Protection back on high priority

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Governors should review anti-abuse procedures in the light of the Bichard report, writes David Sassoon

The child protection crisis arising from the botched criminal record checks of Ian Huntley at Soham college had less to do with social services and education than with police departments. They have much to explain about their policies and practice, according to the Bichard report. However, this gives the education service little comfort.

Education authorities, governors and headteachers are understandably fretting. The child protection issue is firmly back on the agenda at meetings.

Governors at one school I know, who have had a caretaker with an unblemished record for a score of years, cannot recall whether or not the police have checked his record and have asked their clerk to take action.

Are these concerns justified or are governors going over the top? To answer this, one must take a cool look at the implications of the murders of two young girls.

The sad saga of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman serves as a timely lesson for governing bodies. The key issue is the nature of criminal checks for those who work with children.

When Huntley joined Soham college the police carried out criminal checks.

Today, the Criminal Records Bureau carries out two types of vetting - standard and enhanced. Teachers are subjected to enhanced checks but support staff, such as caretakers, only standard. Clearly, all school staff will now need enhanced checks.

What about other people who work with children in school, such as volunteers and parents? Should they not also be screened?

Governors until recently were required to have checks with the CRB. Because the agency could not cope, this was abandoned. To carry out their monitoring role, many governors visit school and mix with children. Is it now time to reconsider whether the CRB should be vetting them, in the light of the Bichard report?

There are other issues:

* Does the governing body have a child protection policy?

* Does the school have a designated teacher for child protection?

* If the designated teacher is the head, is there a teacher who can be an acting deputy in the event of the head being accused of abusing children?

* Does the governing body have a nominated person with responsibility for child protection matters?

* Has the nominated governor been trained? If so, when did she or he last attend a course on child protection?

* Is the nominated governor clear about his or her duties in overseeing child protection arrangements at school? They should include visiting the school; talking to the designated teacher; reviewing arrangements made for looked-after children; assessing how the policy works in practice; and measuring the impact of personal, social, health and citizenship education on the caring arrangements for pupils.

* Do staff members know who the designated teacher and nominated governor for child protection are?

* Do the nominated governor and designated teacher report back to the governing body, at least once annually, on the efficacy of policy and practice?

* Are staff members conversant with the whistle-blowing policy - sometimes called the confidential reporting procedure - that every public body must have under the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998?

David Sassoon is an educational consultant and Office for Standards in Education inspector, as well as a former designated officer for child protection in the London borough of Brent

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