Allegations Against School Staff - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


17 JUNE 2009

  Q60 Chairman: But where is the local safeguarding board coming in on all this?

  Fiona Hammans: As a head teacher, if I were to receive an allegation, I would have to make some judgment about its level of severity and seriousness, and so on. But if it is something that is easy in the sense that there is clear evidence, or the allegation is serious enough to be able to pass straight on to the local authority designated officer, that person makes the judgment call about what happens, in what order and in what way. The difficulty arises—and the variability in response is—if the head teacher or a governor makes a decision and does not follow the protocols. It is about the protocols that are there to safeguard.

  Q61 Chairman: But the only person with protocols is Nick Gargan—he read out what the police have to follow. If they can do it, why can't the teaching profession have that sort of guidance?

  Clare Collins: There is a very real issue if it is the head teacher because the responsibility usually falls on to the chair of the governing body. I cannot emphasise too much how difficult it can be to get hold of the information; as a chair of governors, you won't have that on your shelf. It will be on a website somewhere, it might be password protected, and I have had someone from my local authority HR saying, "I'm not sure you want the whole document, it is rather long." I won't say what I said back, but that is the sort of thing you are dealing with. I think there was a suggestion earlier that there should be a small booklet that tells you what to do if the balloon goes up. That would be incredibly useful.

  Q62 Chairman: No one came back to that question about the local safeguarding board. Where does it get involved? Does it get involved?

  Clare Collins: I don't know.

  Chairman: I am told it does.

  Sir Steve Bullock: We will happily give you a written detail on that,[7] but I think it depends on the nature of the allegation. If it is clearly child abuse and so on, that kicks in, but we will come back to you.

  Q63 Chairman: What we are trying to get at is this: if an independent person is asked to look at the case, who chooses that independent person, and on what criteria? It is quite important, is it not?

  Kathryn James: Picking up on what Fiona and Steve both said, it very much depends on the nature of the allegation as to who will make that decision. The local safeguarding board does come into play, but actually that is probably quite high on the level in terms of the severity of the allegation. There is a protocol that is in force, but there is a plethora of guidance, and none of it necessarily ties in with the protocol that is there. It was mentioned in the previous session. It is known as the CLEA guidance, and it is the local authorities working with the teacher associations. It was a good piece of work. I think we have moved on a stage, but maybe that is something that ought to be revisited.

  Q64 Mr Chaytor: To clarify, in regard to who decides who will investigate, would it usually be the head teacher, or would it be referred up to the Director of Children's Services?

  Kathryn James: If it is an allegation that is made to the head teacher, the head teacher would take that first decision, in terms of the severity of the allegation. Whether the head teacher would refer it up or whether they would allocate an investigator depends on the severity of the allegation.

  Clare Collins: If it is the teacher whom the allegation is against, the governors would have to work closely with the local authority as to who is allocated the role of the independent investigator. They would be dependent on it to identify one. What I expect is that they would run it by the governing body.

  Q65 Mr Chaytor: It is still a little bit fuzzy as to exactly who has a legal responsibility to appoint an independent investigator. You are all saying that it varies according to the circumstances.

  Sir Steve Bullock: We don't always appoint an independent investigator. It is only in relation to the most serious allegations that you would do that. I would not expect it to happen in my authority. I would expect, if it was a very serious case, a senior officer of the authority to be the person who carried out the investigation. So it is not always the case that you look for the independent investigator.

  Nick Gargan: It is very clear who investigates, and in terms of the serious case reviews, we have a procedure for appointing, usually, a detective inspector from a separate local police area to come along and carry out the review. When you move into complex cases, we would refer to the joint Home Office-DCSF guidance, which is very clear and sets out the kind of strategic management board structure that we have activated in Thames Valley police over the last couple of years, but only on one or two occasions.

  Chairman: We will move on to the question of arrest, which Edward will lead on. It is a pleasure to have you here, because the Committee very much believes that of the 10 departments that we follow in relation to the activities and lives of children and families, the police and the relevant departments are very important to us. We find in all our investigations, we need the co-operation of you when we look at the welfare of children. So it is very good to have you here.

  Q66 Mr Timpson: You already flushed out a little about the role of the police in any investigation involving teachers and, in particular, the issue of arrest. Can I draw you in a little bit more and ask you whether you would be opposed to the submission made by Paul Kaufman, the solicitor who was in the previous panel? He has put forward in his paper that, in relation to police investigations, teachers should be treated as a special case, and that clear guidance should be given to child abuse investigation teams to ensure that teachers are arrested only in exceptional cases, where it is necessary.

