Fears over teacher safeguarding investigations

Posted: 12th September 2022

Concerns have been raised that some misconduct allegations against teachers in Scotland are not being properly investigated.

New figures show 47 child protection and safeguarding referrals made to the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) since 2019 did not result in full investigations.

The allegations were instead passed to local authorities to probe.

But critics claim not all council investigations are up to scratch.

The GTCS, which has a duty to regulate teachers but not their employers, has also warned that a system which “relies on employers getting it right necessarily carries risk” and is calling for reforms.

Concerns about local authority investigations into teacher conduct came to the fore with the Scottish Borders Council case of Linda McCall who was initially cleared of wrongdoing but later found guilty of assaulting five vulnerable children.

Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie has called on the Scottish government to “fill this child protection vacuum”.

He said: “There is a gap in the current regulatory arrangements for safeguarding and child protection which means that although teachers are regulated by the GTCS it is employers who are considered in the frontline and no-one is regulating the employers.

“This came into sharp focus in the recent Borders case. This lack of oversight is incredibly important when there continues to be inappropriate restraint techniques being deployed.”

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) has written to both the GTCS and the Scottish government about the issue and wants national child protection guidance updated to cover schools.

Nick Hobbs, head of Advice and Investigations at the CYPCS, said: “Children have a right to protection from harm in all environments.

“We are concerned that the current national child protection guidance is overly focused on harm caused in a family environment and does not sufficiently cover protection from harm in other settings, including in schools.

“The Scottish government should amend the guidance to ensure that it is clear that children’s rights to protection apply to all those with a duty of care, including in educational and institutional settings.”

Figures released under freedom of information laws show a total of 47 referrals that contained child protection or safeguarding concerns sent to GTCS between 2019 and 2021 were not investigated further.

The regulator made these decisions against its “threshold” policy of assessing whether the allegations have a bearing on the individual’s fitness to teach.

The GTCS only passed on one of the 47 referrals to the police but the regulator pointed out it did inform the relevant councils in every case.

However, some in the education sector believe the GTCS could do more.

Explicit messages

BBC Scotland is aware of one case where the head teacher of a school sent sexually explicit online messages to several teachers across the country.

One of the affected teachers contacted the GTCS to complain about their conduct but said they were rebuffed by the regulator and eventually complained to the head teacher’s local authority.

The teacher said their experience of the GTCS was “nothing short of insulting”.

They added: “It came across that they were not concerned for my well-being, the impact on the profession or how to support me.

“I hung up with a feeling of shame, that no one took this seriously and with a clearer understanding of why people don’t come forward with complaints about sexual harassment or abuse.”

The head teacher in this case has since been demoted but is still teaching, and is now subject to a GTCS investigation after a referral from their local authority.

Identifying failures

A GTCS spokeswoman said its approach to fitness to teach casework is that it is “targeted only where action is needed and proportionate”.

She added: “As a result, not all referrals we receive are investigated by us. Best regulatory practice is that action should first be taken locally. We advise any potential referrers that any concerns about a teacher should be raised with the employer.

“Whilst we will always seek to improve what we do in our work, GTCS also believes there is an opportunity to clarify regulation in the system to enhance public protection.

“We believe greater consideration is needed as to how systemic failure is identified and how events are managed where there is a systemic failure.”

A Scottish government spokesman said every council “is expected to have in place appropriate child protection policies and procedures” to deal with any concerns raised.

He added that the “GTCS recognises it has an important role in child and public protection” and that the national child protection guidance “has a strengthened focus on children’s rights, engagement and collaboration with families”.

Source:Fears over teacher safeguarding investigations – BBC News

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