Teachers warned of a Welsh Baby P

Children's committee member accuses schools of neglecting their duty

Nicola Porter

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Should it be a teacher's job to look out for abused and poverty- stricken children?

This is the issue currently dividing the Welsh teaching profession and one that has been heightened by the case of Baby P, the toddler who died in north London last year from more than 50 injuries, despite being on the child protection register.

In a recent debate, some politicians suggested that not all teachers were concerned about caring for their pupils, and that schools should be more responsible for children's welfare.

Angela Burns AM, member of the Assembly government's children's committee, said last month that it should be every teacher's duty to look out for children "with bruises, shabby clothes and stomach pain".

During a question and answer session with Keith Towler, the children's commissioner for Wales, she accused teachers of neglecting their pastoral care duty.

"I've heard people say that it's not the job of teachers to do anything but teach, but I believe in old style (teaching), where it is the teacher's role to be involved in pastoral care," the Conservative AM told Mr Towler, who was present to discuss his first annual report.

"It seems to be a case of, `I'm just here to deliver history, geography or maths'," she said.

Mr Towler defended schools and teachers, saying most were doing a fantastic job with vulnerable pupils, despite a lack of support and quite often a battle with local authorities.

But he said that the needs of vulnerable children were not being understood by every agency.

"We focus on social services and their perceived failures, but this is all about children living in the community - in family settings," he said. "All agencies having an impact on children need to understand their needs and be sensitive. That is blatantly not happening."

There were around 2,300 children on child protection registers across Wales in 2007, a 6 per cent increase on 2006. Of these, 69 per cent were under-9.

Committee members heard Ms Burns recall the Baby P case and how "thankfully" it had not happened in Wales. But she said there were children in Wales who, without advocacy, could slip through the gaps in the system.

Teachers' unions are divided over how far their members should be responsible for child wellbeing. The NASUWT Cymru says it should not be their job, but most unions believe there has to be a balance.

A major report, produced by the committee last month, recommends that teachers should be trained to identify and support the needs of pupils in poverty.

And it could become a legal duty for schools to tackle poverty and help vulnerable children if a new Wales-only law, currently under consultation, is approved.

`Stop mollycoddling children at play'

Teachers are surprised that children want to go outside to play, according to Mr Towler.

The children's commissioner said a lack of play opportunities, along with bullying, would be top of his agenda to tackle in the new year.

Mr Towler told how he would often ask children in schools how many wanted to go out to play.

"The overwhelming majority shoot their hands up, but in the staffroom later, teachers are shocked," he said.

In an attack on the growth of soft play areas, he said: "We must stop mollycoddling our children."

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Nicola Porter

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