This month, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) released their 19th report investigating sexual abuse by teachers and students in 13 residential schools, as well as eight that have now closed.
Since the inquiry was launched, it has looked at concerns surrounding the sexual abuse of children in both ‘residential and educational settings’, as well as the quality of existing support and legal processes available for victims of child sexual abuse.
We’ve acted on behalf of a number of people involved in this inquiry, both in the investigation of institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC and in relation to children in the care of Lambeth Council.
We’ll talk through what the latest report revealed in this article as well as the recommendations that have been made.
If you’ve been affected, our expert Abuse team could help you. Get in touch for initial advice, we’ll let you know if you have a claim so you can decide whether you’d like to go forward.
What did the Latest Report Show?
The report was split into two phases, the first looking at ‘residential specialist music schools and residential schools’ and the second covering ‘a variety of other types of schools’.
One of the most disturbing findings of the report was the prioritising of reputation over student wellbeing in the specialist music schools examined. Often, the image of both the schools and musicians was put before potential victims of sexual abuse when allegations were made.
A similar response was found in independent and state schools when concerns were raised about ‘well-liked and generally respected’ members of staff.
In the observation of residential special schools, the report found that while children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual abuse, there have been relatively few convictions.
As children with disabilities often find it more difficult to talk about their abuse, the report recognised a need for ‘a positive culture of safeguarding’ in schools, especially in setting where students are especially vulnerable.
While there has been 20 years of ‘enhanced focus’ on safeguarding in England and Wales, the report found that schools still are not as safe for children as they should be.
“When parents send their children to school, they trust the school staff to nurture their child and provide a safe space for them to learn and grow. The instances of abuse that are contained in the report are very disturbing and will have a lifelong impact on the victims. The report highlights many failings in current systems of protections, regulation and oversight and makes recommendations to help remedy them.” - Nathalie Swanwick, Abuse Claims Solicitor.
What Were the Report's Recommendations?
- Recommendation 1: Residential Schools
- all special residential schools should be inspected against the same quality standards used in children’s homes in England and care homes in Wales;
- boarding schools and residential special schools should let inspectors know of any allegations of child sexual abuse or other serious incidents taking place in the school;
- a system of licensing and registration should be introduced for educational guardians responsible for international students – this should include Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.
- Recommendation 2: Responding to Allegations and Concerns
- there should be an introduction of national standards for Local Authority designated officers in both England and Wales for consistency;
- it should be made clear in statutory guidance that any Local Authority designated officer can be contacted for informal advice as well when a concern or allegation needs to be referred.
- Recommendation 3: Governance
- Independent School Standards used by inspectors should be amended to include a requirement that there is an effective governance system at the school;
- the Independent School Standards should also make clear that any ‘proprietor’ – the person or group responsible for the management of the school – cannot act as a safeguarding lead;
- the registration system for independent schools should be changed so that they apply the same standards as those applying to open a free schools or early years provision.
- Recommendation 4: Training and Awareness-Raising
- there should be set nationally accredited standards and levels of safeguarding training in schools;
- the highest level of this training should be compulsory for headteachers, designated safeguarding leads in England or designated safeguarding persons in Wales, designated safeguarding governors, or head of the proprietorial body;
- an urgent review is needed to improve the effectiveness of relationships, sex and health education for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
- Recommendation 5: Inspection and Monitoring
- schools should be required to inform relevant inspectors when they’ve referred a member of staff to the DBS, the Teaching Regulation Agency or the Education Workforce Council;
- a requirement should be included in national standards for Local Authority designated officers to share information about referrals from schools with inspectors.
- Recommendation 6: Vetting, Barring and Teacher Misconduct
- all teaching assistants, learning support staff and cover supervisors should be brought under misconduct jurisdiction of the Teaching Regulation Agency;
- Keeping Children Safe in Education and Keeping Learners Safe guidance documents should clarify the quality, nature and degreeof supervision needed for supervised volunteers working with children in schools;
- it should be made clear that DBS checks are free for supervised volunteers and should be obtained wherever practicable;
- existing regulations should be amended so that anyone on the children’s barred list is automatically disqualified from being governor or proprietor of any school;
- for the above to be effective, the Home Office needs to adjust the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 so that governors, proprietors and members of the proprietorial body are checked against the children’s barred list.
- Recommendation 7: Wales
The report also included recommendations specific to Wales, it stated they should:
- update Independent School Standards urgently;
- prioritise the updating of national minimum standards for boarding schools;
- introduce legislation that means all residential special schools are judged against quality standards for care homes in Wales;
- make sure all teachers and learning support staff in independent schools are registered with the Education Workforce Council;
- consider extending the duty to report a child at risk of harm to independent school staff in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
We are saddened to hear the findings of this latest report by the IICSA, and we hope the Department for Education and the Welsh Government implement the recommendations put forward as a matter of priority.
The IICSA will release its final report later this year which will put forward their recommendations on changes to the law and whether a national Redress Scheme should be introduced for victims of child sexual abuse.
We were instructed by a core participant in this part of the inquiry and we look forward to seeing the recommendations put forward which are likely to shape the way Abuse claims are made in future.
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