THE question whether the Church of England and other organisations, including schools, should be legally bound to report safeguarding concerns to statutory bodies, such as the police or social services, is fiercely contested.
Survivors of child abuse have long campaigned for mandatory reporting in the UK. This would mean that individuals, no matter the context, would have a legal duty to report safeguarding concerns to the statutory authorities, so that proper investigation can be carried out.
Many survivors, including those of clerical abuse, report that they took years to disclose their ordeals because they feared that they would not be believed if they did — and that, when they did, the matter was not reported, or no further action was taken.
Setting the duty to report in law, they argue, would avoid repeating past situations in a church context, for example, in which clerics received disclosures of abuse (often first disclosures) but took no further action. It would hold clerics and others in authority accountable to the law, dispel any confusion about how guidance is enforced, encourage investigation, and push convictions.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have recently supported calls for mandatory reporting for the first time — possibly with disciplinary or criminal sanctions.
But how does or would mandatory reporting of safeguarding concerns fit into the education system, specifically in church or faith schools?
Does mandatory reporting apply to schools?
REPORTING a disclosure of abuse to the statutory authorities is not yet mandatory for schools under UK law. The only exception is when female genital mutilation (FGM) is suspected, in which case “there is a specific legal duty on teachers” to report to the police.
“If a teacher, in the course of their work in the profession, discovers that an act of FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl under the age of 18, the teacher must report this to the police.”
This is detailed in the latest statutory guidance on safeguarding children in schools and colleges, Keeping Children Safe in Education, which was last updated by the Department for Education in September 2018. On FGM, it states: “Those failing to report such cases will face disciplinary sanctions.”
Otherwise, the guidance continues: “All staff should know what to do if a child tells them he or she is being abused or neglected. Staff should know how to manage the requirement to maintain an appropriate level of confidentiality.
“This means involving only those who need to be involved, such as the designated safeguarding lead (or a deputy) and children’s social care. Staff should never promise a child that they will not tell anyone about a report of abuse, as this may ultimately not be in the best interests of the child.”
It later states: “Where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer from harm, it is important that a referral to children’s social care (and if appropriate the police) is made immediately.”
All schools have to appoint a designated safeguarding “lead” or officer — typically a senior member of staff — who has to undergo updated child-protection training every two years. Schools must also maintain a single central record of staff, volunteers, governors, and, for academies, trustees or directors, as well as implement the “safer recruitment” procedures in the statutory guidance.
The guidance states that appointing bodies “should prevent people who pose a risk of harm from working with children by adhering to statutory responsibilities to check staff who work with children, taking proportionate decisions on whether to ask for any checks beyond what is required and ensuring volunteers are appropriately supervised”.
What about church and faith schools?
A SPOKESPERSON for education in the Church of England said that all church schools were required to follow these statutory safeguarding regulations. The House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance — to which all clerics and church officers must have “due regard” — was therefore not relevant or applicable to church schools.
“Church of England schools are part of the state education system, and governed by the same regime as any other state school. Reporting is as required by the Department of Education publication Keeping Children Safe in Education.
“Diocesan Boards of Education [DBEs] and Diocesan Boards of Finance [DBFs] are encouraged to take part in local information-sharing protocols with other local partners. At diocesan level, individual dioceses will usually have policies or established working practices that lead to close working between the diocesan safeguarding officer [DSO] and the diocesan director of education [DDE].”
This essentially means, however, that diocesan boards of education may contact the diocesan safeguarding officer or the DDE for guidance about a particular safeguarding concern (bringing the House of Bishops guidance into play): for example, if a concern has been raised about a cleric who is also involved with the school, say, as a school governor.
A DDE explained: “This would be dealt with in the same way for all schools, be they church schools or not. They would report a safeguarding concern directly to the police, who would involve the LADO [local authority designated officer] and diocesan safeguarding adviser.
“If a safeguarding concern was raised concerning a cleric, the diocese would follow the House of Bishops practice guidance [Responding to, assessing and managing safeguarding concerns or allegations against church officers, 2017]. The DSA would liaise with statutory partners and other agencies, including a school. The LADO would convene any multi-agency strategy meetings required.
“Within the diocese, the DSA [diocesan safeguarding adviser] would convene a core group to manage the response to any allegation or safeguarding response in line with [the] practice guidance. . . The DDE would be invited to this, if the concern involved schools.”
Who is responsible for carrying out safeguarding referrals in church schools?
“SAFEGUARDING is not the statutory responsibility of the diocesan board of education,” the DDE explained. “The responsibility for safeguarding lies with the school; its leadership, including the Governing Body of a maintained school or the Trust Board/Local Governing Board in an academy.
“All schools and academies have a responsibility and reporting mechanisms to their local authority. It is the local authority who have the statutory responsibility for safeguarding.”
Therefore, because all schools have a designated safeguarding officer, “the diocesan safeguarding advisor would not be making referrals on behalf of schools, as the schools would do it themselves.” Any referrals “to children’s social care (and police, if appropriate)” would be made by the designated safeguarding lead, as stated in the statutory guidance.
Some diocesan education boards outline this procedure in their own statements or policies. Leicester diocesan board of education, for example, states that all church schools are answerable to their local authority, and that:
“Where there is concern over a child-protection matter, or when a ‘disclosure’ has been made, diocesan schools must follow relevant policies and procedures and contact their local authority designated officer (LADO), social services, and the police as necessary. In some cases, the diocesan safeguarding officer, and the diocesan director of education may also be contacted.”
This might apply to a concern raised to the DDE from “external sources”, the DDE said, in which case, “information sharing with the DSA would take place. . . The DSA would make a referral to social services if appropriate. These cases tend to involve members of the public who might pose a risk to the school.”
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is currently carrying out an investigation into allegations of abuse in residential schools, including Sherborne Preparatory. A two-week public hearing begins next week.
Read more education features in our special supplement