Assembly under fire over Clywch

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Twelve months on and child protection measures have not been put in place, claim critics. Felicity Waters reports

The Welsh Assembly has been criticised for not doing enough in the past 12 months to implement key child-protection measures in the wake of the Clywch report.

Several of the principal recommendations laid out by children's commissioner Peter Clarke have still not been acted upon, and there is growing concern that a review of the way drama is taught and examined in schools is not involving key players.

The Clywch inquiry, led by Peter Clarke, catalogued dismal failures by education professionals to protect pupils from sex abuse at a South Wales Valleys school.

Following the investigation into the actions of John Owen, former drama teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, in Pontypridd, during the 1980s and 1990s, the Assembly government was given two years to produce guidance for drama departments, along with other education bodies.

But the Welsh examination board, the WJEC, whose child-protection procedures were severely criticised in the report, says it has not been to a single meeting on the subject in the past 12 months.

Gareth Pierce, WJEC chief executive, said the board was still waiting to hear from the Assembly about a meeting to discuss the issue.

"The work being done on the Clywch recommendations needs to be better co-ordinated," he said. "It's not what we expected."

Mr Clarke's report made 31 recommendations, 16 of which were directed at the Assembly government. One of his key recommendations was for practical guidance on how drama is taught and examined in schools. This deals expressly with sexual content and language, intimate physical contact and nudity.

At the time, Mr Clarke said that teachers need to catch up with the work done on child protection by their colleagues in PE.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, vowed last year to react to the commissioner's recommendations with "actions and not just words".

In a recent statement, she said that the Assembly government had made considerable progress towards implementing the recommendations, and that most would be completed by later this year or early next.

"This is no mean feat, bearing in mind that in most instances we have had to engage in widespread consultation in developing new proposals, or in revisiting existing ones," she said. "Much of this vital work will not have been apparent to those who have not been part of the process."

But Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson in the Assembly, said very few concrete achievements had been made in the past year.

"The public was promised a quick response to these recommendations, but it hasn't seen it. Now it could be 2009 before we see some of them in place," she said.

"When political parties put their mind to something, a lot can be achieved very quickly. But action on the Clywch report has taken too long."

Some of the most important recommendations have already missed their deadlines, such as introducing whistleblowing policies in all schools and setting up an independent counselling service for children. A pilot has not yet been started and its cost is up for discussion in the autumn.

Sara Reid, assistant children's commissioner, said her office would be unhappy if the two-year deadline for drama guidance was not met in 2006. Ms Reid acknowledged that timescales had been ambitious, but insisted that resources needed to be in place as quickly as possible.

"We want all children in Wales to know that they have someone to turn to," she said. "It must not be left for individual schools to fund. The Assembly government must take a strategic lead."

Ms Reid said she was generally pleased with the progress made on the recommendations to tighten child-protection procedures.

Mr Clarke had also hoped to see four independent tribunals set up across Wales to oversee child-abuse complaints, but this idea was rejected because of legal stumbling blocks and opposition from local authorities, governors and teaching unions. Alternatives are being investigated.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Headteachers Cymru, praised the input of the working group, set up by the Assembly to discuss the viability of independent tribunals.

She said: "An independent panel of experts is needed for governors to turn to for advice, and that is what we are working on."

The suggestion of independent tribunals was rejected because of legal stumbling blocks and opposition from LEAs, governors and teaching unions.

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