Coventry City Council, after an initially somewhat negative response to my survey of its schools' safeguarding arrangements, has come round to the idea that they really do need to improve things. They invited me and Paula Barrow (the author of the Daniel's Law petition) to a meeting at council offices in May this year, the gist of which was reported in the Coventry Observer.
The essence of the plan we agreed was as follows:
1. A model safeguarding policy implementing best practice will be written, in such a way that schools will be able to use it with minimal modification, just adding the name of the school, the headteacher, the designated teacher(s) for safeguarding and a small number of other details.
2. The policy will make it clear that all child protection concerns must (rather than merely should) be reported to the authorities and provide a clear procedure for this.
3. The city council will ensure that the the new policy is adopted by all LA controlled schools in Coventry, will work with DfE with a view to ensuring that academies also adopt the policy, and will encourage independent schools in the city to do the same.
4. The education department will periodically review safeguarding arrangements of schools to ensure that the policy has been effectively implemented.
This is what I had wanted to achieve from the meeting, and it turned out that the council had already decided on much of it beforehand. We spent much of our time refining the ideas they already had in mind.
I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting. It is not mandatory reporting - that would require a change in the law. There can be no criminal sanctions for failing to report unless and until the law is changed, but if the model policy (with the all-important statement that child protection concerns "must" be reported) is adopted by governors, then staff at least will have a contractual obligation to follow the policy.
A model policy adopted city-wide will bring practice up to the standard of the best schools (e.g. St Thomas More Catholic Primary School and Stivichall Primary School, who scored 10/10 in my initial survey).
Furthermore, there are benefits from standardising on a single policy. It means that training can be designed round the policy. It means that reviewing schools' safeguarding arrangements is easier because it is known in detail what they ought to be doing. And it means that as staff move from school to school during their careers, they will be immediately familiar with the safeguarding arrangements at their new school because they are just the same as the arrangements at their old school.
If and when mandatory reporting is introduced, the arrangements Coventry is putting in place could be used as a template for what needs to be done in schools and LAs across the country to implement it.
Everything of course depends on effective implementation of the plan. I'm meeting the council again at the end of next week so we can review progress. I am very keen to ensure that these arrangements are in place by September, in time for the start of the new academic year.
Coventry City Council has decided that something needed to be done to prevent another Daniel Pelka, and has shown a willingness to seek outside assistance in how to improve, and to get on with making the changes needed. I am not the only source of outside advice they have sought. It is a refreshing contrast to the glacial pace of my discussions with NSPCC.