How a children's charity will keep teachers safe, too

Staff who blow the whistle to be given legal protection
6th March 2015, 12:00am


How a children's charity will keep teachers safe, too

Teachers who report concerns about child abuse or other welfare issues at their school will be granted special protection against disciplinary action, TES can reveal.

After a report this week revealed that schools were among the agencies that failed to prevent six vulnerable girls in Oxfordshire from being exploited by a gang of men, prime minister David Cameron announced radical new plans to protect children from sexual abuse.

Under the proposals, teachers who fail to report suspicions of child abuse could face up to five years in prison for failing to protect their pupils from sexual exploitation.

Now it has emerged that the NSPCC has been granted "whistle-blowing status", meaning that school employees who are dismissed or treated unfairly after raising concerns with the children's charity will be given legal protection.

John Cameron, the charity's head of child protection operations, said he hoped the move would encourage teachers worried about their school's handling of child protection issues to report their misgivings using its helpline.

"We know that junior staff in particular, but other staff as well, are anxious about challenging their employer if they feel there's something untoward about how they have responded to a child welfare matter," he said.

"If a teacher alerted the headteacher to concerns about the welfare of a child but believed the school had failed to take adequate action, they might be worried about reporting it to the local authority. They might fear that their identity would become known and that could put them at risk [of dismissal]."

Between April 2013 and March 2014, the charity received 413 calls from teachers concerned about a child. Of these, 101 cases were referred to social services or the police.

As a result of the NSPCC's new legal status, any teachers who lose their jobs as a result of raising concerns about their school will be able to claim unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.

The move was welcomed by Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union. "This will afford education staff who are worried about children's welfare and safety the opportunity to raise their concerns, should they feel unable to do so with their employer," she said.

Debbie Barnes, chair of the educational achievement board at the Association of Directors of Children's Services, told TES she was pleased that there would be "another avenue" through which teachers could raise potential problems.

In cases where there was a disagreement between school employees about the level of risk to a pupil, Mr Cameron said that the NSPCC's new status would encourage more teachers to get independent advice. "[If] they're concerned about the security of their employment and there's a direct link between the local authority and the management of the school, they might be worried about their identity being shared down the line," he said.

Often, Mr Cameron added, the charity was able to resolve disputes simply by instigating "constructive" conversations with the whistle-blower and the school. If it was unable to find a satisfactory resolution, the NSPCC could escalate the case by referring it to the local authority, Ofsted or the Department for Education.

But Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary in Milton Keynes, said that worried teachers' first port of call should be their school.

"If a teacher was concerned, I'd hope they would go to the safeguarding lead at the school first, and that there would be a professional dialogue and they'd get the information they needed to feel comfortable," he said.

"I'd be very concerned if a teacher went straight to another agency without first speaking to the lead for safeguarding - there needs to be professional trust. But I do understand that in some cases things do break down and it's the safety of the children that comes above everything else."

An independent report on child sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire, published this week, concludes that schools in the county were "at a loss to know what to do" about the victims' "persistent disruptive behaviour".

Although some school employees "tried really hard" to support the girls affected, others tended to exclude them for bad behaviour "rather than seeing [them] as victims", the report says.

It was also announced this week that schools are set to come under fresh Ofsted scrutiny under new plans to inspect how well local agencies work together to protect children.

The watchdog will join forces with the Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectorates of Constabulary and Probation to carry out a round of "short, sharp, targeted" inspections.

School support

Children's charity the NSPCC and TES have joined forces to provide a way for schools to check on their safeguarding arrangements and ensure that the correct procedures are in place.

The online Safeguarding in Education Self-Assessment Tool is designed to help schools in four areas: child protection; pupil behaviour, emotional health and well-being; working with parents and other agencies; and staff and governance issues.

It should be used by the safeguarding lead and includes checklists and resources.

For more information, go to

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