Toughen up on abuse

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
The Clywch report recommends new tribunals for teachers accused of abusing pupils. Karen Thornton reports

Teachers accused of child abuse should be dealt with by new independent tribunals chaired by lawyers, according to the long-awaited Clywch report.

Its author, children's commissioner Peter Clarke, believes governors and headteachers cannot achieve the necessary independence to both investigate and judge abuse cases involving colleagues. He wants a task force set up to decide the rules for the tribunals and which cases should be referred to them.

"One of the major concerns is protection of children, but tribunals also allow greater fairness to teachers. Individuals who know teachers can be predisposed for or against them," Mr Clarke told TES Cymru.

His report, into sexual abuse allegations against John Owen, a former drama teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, in Pontypridd, details a disturbing catalogue of incidents dating back to 1983 - and dismal failure by key professionals to respond appropriately and share information that could have helped protect pupils.

He finds that the powers of the school's governors to investigate Owen were effectively usurped by the education authority, Mid Glamorgan, which then "covered up" the affair. But even if the head and governors had been allowed to act, he fears there would have been conflicts of interest that would have undermined any disciplinary proceedings.

Teacher unions have welcomed the Clywch report, which praises the professionalism and courage of the senior teachers who wrote a four-page complaint against Owen. Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said the key would be achieving "absolute clarity" about the seriousness of complaints to be referred to tribunals.

But Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said:

"The tribunals could prove to be an ineffective, expensive and unnecessary extra level of bureaucracy which will not meet the needs of children and teachers in school or make them feel any less vulnerable."

Owen, who resigned from Rhydfelen in 1991 following complaints from a parent and allegations of abuse from pupils, went on to write and direct S4C's long-running TV series, Pam Fi Duw?, based on a fictional school. He committed suicide in 2001, after being charged by police with one count of buggery, two of attempted buggery, and two of indecent assaults against children.

Mr Clarke, in his first inquiry, holds two Mid Glamorgan officials largely responsible for Owen escaping disciplinary action in 1991.

David Matthews, then a district education officer and now director of education at Bridgend, failed to refer criminal conduct against children to the police or social services - amounting to the criminal offence of malfeasance, suggests Mr Clarke. When the police did become involved, the LEA failed to pass on key statements from pupils and teachers.

And Edwin Roberts, then Mid Glamorgan's education director, is criticised for usurping the school governing body's investigative role and misleading governors and others about the nature of the complaints against Owen.

He also, "unlawfully", arranged for Owen to resign and not face disciplinary proceedings, leaving him free to continue to work with children.

But both the school and the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) missed opportunities dating back to 1983 to properly investigate Owen's activities.

Five of its own examiners complained to the WJEC about the sexually explicit and obscene drama material used by Owen with his students. The exams board eventually published its first child protection guidance in February 2003, a document dismissed by Mr Clarke as "window dressing".


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