Sunday, 12 January 2014

Coventry Education Department attacks my research

Once  had completed the research, the question was how to get it out into the public domain. I decided to show it to a journalist who has done a number of child protection and safeguarding stories recently, Louise Tickle. She was very enthusiastic about the research and wanted to do an article on it. We discussed how to proceed. I knew that the Daniel Pelka second Serious Case Review was still proceeding, and I thought it was only fair that Coventry Local Safeguarding Children Board and Coventry Education Department should see the data and have a chance both to respond and to incorporate the research into their own report if they wished to. So we agreed that she would provide the research to them and then ask for comments.

When Louise Tickle first disclosed the results to Coventry Education Dept, they attacked the research on several different grounds.

Their first response was to claim that the OFSTED results are good. 90% of schools are graded good or outstanding, and 25% outstanding on "behaviour and safety". However, Ofsted actually grades "safeguarding" separately, so the Education Department conflated two different things. That was a bit naughty of them.

The thing is, they ought to have realised that Ofsted's opinion on safeguarding is not to be relied on. The Serious Case Review said this about safeguarding at Little Heath Primary School, which Daniel Pelka attended at the time he died.
"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."
Serious Case Reviews tend to use very restrained and unemotional language. To call the school's arrangements "dysfunctional" is some of the strongest wording I have seen in an SCR. I've reviewed the policy Little Heath had in place at the time, and I agree with the SCR analysis. Little Heath scored 2/10 against the criteria I used. Its policy was useless, and it most certainly did not meet condition 5 from my list, concerning the internal reporting arrangements for child protection concerns, nor condition 6 for reporting those concerns to external authorities.
But when inspecting Little Heath a year before Daniel died, Ofsted said the following.
"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."
Within a year of this inspection, Daniel was dead, his emaciation, hunger and visible injuries (including strangulation marks on his neck) were not reported or even formally recorded by the school as child protection concerns. So much for the school's good practice in "multi-agency work to support individual pupils".

Nine months after Daniel died, Ofsted inspected again and said this.
"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."
No mention was made of Daniel's death. From the report, there is no reason to think that the inspectors were even aware that Daniel had been a pupil of the school when he died. From the evidence of the report, Ofsted did not follow their own procedures for assessing safeguarding at a school which has had a major safeguarding incident or is the subject of a serious case review.
Moreover, Ofsted failed to notice that the safeguarding policy in place at Little Heath had not been updated since Daniel's death, the same useless 2009 policy was still in place.
Little Heath has since updated its policy. It is still useless, but by virtue of the fact that it has been reviewed within the last year, it now scores 3/10 instead of 2/10.
This is a problem not limited to Coventry. The Serious Case Review for Jeremy Forrest was published recently. You will remember that Forrest abducted a pupil to France in September 2012. The SCR was scathing about the safeguarding arrangements at Bishop Bell School, which Forrest taught at and the girl attended. The school again had kept no formal safeguarding records, and when Forrest disappeared with the girl, they retrospectively wrote some child protection forms and backdated them, providing the backdated documents to the review team as if they were contemporaneous records. The review team was highly unimpressed when they twigged what the school had done. The policy in place at Bishop Bell at the time scores 5/10 (the same as the average across Coventry). But Ofsted in its most recent previous inspection graded the school grade 1 "Outstanding" on safeguarding and was positively gushing about the school's safeguarding in the inspection report.
So, Ofsted's assessment of safeguarding is, to put it bluntly, grossly unreliable. Schools which had serious safeguarding incidents have frequently been found to have been graded "outstanding" or "good", where the subsequent Serious Case Review has found the school's safeguarding arrangements to be more-or-less nonexistent.
The Education Department's next argument was to attack my criteria. They said "Not all of the 10 criteria used by Mr West are statutory requirements (eg state schools are not required to have a designated governor for child protection)."
In fact, none of the criteria are "statutory requirements", because there aren't any statutory requirements. A headteacher can know that a teacher has raped a pupil on school premises, but the head has no statutory obligation to report anything to anybody. But what I suspect they meant was that the criteria aren't in statutory guidance issued by the DfE. In fact, all the criteria are derived from statutory guidance, and the council was factually incorrect on the specific point they raised. The requirement to have a designated governor for child protection is in the statutory guidance Dealing With Allegations Of Abuse Against Teachers And Other Staff, page 3, 3rd bullet. They ought to have known that.

Their next attack was to claim that I had scored schools unfairly poorly against my own criteria. They gave an example that I had scored Woodlands Academy 3/10 whereas their own analysis of the policy scored 9/10 against my criteria. So I agreed to review Woodlands again, and provided a detailed justification for my score.

I originally scored 3/10 (points 1, 3 & 5)

1. The policy names and briefly describes the kinds of abuse that is covered: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.
Scores on this point - top of page 8, though the description is so brief that it only barely qualifies.

2. The policy describes the signs of abuse that staff should look out for.
There is a short list of items on page 8, but it is quite inadequate and incomplete. For instance none of the physical or behavioural signs of sexual abuse are listed. I scored zero on this point.

3. The school has a named designated teacher for child protection. ("The headteacher" was accepted in lieu of a name, but no other job title)
Named on page 18 and again on page 23. You have to look hard for it! But it's there, so they score in this point.

