The Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has recently published its last report and this covers residential schools in England and Wales including music schools, residential special schools, day and boarding schools.
There are many aspects of this report that are worth considering but for the purpose of this article I want to focus on abuse that took place in residential schools in Wales.
It is important to note from the start that none of the 12 schools that were examined in detail for the residential schools investigation was in Wales. IICSA instead decided to gather evidence on how Welsh institutions responded to concerns of abuse that took place in Ruthin School in North Wales in 2019 and 2020.
The report states that as of the end of June 2021 the Everyone’s Invited website had received allegations of sexual abuse in 93 Welsh schools and this resulted in the Welsh inspectorate of schools (Estyn) being commissioned to conduct a review of all Welsh schools and colleges.
This report found that about 50 per cent of pupils had suffered from peer-on-peer sexual harassment and that 75 per cent of pupils had seen other pupils suffer this, with the general consensus being that pupils did not report this abuse to teachers.
IICSA raised numerous safeguarding concerns in respect of independent schools in Wales, including:
- No need for teachers and teaching assistants to register with the Education Workforce Council (EWC) and they therefore cannot be subject to misconduct proceedings by them.
- The standards by which boarding schools and residential special schools are judged have not been updated since 2003 and are described as “no longer adequate”
- Teachers and teaching assistants do not have to report when they have reasonable concerns that a child is at risk of abuse, neglect or any other form of harm.
This last point is an important one as we currently do not have a law in England that makes it a criminal offence to not report child abuse concerns to the authorities. This is out of line with a significant number of countries and this law, known as mandatory reporting, is something that I have campaigned on for a long time.
While there is no law to criminalise those that don’t report abuse, teaching staff in maintained schools in Wales are under a duty to report child abuse concerns to the authorities. However, it is very concerning to note that teaching staff in independent schools are not under such a duty and this creates a clear safeguarding gap.
I hope the Welsh Government takes heed of the IICSA’s findings and put in place their recommendations as soon as possible. IICSA intend to consider mandatory reporting further in respect of England and I again urge the Government to bring into force this proposed legal change as we must do all that we can to protect children from abuse.