  Nick Gargan: I didn't hear the evidence, but I have read his submission and I would make a couple of comments. First, there are lots of groups of people who would like to be treated as special cases; in a way our role is to put up with the noise of such people while maintaining an independence in order not to forget the victim's position and the interests of the wider community. I think that there is an existing, informal practice, which we pick up from discussions with child abuse investigation units and others, that people think carefully about arresting teachers. They think carefully about arresting anybody, but they already think especially carefully about arresting a teacher. I think that the way to deal with these odd cases that one hears about from time to time, where the power has allegedly been used carelessly or inappropriately, should be through the police conduct regulations, not through changing the rules about arresting teachers. The evidence that I have seen is that the police are very careful indeed. I shall give you a sense of the figures in our policing area: Thames Valley police has 8,000 employees—4,000 of whom are police officers—we police a population of 2.2 million and we record around 200,000 crimes a year; those are pretty large numbers. We arrest about 70,000 people a year,[8] not all for recorded crimes, and of those 116 are teachers. Many of those arrests are for other crimes: 20 are for drink-driving or possession of drugs, there are even a few burglaries and frauds in there as well. Those are not to do with their professional lives, but to do with criminality away from the workplace. This issue accounts for very few of the arrests made and it would be my contention that they are made, by and large, for very good reason. Reading the submission from Mr Kaufman that we are discussing, on occasion it might be that the police have some very good reasons for a course of action, but it is not in our interest, or anybody's interest, to discuss those, confer or collaborate with the defence solicitor. Part of investigatory activity from time to time will be covert and we cannot announce it to everybody. The argument for making a special case is not supported by either the evidence or by good investigative practice.

  Q67 Mr Timpson: As a Committee, how do we square what you tell us with the evidence given to us by the NUT and the ASCL? They say that the police arrest teachers too readily.

  Nick Gargan: We can look at the figures and the cases and assess whether the arrest is justified. In the wake of human rights legislation, if we look more broadly at reviews such as Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review into policing, we continually find evidence of risk aversion on the part of the police, rather than reckless risk taking. I think that we need to shine a light onto the facts and see whose argument is best supported by them. My view is that our use of arrest against teachers is very limited.

  Q68 Mr Timpson: Is there any guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families about when to arrest? They didn't give us a response when we put that as part of the terms of reference in their memo to us.

  Nick Gargan: I haven't seen any guidance from them; we tend to rely on the National Policing Improvement Agency. There is some very effective guidance dating back to 2005 on investigating child abuse and safeguarding children that has an annexe specifically dealing with these issues. We are also guided by Working Together to Safeguard Children and the initial police learning and development programme and the Professionalising Investigation programme, which are our own in-house training materials, one of which I have quoted to you already. We turn to those for advice—I am unaware of guidance from the DCSF.

  Q69 Chairman: I don't think the Hansard reporter could see you lift that document. Do you think they can have a copy?

  Nick Gargan: They can have my copy if they want.

  Q70 Mr Timpson: Just on a slightly different issue about CRB checks. I know you were not here earlier to hear the evidence given, but there is quite clear concern among many in the teaching profession about the enhanced information on CRB checks; the police feel that such soft information is relevant to that person and their future employment. Both the terminology used by the police in that and the necessity for it in every circumstance is not always right. Do you accept that? If you do, is there anything the police should be doing to try and improve the phrasing they use on CRB checks as well as their role?

  Nick Gargan: The first point I will make is general. All we do is supply the information. We don't make decisions, we simply provide information on which others will base decisions. At the risk of diving back into the safety of numbers, a force like Thames Valley police—with a population of just over 2 million—sees enhanced CRB checks coming in at the rate of 1,000 a day.

  Q71 Chairman: How many?

  Nick Gargan: A thousand per working day, or 200,000 a year, and of those, about one a day will fall into this category. This is in relation to all categories, not simply teachers. About one a day will be considered for disclosure either of soft intelligence, or of conviction information, where we decide to put some additional context to that information. For example, somebody might have been convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm, but to do justice and understand the context of that offence, we want to add some information, such as that the victim was a seven-year-old child. Together, those two categories amount to one per day—the additional information disclosure. The person in our force who makes the decision on whether or not to disclose that information is me. It is always a chief officer in Thames Valley police. I make half a dozen of those decisions a week. If you compare that to the authority level required to conduct an intimate search of somebody, carry out surveillance or acquire communications data and so on, those authorisation levels are taken at much more junior levels in the organisation. We do that because we take this incredibly seriously. With the majority of cases that come my way, I sanction the disclosure—the additional information. In relation to teachers, so far this calendar year we have made five disclosures in Thames Valley police. Three were related to violence, one to a matter of public indecency and one to a matter of grooming of a young woman in the workplace.

  Q72 Chairman: What was that?

  Nick Gargan: Grooming of a young woman in the workplace. All five of those were considered very carefully by a chief officer, as are all of our additional information disclosures. There is an avenue of appeal back through the CRB to ask us to reconsider in the light of additional information provided. I cannot speak for every police force in the country, but I know that police services are acutely aware of the risk they take—the risk of being sued or of being held to account for a perverse decision. We balance that with the risk of hanging on to information that might be relevant or true and that might prevent harm to children. I apologise for the long answer but it is a complicated question. We discharge that serious responsibility with an appropriate level of care.

