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Daniel Pelka review: School staff must keep closer eye on abuse

Headteachers and all school staff should meet at least twice a term to discuss children they believe are at risk of abuse, according to recommendations in a review into the death of schoolboy Daniel Pelka

The four year old from Coventry was killed in 2012 after being starved, beaten and tortured by his stepfather Mariusz Krezolek and his mother Magdalena Luczak. He was eventually murdered by a blow to the head.

In the months leading to his death, Daniel had regularly shown up to school with injuries, such as a broken arm and, on one occasion, with two black eyes.

At the time of his death he was so malnourished that he weighed just one and half stone. In the court case into his death, a doctor who had seen Daniel's body said “he looked like a concentration camp victim”.   

According to his school, Little Heath Primary in Coventry, teachers noticed Daniel was “wasting away” and had raised concerns about his stealing food from other pupils and that he was eating out of bins and scraps from the floor.

But a serious case review into his death - published today - finds repeated failures by a range of agencies, including the school, social services, the police and the health service were to blame.

"The significance of his condition and of his deterioration was not as evident to the health workers, and school staff did not collectively and purposefully generate their concerns into a coherent child protection referral," it says.

The report did add there were efforts made by the school to inject urgency into Daniel's case, with the school nursing support worker highlighting her concerns when Luczak cancelled the second of two paediatric appointments, and the deputy headteacher "taking the unusual step" in January 2012 of calling his GP.

Among the recommendations to come out of the report was a call for heads and all of their staff to meet regularly to discuss children who may be causing them concern.

“Head teachers should ensure that school staff including attendance officer, learning mentor, SENCo [special educational needs coordinator] and senior management within school should meet twice per term to discuss children with a number of different concerns,” the review says.

Children who are not already known to social services, but may still be at risk, should be monitored by schools, according to the review. Pupils who have “difficulties with attendance, where English is a second language or where there are special educational needs” should also be closely watched as they may be less able to raise concerns.

The report adds that schools must have a robust system for recording “any injuries or welfare concerns identified or noticed about a child by staff, and of necessary actions to address those concerns”.

However, heads’ union the NAHT said the school and its staff had “acted properly” within the limits of the powers available to them.

“It is extremely important to remember that no amount of vigilance by a school can compensate for the willful misdirection of a deceptive and manipulative individual,” NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said. “Daniel was murdered by his mother and her partner, not by his school.”

For a full analysis of the Pelka case and free resources to help with safeguarding pupils see last week's TES cover feature.

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