Michael Gove faces more pressure for mandatory reporting of allegations of sex abuse
By Frederika Whitehead and Mark Conrad | 13 June 2013
– Professional conduct panel on Christopher Hood, head teacher
Shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan is urging education secretary Michael Gove to strengthen requirements on head teachers to report allegations of child sex abuse.
The Labour MP was reacting to the disclosure over the weekend by Exaro, working with the Mail on Sunday, that Gove was resisting pressure to make it mandatory for schools to report all such allegations.
Gove had written a letter to a fellow Conservative MP in which he said that he opposed the idea because he feared that it would “swamp” officials responsible for child protection.
Kevin Brennan told Exaro: “A strong case has been made by campaigners that there needs to be a process where schools report child abuse allegations externally – likely to the local authority – to ensure independent scrutiny.
“Given some of the worrying cases where schools did not report allegations, Michael Gove should consider strengthening measures while ensuring that the numbers of investigations are manageable.”
Two head teachers have lost their jobs over their handling of such allegations, and failing to report the issues to the authorities.
Specialists in child protection, such as Laura Hoyano, a barrister, argue that the cases illustrate the need for mandatory reporting by schools.
Nigel Leat, a teacher at Hillside First School in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, was able to sexually abuse children for more than a decade even though teachers and parents had reported concerns about his behaviour to the school at least 11 times.
However, the head teacher, Christopher Hood, failed to pass on the concerns to the police or the local authority’s officer with responsibility for child protection. Hood was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Gove accepted recommendations by a “professional conduct panel” in March that Hood should be banned from teaching for life.
The panel concluded that Hood “did not take appropriate action on safeguarding incidents brought to [his] attention relating to the conduct of Nigel Leat.”
It said that between 15 and 20 photographs found on a school camera showed Leat in “close physical contact with a female pupil.”
The report noted: “These photographs were not obviously within a teaching context.”
Hood admitted to the panel that teachers had reported Leat to him for “too much physical contact in terms of hugging, tickling, stroking of the pupil’s legs and back”.
Parents and teachers complained that Leat was “too tactile” with female pupils in his class. At least one parent requested that her child be withdrawn from his class because of this.
Hood said that he was “almost on the cusp” of sharing staff concerns with the authorities. The panel found that Hood “failed to put the well-being of his pupils first.”
Leat admitted 36 sexual offences in 2011, including one count of attempted rape and 22 of sexually assaulting a child under the age of 13. He was given an indeterminate prison sentence, and must serve at least eight-and-a-half years in jail.
Meanwhile, at Stanbridge Earls school in rural Hampshire, an independent special school for children of personnel of the armed forces, the head teacher was rebuked for his handling of allegations that boys were sexually abusing girls.
The case prompted a disclosure that the Ministry of Defence forces children of service personnel to stay at schools in the face of allegations of sexual abuse.
The head teacher, Peter Trythall, resigned after the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal said that his conduct “borders on contempt for statutory duties”.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal awarded the family of a girl £85,000 after Stanbridge Earls failed to respond properly to her allegations of sexual abuse by boys at the school.
Hampshire Constabulary is “reviewing” allegations that two girls were sexually abused at the school.
The Department for Education ordered Ofsted, the schools regulator, to undertake an “emergency, unannounced inspection” at Stanbridge Earls following “receipt of serious safeguarding concerns”.
Ofsted’s report last month said that the school should be shut unless its leadership improves “immediately”.
The report said: “Ofsted recommends that the Department for Education take urgent action and intervene directly to ensure that leadership of the school is immediately improved. If this cannot be secured, the school should close.”