Teachers and school support staff could face fines or imprisonment if they fail to report signs of child abuse or neglect among pupils, a new government consultation released today suggests.
Under the proposals for “mandatory reporting”, those working with children would have a legal duty to report child abuse and neglect.
If they fail to do so, the document says, they could face imprisonment or fines. Currently, the requirement for schools and teachers to report abuse or suspected abuse to local authorities is only written down in guidance.
Campaigners for mandatory reporting have argued that it is vital to make it a legal duty to ensure cases are not missed.
But in 2014, the government made it clear that it did not want to consult on the issue over fears it would result in an increase of unfounded referrals that could obscure cases where children really need help.
However, today’s consultation document points out that that the current referral rate in England – 54.8 per 1,000 children – is higher than the rate in the US and Australia, both of which already have mandatory reporting systems.
The news was welcomed by the Boarding Schools' Association, whose schools have been hit with a series of historic sex abuse cases in recent years.
National director Robin Fletcher said: “The BSA and our member schools wholeheartedly support this consultation, which will rightly examine the current reporting of abuse and make recommendations for further improvement.”
'Teachers already report any signs of abuse'
But the Association of School and College Leaders said that introducing mandatory reporting would be “counterproductive”.
Leora Cruddas, director of policy, said: “School leaders and teachers play a crucial role in identifying signs of child abuse and neglect and reporting these cases to the appropriate authorities.
“They are absolutely assiduous in doing so and we do not think there is anything to be achieved by introducing statutory measures to make reporting mandatory.
"Our concern is that it would be counterproductive to introduce such a duty as it would potentially lead to over-reporting, which would put additional pressure on social services departments which are already under huge strain.”
In a joint forward to the document, education minister Edward Timpson and Home Office minister Sarah Newton added: “High-profile cases have led to calls for specific reforms to our child protection system. In particular, the introduction of a new mandatory reporting scheme or other measures focused on taking action on child abuse and neglect have been suggested.
“The issues involved are complex and the evidence for such schemes is mixed. We need to consider carefully all the available evidence and views of a range of experts, children, families, survivors and practitioners so that any changes we make to the system do deliver the best outcomes for children”.