Education secretary rejects ‘mandatory reporting’ by schools of claims of sexual assault
By Frederika Whitehead and Mark Conrad | 8 June 2013
The minister opposes the idea because he fears that it would “swamp” officials responsible for child protection.
Exaro has obtained a copy of a letter in which Gove rejects the idea of forcing schools to report all allegations of sexual abuse. He believes that head teachers should decide on the handling of such allegations.
But his stance is bound to provoke fury from specialists in child protection, coming amid increasing concern about paedophile activities in schools.
Gove is already under pressure to explain why his department approved a decision to allow a teacher, Geoffrey Bettley, to return to the classroom after police cautioned him for downloading images of child abuse.
David Cameron, prime minister, is meanwhile urging internet companies to “use their extraordinary technical abilities” to help root out child pornography from the web.
Gove sent the letter about mandatory reporting for schools to Cheryl Gillan, a fellow Conservative MP and former cabinet colleague, last December after she raised the issue with him.
He wrote: “The local authority designated officer (LADO) should be informed of all allegations that come to a school or further-education college’s attention and appear to meet the criteria so that they can consult police and children’s social care services as appropriate.
“While I can understand the concern of those who would like to see this requirement put beyond doubt by introducing mandatory referral of any allegation, I believe that we must be careful not to swamp the LADOs with every incident reported.
“Schools should be trusted to use their own professional judgement in order to decide whether allegations brought to their attention meet the criteria for referral to the LADO.”
Channel 4 has an upcoming edition of Dispatches that will examine the failure of authorities to tackle the sexual abuse of children at schools. It follows an award-winning documentary, ‘Chosen’, broadcast on Channel 4 in 2008 that featured the frank recollections of men who were sexually abused as boys at private schools in Great Britain.
It also comes after a series of revelations by Exaro, including the disclosure a fortnight ago that Scotland Yard had launched an investigation, ‘Operation Torva’, into allegations of child sex abuse at schools of an order of the Catholic Church, the Salesians, in Britain.
And earlier last month, Exaro revealed how the Ministry of Defence was under attack from MPs for forcing children of service personnel to stay at schools in the face of allegations of sexual abuse unless the complaints were deemed serious enough to warrant investigation by the local authority.
Mandatory reporting for schools has already been introduced in America, Australia, Canada and Northern Ireland.
Barry Gardiner was responsible for its introduction in Northern Ireland during his time there as a minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government.
Gardiner told Exaro: “It should be mandatory to report because these things must not be covered up. This is what has led to all the problems in the Church. It is what enables people to go on and commit offences again.”
“There is absolutely no basis for not insisting that schools refer allegations to the LADO if you do not have proper and secure processes in place, so allowing these people to slip through the net. That is absolutely unacceptable.”
Laura Hoyano, a barrister and specialist in child protection, said: “The problem is that head teachers are caught in a conflict of interest because they are obviously concerned to maintain the reputation of their school.”
“So, they may not be able to be completely objective about the matter.”
Experts pointed to cases where teachers were convicted of child sex abuse but had been able to carry out their activities for many years because of a failure to report allegations to police or local authorities at an early stage.
Hoyano believes that LADOs are best placed to filter cases.
Meanwhile, Exaro earlier this week revealed a letter in which Boris Johnson, mayor of London, said that Scotland Yard’s investigation into child sex abuse in Richmond three decades ago, Operation Fernbridge, is “going well”.