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U-turn over plan to jail teachers for failing to report child abuse concerns

Headteachers' leader says teachers 'don’t need the threat of criminal sanctions to remind them of their responsibility'

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Headteachers' leader says teachers 'don’t need the threat of criminal sanctions to remind them of their responsibility'

The government has reversed plans for a new law that could have seen teachers and teaching assistants jailed for failing to report concerns about child abuse.

Under the proposals for “mandatory reporting” announced in July 2016, those working with children would have had a legal duty to report any concern about child abuse and neglect.

The plans also included a duty to act, where such individuals could have faced professional or criminal sanctions for failing to take appropriate action where child abuse was known or suspected.

However, a government response to the consultation, released today, revealed overwhelming opposition to mandatory reporting.

Adverse impact

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the climb down.

He said: "Teachers and other professionals are well aware of their responsibility to identify and act upon suspicions of abuse and they do their very best to protect children day in and day out across the country. They don’t need the threat of criminal sanctions to remind them of their responsibility."

He said such a system would have "inevitably led to over-reporting, which would have potentially overloaded the childcare system".

The DfE said that nearly 70 per cent of the 768 responses felt mandatory reporting could have an adverse impact on the child protection system and 85 per cent said it would not in itself lead to appropriate action being taken to protect children.

The department added that only 25 per cent were in favour of a duty to act. Less than half that number, 12 per cent, supported introducing mandatory reporting.

In a statement, the DfE said the feedback suggests the proposals could “risk creating unnecessary burdens, divert attention from the most serious cases, hamper professional judgement, and potentially jeopardise the vital relationships between social workers and vulnerable families in their care”.

Preventing child abuse

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection chief constable Simon Bailey said: “Teachers, social workers and other professionals can and do play a vital role in keeping children safe from harm but our research suggests imposing additional legal requirements on them could be counterintuitive – with forces finding themselves inundated with reports that shouldn’t ever have been made.

“Key to tackling this horrendous crime is ensuring these dedicated professionals are well trained in how to spot the signs of abuse and act on them, and that agencies are truly coordinated.”

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The response to this consultation shows the strength of feeling among the sector on this extremely important issue – and it’s vital that we work directly with people on the ground, supporting them to carry out their work sensitively and efficiently.

“Decisions we make as a government should be with the ambition of improving outcomes for as many in society as possible, which is why we must listen to the views and experience of the sector as we progress further with our reform agenda." 

Instead of introducing mandatory reporting, the government said it would:

  • Improve coordination between agencies involved in keeping children safe through better information sharing – implementing stronger safeguarding arrangements locally, as well as clearer, stronger national statutory guidance
  • Publish revised Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance to make clear the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in protecting children from abuse and neglect
  • Build on its Together, We Can Tackle Child Abuse campaign
  • Continue to boost the professional development of social workers and practitioners by improving training, accreditation and regulation, supporting them to better-protect children and promote their welfare
  • Consider the current legal framework to assess whether it is sufficiently robust in terms of criminal offences for concealing child abuse and neglect

 

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