4. The school also has a named designated governor for child protection. ("The chair of governors" was accepted in lieu of a name, but no other job title)
Item 2.2 on page 5 "we also have a named governor (insert name here) who champions safeguarding within the academy". . The phrase "named governor" is not used anywhere else. None of the other mentions of the word "governor" has a name associated with it. Since no name is given, the point isn't scored

5. The policy instructs all staff to promptly inform the designated teacher of allegations or incidents of abuse, and sets out the procedure for doing this.
Para 6.1 to 6.3 qualifies as a clear procedure., and is supplemented by more detailed information in appendices, including forms to use etc. They score on this one

6. It requires that designated teacher to inform the local authority designated officer promptly of all allegations or incidents of abuse.
Para 6.4 addresses the point, but it has so many things that the designated teacher must "take into account" that it is far from an unambiguous instruction to inform the authorities of all concerns, and para 6.5 makes it clear that a decision is made as to whether to refer. Even for allegations against staff, the head decides (para 6.7) "where appropriate" to refer the matter. This is also way short of a commitment to inform the authorities in all cases, since no guidance is given as to what is "appropriate" and therefore the matter is in effect left to the unfettered discretion of the head. This is not nearly good enough.

7. All conversations informing the local authority designated officer are backed with written confirmation.
Arguably, 6.4.1 makes it clear that referrals are followed up in writing. So even though the school doesn't score on 6, I'd be prepared to revise the point on 7. It's very hard to score on 7 without scoring on 6 as well, but I'll give them this one.

8. The school commits to periodic safeguarding training for all staff, with advanced training for the designated teachers and head teacher.
Para 7 addresses training. There is plenty on all-staff training, but no specific commitment to advanced training for the designated teachers and headteacher, just a general statement that everyone will receive "appropriate" (that word again!) training, without defining what they mean by "appropriate".

9. The policy does not depend on external documents for a description of any reporting procedures to be carried out by the school.
Para 6.6.(allegations against staff) explicitly refers to "Safeguarding children and safer recruitment in education" and the DfE guidance "Dealing with allegations of abuse against teachers and other staff" and says they should be used. No score on this point.

10. The school policy has a revision and publication date, and has been updated within the last 12 months.
The publication date on the cover page is given as 22/3/2012, more than a year old. It is next scheduled for review in the spring term 2014 (also on the cover page)
So, on review I might be prepared to raise the score for Woodlands from 3 to 4, on account of a marginal compliance with point 7. However, there is no way that any reasonable reading of the policy could yield a nine. I'll leave it to you to consider how and why the Education Department might be claiming a nine for this school.
You can check for yourself, the safeguarding policy is available on the Woodlands Academy website. At the time of writing, the version of the school website has the following dates showing in the page header "Reviewed by Q & S Committee on 26/1/2012 and full governors on 22/3/2012". This is the version I have reviewed. At Louise Tickle's request I did a similar detailed justification for a number of other low-scoring schools, the results were all similar.
The other point of the Education Department's response was to say "In October the LSCB, with support from the Local Authority, initiated a detailed city-wide audit and analysis of safeguarding and child protection arrangements in all school  settings."
It is a remarkable coincidence that they chose to initiate this in October, when they undoubtedly  learned in late September that I was making FOI requests to lots of Coventry schools asking for their safeguarding policies. Amy Weir, the LSCB chair, refused Louise Tickle's request for a copy of the reply sent to Edward Timpson (the Minister for Children and Families) stating what would be covered in the second Serious Case Review. If that document were made public, we would be able to tell whether a city-wide survey of safeguarding in schools was originally part of their intended work, or whether this was only added later once they realised that somebody else was already embarking on a survey.
I know what the LSCB review consists of. A questionnaire has been sent out to all schools concerning the school's safeguarding arrangements, and the schools are being invited to fill it out and return it. I've seen the questionnaire. This process is largely useless for the following reasons.

1. Different people are going to be doing the interpretation when filling out the answers - a different person for each school. There will be no consistency in approach in terms of what forms of words qualify as an adequate implementation of the guidance on each point.

2. Those who fill out the form have an interest in making themselves look as good as possible, and so the answers are going to be on the optimistic side. "Should" is almost certainly going to be regarded as acceptable for any required procedure whereas in effect "should" leaves it to people's discretion as to whether they actually will carry out the action described. A reporting procedure for child abuse needs to be saying "shall" or "must" to make it crystal clear what the procedure requires.

3. Those schools which are worst hardly going to be keen to advertise the fact. As a result thoroughly dishonest answers might be made by the worst schools. There seems to be no means by which dishonest or over-optimistic answers will be detected and corrected. Furthermore, there is no compulsion to make a return, so the worst schools might choose not to return the form.

4. The schools, through optimism, self-delusion or possibly even dishonesty, may claim that policies on various specific points exist even though nothing is written down. And quite frankly if the school claims to have unwritten procedures there is nothing anybody can do to prove them wrong. The questionnaire does not make it clear that it is referring solely to written procedures, and does not require that answers are backed by references to specific paragraphs of the school safeguarding policy describing how the requirement is met.

5. Schools outside LA control such as academies, independent schools and free schools may not feel that they have to co-operate with an LA-run audit.

My survey concentrated on schools' written procedures because it is extremely hard to have good practice in place without good written procedures. Without the procedures, staff will not know what to do in the event of them having a child protection concern. The confusion and paralysis that results is clearly described in the Pelka SCR. It is of course possible for a school to have a good written policy and not bother to implement it, but I would argue that a good written policy is a prerequisite for good practice. So if the policy is bad, practice is almost certainly also bad.

As far as I can tell, Louise Tickle and the Sunday Times did a good journalistic job here. They did not simply take my word for it, they asked for justification of my criteria, my methods and my scoring. They put the Coventry Education Department objections to me and then took a view of what the probable truth was. And having run it by their lawyers, the Sunday Times published the article with the headline Child-protection policies in 'most Coventry schools inadequate'.

No comments:

Post a Comment