  Chairman: David, shall we come back to you?

  Q73 Mr Chaytor: Just a couple of things. Clare, you touched on the question of more training needed for governors in this complex area. What would be the three most important areas for further training? What do they need to know most?

  Clare Collins: Basically, just understanding the law and what they should know and then some sort of role play where they work through a process. When this happens—and it has happened to me—you feel like a rabbit in the headlights. If you had gone through it in that safe, secure environment, you would respond more appropriately.

  Q74 Mr Chaytor: Finally, just one specific point. When staff go to disciplinary hearings—if it is for a very serious allegation—do they get legal representation, or should they?

  Clare Collins: Are you looking—

  Mr Chaytor: I am just throwing it out to anyone who may know.

  Clare Collins: It might be better if Fiona dealt with this.

  Chairman: Fiona?

  Fiona Hammans: It would probably depend on the local authority agreed protocol. In our authority you can have legal representation if the Governors are happy to accept that.

  Q75 Mr Chaytor: So, will it vary authority by authority, or school by school?

  Fiona Hammans: Depending on whether the status of the school is community or foundation. The association's view is that if it is so serious that it could have such a level of impact on your professional and wider life, then you would be well advised to have counsel.

  Q76 Chairman: Who pays the lawyer?

  Fiona Hammans: It could be the individual if they chose to, or it could be their professional association or union.

  Q77 Derek Twigg: Just one general thing. When I was at school, if I ever got in trouble—of course, it was never my fault—I would be more worried about my parents finding out, because I would be in trouble with them. All head teachers these days tell me that the number of teachers who come in on the bounce, because their little Johnny "Couldn't possibly have done anything wrong and would never tell an untruth," has massively increased in recent years. That is your view and that is what head teachers tell me, so what is the role of the parents in this procedure? We have not talked about parents at all today. What happens to the parents? Are they interviewed, do they come in, do you talk to them? Often the parent can tell—not all the time, obviously—whether their child is telling the truth or not. What is the role and the responsibilities of the parents in these procedures?

  Kathryn James: I go back to my earlier point about the ethos within the school. The way that the school operates within the community is crucial, because that will bring about a frame of mind. Parents will come into school very angry, something has happened to their chid which has made them very angry. Quite often in our members' situation, they need to reassure that parent that they will take their complaint very seriously, sit them down and give them a cup of tea and say, "Okay, let's not get too agitated about this, let's sort out what has actually happened and I will deal with it." If parents have confidence that things will be dealt with, that can defuse a very difficult situation.

  Q78 Derek Twigg: So it is about preventing things going further?

  Kathryn James: I think it is, in a lot of cases. Parents, when they talk through the issues with the school leadership team that is there, will quite often say, "Okay, he or she does this at home, so okay, but I would like you to look into it." As long as they are confident that the school treats them with courtesy and also recognising that there is an issue that must be reviewed, parents are reassured and will go away and be content to see the school bring the investigation about.

  Fiona Hammans: That is certainly true, but when we look at distraction or malicious allegations, the first you know about it is when you have the schools liaison officer from Thames Valley police, for example, saying, "I need to talk to you, because these parents presented themselves with their child last night and this is the allegation, what are you doing about it?" The local paper already knows about it and that is where you get your rabbit-in-the-headlights, what do I do? Quick, phone the chair of governors. There are two different routes and that is a management issue, as well as the allegation.

  Chairman: That is a very good point. Clare?

  Clare Collins: I agree with what has been said about the ethos of the school and I think this perhaps refers to something that you were trying to get underneath earlier, Graham, when you talked about deprived areas. I am concerned to see that schools have a good complaints procedure, that parents know about it and that everybody takes it seriously. One thing that comes through all this is that these are allegations made for which there is no substance, but there are allegations made where there is substance. Parents must have confidence that, if they say something has happened, they are not going to get a knee-jerk defensive reaction from the head teacher—"That couldn't happen in my school." That is where the ethos comes in: the professionalism of the people at the top really matters.

  Q79 Chairman: Yes—we are after good, well managed schools, are we not? Is there any evidence that cyber bullying is common now? We did our inquiry into bullying, as you know, and a very nasty, pernicious form of bullying it is. There has been some suggestion in the media that MySpace and Facebook are used in order to spread a network—"This is what you do if you want to get back at your teacher." Is there evidence of that, or is it just nonsense?

  Fiona Hammans: Definitely. I can say from my own school that there is evidence that there can be campaigns from certain groups of youngsters who have taken a dislike to their teacher, and you need to manage it within the school.

7   Note by witness: In any documentation reference should be made to the Department's Working Together to Safeguard Children publication (2006). Chapter 3 deals with the role, functions, governance and operational arrangements of LSCBs. Paragraph 6.20 onwards in Chapter 6 focus on the LSCB role in handling allegations of abuse. Back

8   Note by witness: The number of people arrested in the Thames Valley in 2008 was 68,376. Back

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