Behind the Headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

New education legislation may be another milestone towards
recognising that the protection of children is the responsibility
of us all, not just social workers. The Education Bill has been
amended so that teachers who fail to report signs of possible abuse
among their pupils will face disciplinary action or even

The measure is an attempt to learn from the death of
six-year-old Lauren Wright, who was killed by her stepmother two
years ago. Weeks before she died, she had attended school covered
in bruises and weighing only two stone. Her teachers failed to
contact social services. Since the school’s child protection
guidelines were not legally enforceable, no action could be taken
against staff even though they had a duty to report suspicions.

All schools and local education authorities will now have a
legal duty to put safeguards in place and promote the welfare of
children. The NSPCC says teachers must be fully trained in child
protection awareness before they qualify. A study by the charity
found that teachers received just two hours of child protection

Bill Badham, programme manager, Children’s

“I have just read A Child Called ‘It’, the gruelling account of
Dave Pelzer’s experience of abuse by his mother and the condemning
silence of his father, brothers, neighbours and teachers. His
teachers eventually saved his life. Would a legal duty to act have
helped Dave sooner or saved Lauren Wright? Possibly, but only if
those individuals had listened, respected and responded to the
child. You can’t legislate for that. Training is also vital.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“Teachers should have a duty to report signs of child abuse.
Child abuse awareness should be part of the professional
qualification but so should procedures for dealing with incidents.
However, it’s not enough for the government to threaten teachers
with dismissal, otherwise already qualified teachers will end up
filling in forms all day to cover their backs. The government must
invest to cut teachers’ workloads and ensure that all current
teaching staff are given adequate training in child abuse awareness
and procedures.”

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,

“Child protection is a multi-agency responsibility. I work
alongside schools on a regular basis and it concerns me that many
teachers have a real lack of awareness in respect of child abuse.
The answer is not to punish them for this but alternatively to
identify their training needs and provide training to fill the
gaps. It has shocked me to learn that most teachers receive only
two hours’ child protection training during formal training. This
is clearly ridiculous.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds

“This amendment is as welcome as it is necessary. The education
service has always been out on a limb in local partnership
arrangements, and this cannot continue. However, disciplinary
action and dismissal is only a strategy of the last resort. More
constructively, schools and local education authorities should now
use the opportunity to pool budgets with social services and
primary care trusts to provide co-ordinated joint training in their
localities on child protection issues.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, BAAF Adoption and

“Teachers are the professionals in the front line with greater
access to other people’s children than any other professional. As
such they have a unique opportunity, and therefore responsibility,
to safeguard children. I do not think it is unreasonable to give
them a legal duty in this respect but, of course, what is critical
is that they have access to regular training and support to allow
them to recognise concerns and respond appropriately. This will
have resource implications which must be met and should be on the
agenda of every area child protection committee at their next

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