Hertfordshire County Council’s safeguarding children board provides particularly controversial advice on the role of schools in recognising abuse.
The guidance says that, following an allegation, “on the basis of the accounts given, the perceived level of distress experienced by the pupils and/or risk of further incident, consideration should be given to the need to separate alleged victim and perpetrator in the classroom or in the school and the possible need to send one or both home (for a defined period).”
Rachel Krys, co-director of the charity End Violence Against Women, says sending a pupil home after “they report” abuse risks punishing the victim. She also argues that it could contravene the Human Rights Act, which guarantees people the right to an education and prohibits discrimination; the victims of peer-on-peer abuse are often, but not always, girls.
“On the point of sending both children home, girls who experience this sort of violence, it’s already incredibly difficult for them even to come forward and disclose something’s happened,” says Krys. “To then be, in effect, punished by being excluded from school, it massively discourages that reporting and it absolutely buys into this idea that in some way these girls and young women are to blame for the abuse that they’ve experienced.”
Nicky Pace, independent chair of the Hertfordshire safeguarding children board (HSCB), defended the guidance. “There are no hard-and-fast rules for dealing with these situations, as every case is different,” she says.
“The guidance from the HSCB does not say that the alleged victim ‘should’ be sent home, but that their separation from the perpetrator should be ‘considered’, as should the ‘possible need to send one or both home’. The guidelines identify options to ensure they are considered. It would be wrong to dictate an inflexible approach that was unable to be sensitive to the needs of both victim and perpetrator.
“The HSCB guidelines also clearly state that the interests of the victim must be the paramount consideration, and that would normally include avoiding any sense of ‘punishing’ the victim.”