Lancashire school abuse figures are a ‘concern’

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Nearly 500 allegations of physical and sexual abuse were made against people working in Lancashire schools over the past three years.

New figures reveal that the county has sacked more school staff, including teachers, than anywhere else in the country as a direct result of the claims.

The data, which came to light as a result of a Freedom of Information request, shows that during the last three academic years the education authority received 494 complaints against staff - and 65 people ended up being sacked or leaving.

The figures include teachers as well as those without Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), ranging from classroom assistants to grounds staff.

As a result of the allegations, 133 members of staff were suspended. The vast majority of complaints were made against non-teaching staff.

Last year there were 157 allegations, down from 195 in 2009/10 but up on the 142 allegations made in 2008/09.

The data was included as part of a major report - Safe from Harm – released by law firm IBB Solicitors and carried out by legal research company Jures.

The research examined the effectiveness of legislation introduced to protect children in the wake of the Soham Murders - when Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were killed by caretaker Ian Huntley.

Malcolm Underhill, partner and head of the personal injury team at IBB Solicitors, which carried out the study, said: “In the past 10 years, as a father, school governor and solicitor representing victims of child abuse, I have had cause to wonder whether the steps taken after the tragic events in Soham, have had the kind of beneficial effect that we all hoped for.

“The information collated from the report supports my concern that there are still too many people gaining access to children, for their own iniquitous behaviour.”

The report has been endorsed by Fair Play for Children – an organisation which campaigns for the UN Convention right of the child to play.

National secretary Jan Cosgrove said: “This report lays out important issues in a balanced manner and we hope it will be used to promote public debate – when 10% of allegations which are reported result in dismissals we have to be concerned. What happens in the other 90% of cases? The likelihood is reprimands, retraining, employment warnings, poor practice, as well as unsubstantiated claims. This is not scaremongering - parents are entitled to know the answers where it’s their children who are involved. We have to go beyond the era when questions were not asked and children had no voice.”

Malcolm Underhill added: “There is clearly still a lot of work to be done in ensuring the protection of our children and vulnerable adults and I only hope the publicity surrounding the activities of Jimmy Savile will prompt the Government to do much more work in this area.”

A number of authorities failed to provide data for the full three year period and not all 152 LEAs in England responded. Of those that did submit figures, Lancashire ranked among the highest.

More than a quarter, 27%, of allegations made against Lancashire school-based staff led to suspensions and of those nearly half, 49%, were ultimately dismissed.

Overall, a total of 13% of all allegations led to a dismissal.
Lancashire has been collating data on assaults by staff separately since 2006 but only started splitting the categorises to identify teaching and other staff last March.

Helen Denton, Lancashire County Council’s executive director of children’s services, said: “In Lancashire all agencies including schools work very closely together to protect and safeguard children.

“We have clear and robust procedures for any allegations that are made against a professional.

“This is to protect both the professional and the child, and an investigation will always be undertaken following any allegation being made.

“We have raised awareness of the regulations regarding informing the local authority if schools or other employers have any concerns. 
“The number reported would indicate that people are now more aware and acting appropriately when any allegation is made.”

She added: “Lancashire is one of the largest authorities in the country and so actual figures will always be greater than many other smaller places.

“We will look carefully at the report, but we must remember that the figures concern the number of allegations, not the number of proven cases which is thankfully quite small.”

Father-of-two David Fann is headteacher at Sherwood Primary in Fulwood, Preston, and national executive spokesman for the National Association of Headteachers.

He said schools were worried that there were still “Too many malicious accusations being made by parents and pupils.”

However, he added: “ I have got to say that it ( the report) shows the very thorough and competent child protection services that Lancashire provides.

“We are very fortunate that our child protection officers are very organised and offer schools immediate support if there is an allegation.

“Child protection is a very high priority but the problem is there are still too many malicious allegations and that must not get in the way of dealing with the real issues.”

He added that there were “serious concerns” that schools outside local authority control, including academies and free schools, may not carry out the “same stringent background checks” on staff.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 was passed by Parliament in the immediate aftermath of the Soham murders. There was a dramatic public and political reaction to the original proposals with the 2006 Act labelled ‘draconian’ by Home Secretary Theresa May. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which received Royal Assent in May this year, represents a scaling back of the scheme. Safe from Harm examines how effective the new Act might be in protecting children from abuse.