had not been caused by any accidents in the school. The lack of recording of them by the school was a concern in itself as well as the fact that there were two books in which to record concerns about a child. One of the injuries was recorded in the book for the reception class but none were recorded in the school book for this purpose. It was therefore apparent that the school did not have clear protocols to enable the compilation of information and concerns. This meant that there was lack of clarity about when exactly injuries were seen, how many there were, and of the response to them. Within the criminal trial, school staff gave conflicting accounts, particularly about the occasions when the head teacher was informed (who also had the role of designated safeguarding lead). It appeared that there were three occasions as a minimum when injuries occurred, and that these included facial injuries, and potentially finger bruising to the neck. In fact in the trial, the class teacher said that in her view this was caused by someone trying to strangle Daniel, and that she thought that the mother had done this.
What was thought by his class teacher to be evidence of an attempted strangulation of Daniel was not reported to social services as a child protection concern. How can this be?

What ought to have happened is that the teacher should have reported this to the head within an hour, and the head should have had social services round before the end of the school day to interview Daniel's mother. Social Services should in turn have arranged for a medical examination and then called in the police.

The Serious Case Review was highly critical of the safeguarding arrangements at the school. The next paragraph includes the following.
With the background of mounting concerns by the school about Daniel’s obsession to seek out food, as well as poor growth and possible loss of weight, it was surprising and very concerning that these injuries were not linked to those concerns. Whether the evidence presented by school staff within the criminal trial was influenced by a level of hindsight is not possible to say, but if there were such concerns about the injuries alongside the background of the other concerns, it is difficult to understand why the school did not coordinate these and ensure that a child protection referral was made to CLYP at the time. Despite considerable individual concerns by school staff, these were not developed into a coherent referral to CLYP. The school missed this clear opportunity to formally raise the level of concerns to the child protection level. The reasons why they did not do so appeared to have reflected a disorganised response to injuries witnessed, meaning that no records were made, incidents were viewed individually, and there was no person who was coordinating the concerns and identifying that a clear pattern of risk was potentially emerging. The system within the school to respond to safeguarding concerns was therefore dysfunctional at this time. The schools own safeguarding and child protection policy does not make it clear what the internal arrangements were for reporting and recording concerns.
I've read the safeguarding policy that was in place at the time. The SCR is quite correct in its description of it. However, OFSTED had no concerns. When they visited the school in March 2011 they had this to say about safeguarding at the school.
Procedures for safeguarding pupils are robust; staff and the designated governor are well informed about child protection. Good practice in multi-agency work to support individual pupils is an example of the school's effective partnership work.
Any parents reading that report would think that their children were safe at the school. And yet less than a year after that inspection, Daniel was dead.

But it gets worse. In January 2013, 9 months after Daniel died, OFSTED inspected the school again. This was their opinion of safeguarding.
The arrangements for the safeguarding of pupils meet requirements. The school carries out the necessary checks on adults to ensure that they are suitable to work with children.
There was no mention of any lessons learned or changes of procedure that had been made as a result. There was not even any mention of Daniel or his death. From the evidence of the report there's no reason even to think that the inspectors were even aware that Daniel had been a pupil at the school.

And no lessons had been learned, and no procedures had been changed. The same child protection policy, issued in 2009, was in use at the time of both OFSTED inspections, the death of Daniel and the Serious Case Review.

Since this was first publicised in an article by Louise Tickle in the Guardian, Little Heath Primary School has issued a new child protection policy. It is a mere four pages long. It contains a list of things that the child protection policy should do, such as "Ensure all staff and volunteers understand their responsibilities in being alert to the signs of abuse and responsibility for referring any concerns to the designated senior person responsible for child protection." But it doesn't describe the procedures for doing that, so staff are no better off than before about what they should do. It is slightly better than the shambles of the 2009 policy, but not by all that much.

So let's describe the current situation. There is no law requiring schools to report. There is "statutory guidance" which schools "must have regard to", but having regarded the guidance schools are free to do anything they like, including nothing. OFSTED does not notice bad safeguarding procedures, or at least does not report on them. Increasing numbers of state schools are being turned into academies and required in effect to compete for pupils with their neighbours, increasing the temptations to hide abuse. And a year and a half after a child dies when there had been clear signs that he was in danger, his school has updated its child protection policy without describing clear procedures for reporting child protection concerns to the authorities.

The system is broken. We must fix it. Please sign the @MandateNow and Daniel's Law petitions.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent POST Jonathan and well presented as always.The Methodist Church have confirmed by email to me that their only POLICY is SILENCE with regard to dealing with me in relation to Rydal Penrhos School where abuse has taken place for decades. The management have even denied a "conviction" for abuse in 2001!!! So MANDATORY REPORTING IS ESSENTIAL WITH SEVERE SANCTIONS FOR NOT DOING SO. The Daniel Pelka case is a classic example of "oh well we've ticked the boxes". Once again brilliant work Jonathan. Yours Alexander Curzon