A NEW law is to be introduced requiring all teachers to be on the look-out for signs of child abuse in their pupils, the Government revealed this week.
Under an amendment to the Education Bill, all schools and colleges will have to have a designated member of staff responsible for child protection and procedures for handling suspected cases of abuse. The amendment, which also covers local authorities, comes as ministers seek to tighten up the law following the death in May 2000 of six-year-old Lauren Wright.
Her stepmother Tracey Wright, is serving a 12-year jail sentence for manslaughter after a court heard how she had abused and tormented Lauren for more than a year. Lauren died after being punched in the stomach by Wright so hard that her digestive system collapsed. The court was told that Lauren was found with more than 60 bruises and marks on her emaciated body.
Although other agencies were implicated in the inquiry into Lauren's death, the House of Lords was told last month of failings at the primary school she attended, William Marshall school, in Welney, Norfolk.
Junior minister Baroness Ashton said that the school had not referred any concerns to the social services, nor followed existing guidance stipulating that all schools must have child protection procedures.
Now, that guidance is to be written into the law, which would mean teachers could be prosecuted if they fail to abide by it.
The move comes after a campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and former education secretary Gillian Shephard, whose constituency covers Welney. The Conservatives called for the new law last month.
Mrs Shephard said: "There has been a real all-party push on this matter and this is some kind of response to an appallingly tragic and needless death."
However, Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said it could open the floodgates to former pupils launching unfounded retrospective claims against teachers.
He said: "The Lauren Wright case was tragic, but we think there are other ways of doing this than using the statute book. "