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Abuse advisers could lack power

Independent advisers brought in to help school governors deal with allegations of child abuse could prove powerless, it was claimed this week by Assembly members.

Education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson delivered an update to the Assembly on progress made since children's commissioner Peter Clarke completed his damning report into the John Owen sex scandal last July.

Mr Clarke had wanted independent tribunals chaired by lawyers set up to deal with similar cases. But, following consultations, the proposal has been rejected in favour of introducing independent advisers who would guide governors through disciplinary procedures.

However, Ms Davidson told Assembly members the advisers would not have voting rights.

Peter Black, Lib Dem education spokesman, told members that without voting rights the advisers would not be effective.

His views were echoed by shadow education minister Janet Ryder, of Plaid Cymru, who questioned whether the adviser's role was "robust" enough without voting powers. She added: "The final outcome is so far removed from the original recommendation, with or without voting rights."

Ms Davidson outlined the Assembly government's other key responses to the Clywch report, including plans for child protection training for all Welsh teachers and the setting up of local child protection boards.

She also pledged a major overhaul of the drama syllabus and the teaching of drama. Mr Clarke had highlighted how drama teacher Owen used sexually-explicit material and practicals to abuse pupils in his charge at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd.

Former teacher and Labour AM for Conwy, Denise Idris Jones, said: "I always thought drama lessons should be more tightly scrutinised."

Ms Davidson conceded that it was not now possible to meet some of the six and 12-month deadlines for improvements set out in the Clywch report. She said Mr Clarke, who was in the public gallery for the debate this week, had agreed to be flexible on some of the recommendations.

The commissioner's report mainly blamed the old mid Glamorgan education authority for a series of blunders which allowed Owen to continue in his post after abuse allegations were made. Owen killed himself in 2001 - the day before he was due to appear in court to face a string of child abuse charges.

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