Loopholes close on 'career paedophiles'

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Sir William Utting, who has pledged to protect pupils at boarding schools from abusers, talks to Nicolas Barnard.

If Bill Utting thought he could put his feet up after delivering his mammoth report on the safety of children living away from home, he was sadly mistaken.

Forty-eight hours after People Like Us received widespread attention for its damning indictment of the care system, a story hit the headlines which reflected perfectly another part of the report which many had overlooked - its findings on the safety of children in boarding schools.

Police raids on two prominent public schools as part of the Operation Clarence investigation into child pornography brought Sir William back on to television. And this week, he was keen to see that his recommendations on boarding schools and the registration of teachers were not lost.

"No setting is immune to infiltration by determined abusers," he said.

Videos were seized from Sedbergh School in Cumbria, Durham School and the home of one of Durham's teachers. These were among 15 addresses across the country raided as part of the three-year investigation. Four teachers were questioned. No arrests were made but police believe they may have broken a national ring.

Sir William's report recommends tougher regulation of people working with children, beyond the protection of the Department for Education and Employment's List 99 which names people barred from teaching under-19s on grounds of misconduct.

It automatically includes those convicted of sexual offences, but Sir William said that was not enough. "It is not an adequate deterrent simply to consult List 99," he said. People should be blacklisted or at least have a question mark placed over them if they had been the subject of two or more allegations of abuse.

Schools - and all institutions where children are cared for - should also end the practice of allowing abusers to quit without completing disciplinary or criminal proceedings. That simply allowed them to start again elsewhere. "Career paedophiles are often well-educated, charming, effective people, good at their jobs and well-respected by colleagues, highly thought of by parents and pupils."

Inspection reports into boarding schools should be made public, and it should be easier to take action against schools where abuse occurs or which consistently fail to comply with the law.

Boarding schools came under the aegis of the Children Act in 1989 which ordered them to draw up child protection arrangements and gave local authorities inspection powers. But procedures remain cumbersome. One school failed to draw up a child protection policy two years after being told to do so by inspectors. Another school where children were abused took four years to close despite intervention by three Government departments, two inspectorates, local police, social services, housing, environmental health and fire services.

Sir William said there was a "fringe" which caused anxiety - schools which seemed impervious to outside influence.

"It is not the best schools that are the most arrogant and dismissive of local authority inspectors. The rogues are lower down who exploit every kind of loophole in regulations and inspection and appeals processes," Sir William said.

The report recommends that state boarding schools should also be covered by the Children Act. Most state boarders are particularly vulnerable - children with severe disabilities, learning difficulties or behavioural problems, or children from Forces families, whose parents are often stationed overseas.

Sir William called for a public campaign to inform parents of the kinds of questions they should be asking when they choose a boarding school. Too many schools emphasised education but told parents little about their welfare, child protection or general pastoral policies.

The boarding sector has already taken that criticism to heart - this week saw the launch of the Boarding Education Alliance with a Pounds 250,000 campaign aimed at halting the decline in boarding. It includes a helpline, information for parents on "the boarding experience" and its social benefits and advice on how to pick a school.

The campaign seeks to counter the Tom Brown's Schooldays image of the boarding sector. Its organisers cannot have expected to have to cope with the impact of last weekend's raids as well.

A free summary of People Like Us is available from the Department of Health, PO Box 410, Wetherby LS23 7LN. The full report is available from Stationery Office bookshops at Pounds 25.

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