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Serious case review raises academy safeguarding concerns

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A serious case review into historic child sexual abuse has raised concerns over the governance of safeguarding arrangements between councils and academy schools.

The West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Board launched the review following the convictions of a teacher and a vicar who worked at Kennet School, an academy in Thatcham.

Thatcham

Thatcham

Source: Picture taken by Dave Foulger

Thatcham

Following a public appeal for further information, the serious case review found there were concerns over the behaviour of a number of other individuals in the Thatcham area who held “positions of trust”, some of whom had received a criminal caution and had been dismissed from their jobs.

The review published yesterday, which gathered evidence from a number of agencies including West Berkshire Council, found that concerns over individuals or processes were not always escalated within or between organisations.

It also said a perception within organisations that individuals were “pillars of the community” led to a reluctance to raise concerns due to a belief that they would not be acted on.

The review said it had identified “significant learning” at local and national level that governance arrangements for safeguarding between academies, councils and the regional schools commissioner were “not clear and aligned”.

It also said that it was “unclear” how the Education Funding Agency and regional schools commissioner could “be aware” of concerns within academies in relation to criminal prosecutions and staff dismissals, and undertake detailed scrutiny of individual academies’ safeguarding arrangements.

The review added: “In the light of the learning from this serious case review, there needs to be a recommendation to Department for Education, the Education Funding Agency and Regional Schools Commissioners proposing a national review of the appropriateness and effectiveness of current safeguarding requirements in relation to the overarching governance and accountability for academies.”

The review also found that children were perceived as making malicious allegations against staff and discredited.

It recommended that the role and remit of the local authority designated officer (LADO), who is appointed to provide management oversight of allegations of abuse, should be agreed within multi-agency strategy functions.

It also said arrangements must allow LADOs sufficient capacity to follow up the outcomes of individual agencies responses to allegations and escalate if required.

Responding to the report, Rachael Wardell, West Berkshire Council’s director of children’s services, said the council had been implementing changes as opportunities for improvement were identified.

She added: “Safeguarding practices develop over time and are unrecognisable from those in place when the first offences were committed in the 1980s. However, we know that there are always ways to improve further.

“We have already taken steps to improve how we work and this includes an immediate review of all the agencies’ safeguarding practices, a move to three-yearly DBS checks, more training and a refreshed toolkit for schools to conduct their own reviews.

“We already have robust safeguarding practices in place and this report will help us strengthen them further still.”

Robert Neill was employed as a teacher at Kennet School from 1985 to 2007 and was sentenced to 21 years in prison last year for indecent assault and rape after a number of former pupils contacted police in 2013.

Peter Jarvis, a vicar who worked as a youth counsellor at Kennet School between 2010 and 2011, was suspended following an allegation of abuse in 2011, but later reinstated by Oxford Diocese and employed by a school in Reading. He was sentenced to 15 months in April last year for inciting a child aged under 16 to engage in sexual activity while in a position of trust and possessing indecent images of children.

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