Ofsted has been attacked for failing to check on a local authority months after an alarm was raised about how it deals with incidents of pupils sexually assaulting each other.
Sean Harford, Ofsted's national director for education, was warned of "serious concerns about ongoing failures" in relation to Herefordshire Council's safeguarding procedures in July. But the inspectorate has yet to conduct a monitoring visit three months later.
The warning came from the mother of a teenager who was sexually assaulted by a pupil and then expected to return to the classroom with her alleged attacker – despite the fact he had been arrested and put on police bail.
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Ofsted was made aware of the incident involving the teenager in 2017, and subsequently informed the local authority. It also took the matter into account when inspecting the school in question.
The new concern was raised with the inspectorate in July 2019, when the mother was told by Chris Baird, director of children and families at Herefordshire Council, that he could not give “categoric reassurance” that victims of peer-on-peer sexual assault would not still be attending school with their alleged attackers.
Sexual assault safeguarding fears
She was told in August that her concerns would be passed to the relevant Ofsted regional team, to be accounted for in ongoing monitoring work, but no monitoring visit has since taken place.
The mother has now written to Mr Harford, warning him that Ofsted's current systems "do not keep children safe".
"It’s three months since I raised the alarm," she wrote. "Three months may not feel like long [but] to a child facing the risk every single school day of seeing someone who has sexually assaulted them, it is an excruciating and potentially fatal delay."
The mother's concerns stem from an email exchange with Mr Baird, in which he said: "Unless the alleged perpetrator has been given a permanent exclusion or a 'managed move' to another school, then the victim will be in school with the alleged perpetrator.
"Schools do not generally issue fixed or permanent exclusions for incidents that happen off the school premises; an awareness of serious incidents occurring are referred to the police."
The mother fears this may mean victims of the most serious sexual assaults are still expected to attend school alongside their attackers, merely because the incident happened off-site.
At a meeting with the mother in August, Mr Harford committed to raising the safeguarding concerns about the local authority with the relevant Ofsted regional team, which he said would, in turn, follow up on the issue.
The team was already in the process of monitoring Herefordshire Council, after its leadership and management of children's social care services was judged to be "inadequate". The parent was told that her concerns would be considered as part of the monitoring work.
Minutes seen by Tes show that Mr Harford "clarified that all information passed across so far and all new information [...] would be passed on to [the regional director] to be taken account of into the monitoring work".
However, recent correspondence shows that Ofsted has not yet visited the council for a monitoring inspection.
The news comes just months after parents said they were “losing faith in Ofsted” because of its handling of peer-on-peer sexual abuse safeguarding failures.
When asked by the mother last week how Ofsted could justify doing "nothing" since she raised her concerns in July, Mr Harford said: "The LA will be visited, I just cannot say when that will happen for reasons of confidentiality."
The parent said she was "appalled" by Ofsted's apparent lack of intervention, and fears the inspectorate is "prepared to take risks with children’s wellbeing".
She told Tes that she is extremely concerned that some victims may remain trapped in school with the alleged perpetrators, and wants Ofsted to ask the council whether children in Herefordshire have been safeguarded appropriately.
"I think I have gone beyond frustration," she said. "I am feeling angry now. I simply do not understand how they can sit on their hands and do nothing.
"It is a failure of imagination. It is a failure of compassion. They are simply not putting themselves in the position of these children."
When asked to explain why, after being made aware of the serious safeguarding concern in July, it had still not taken any steps to investigate the situation, an Ofsted spokesperson said: "We are very much aware of this case and have been in touch with the parent for some time."
They said that when the original incident involving the teenager had been reported to Ofsted, it had informed the local authority and taken the matter into account when the school concerned was inspected.
The Ofsted spokesperson added: "As for the local authority, we judged that it required improvement in 2018. We also said that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was inadequate.
"We regularly meet with local authorities and our future inspections and visits are planned in response to a range of information that we receive.
"We continue to review the performance of the school and the local authority, but naturally it would not be appropriate to discuss when Ofsted will next inspect them."
Herefordshire Council said it would review Mr Baird's comments by the end of September. However, the authority has told the mother that the review has been delayed twice, and to date it has still not been completed.
A spokesperson for the council said: "Reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment are extremely complex to manage.
"Herefordshire Council works with schools and colleges to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children at their school/college, and promotes the use of the Department for Education statutory guidance.
"Schools and colleges are expected to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, following statutory guidance, using their professional judgement and being supported by other agencies, such as children’s social care and the police.
"The council is in the process of undertaking a review of a reported safeguarding concern, taking into account the complexity of cases such as these."