Government may take charge of school criticised in serious case review

A serious case review has strongly criticised an East Sussex school over its handling of a sexual relationship between a child and a teacher

The government has asked East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children's Board for more information about the changes made by the school
The government has asked East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children's Board for more information about the changes made by the school

The government has threatened to seize control of a East Sussex school after a serious case review uncovered numerous failings in how it handled a sexual relationship between one of its teachers and a female pupil.

The serious case review examined how teacher Mr K, who began a relationship with Child G when she was 14 and absconded to Europe with her in September 2012, by which time she was 15. The pair were found just over a week later and Mr K was eventually imprisoned for five and a half years for child abduction and having sex with a minor.

East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board’s review found the school had been dismissive of the concerns raised, often by other pupils, about the relationship between the two.

It concluded that “the general mindset [within the school] was that a student was behaving inappropriately towards a teacher and the accumulating information to the contrary was dismissed or not recognised”.

The review also found the school had made almost no use of the common assessment framework and that “even when reporting to this review after Mr K’s imprisonment, there was evidence of some school staff failing to recognise the child protection implications in some of the earlier events”.

The school was also heavily criticised for providing the review with documents written after the abduction of Child G rather than contemporaneous records. “It was at best naïve not to realise that the review needed to see original documentation,” said the review, which also noted that it was hard to trust the information the school provided due to errors and omissions.

In response to the findings, children’s minister Edward Timpson has written an open letter to the safeguarding board asking for more detail on the actions taken by the school to resolve the problems identified in the review.

“For a school so comprehensively to fail to protect a vulnerable teenager from a manipulative adult, who has been placed by the school in a position of trust, is an abrogation of leadership and responsibility which had terrible consequences for this child and the family,” he wrote.

Timpson concluded the letter by noting that the government has the power to takeover the governance of schools and “I expressly reserve those powers, in this case, while I await your swift responses to the questions above”.

The serious case review also questioned how the concerns raised by other pupils was ignored: “It is striking that it was, overwhelmingly, young people who raised concerns about this situation. Those concerns were repeatedly dismissed.”

The review also examined the actions of the local authority designated officer (LADO), who the school asked for advice in May 2012 after it emerged that Mr K and Child G had communicated with each other on Twitter in a way that “clearly indicated an unprofessional relationship”.

Based on the information provided by the school, the LADO advised that it was not a child protection matter and something the school should handle internally. The review said the LADO’s failure to record this consultation was “unsatisfactory” and recommended that more reliable recording systems are developed”.

Cathie Pattison, chair of the safeguarding board, said: “The report shows opportunities were missed to intervene sooner and more robustly. We need to do more to make sure established safeguarding procedures are followed correctly in schools, that records are kept when safeguarding concerns are raised, that young people are listened to and that families are involved when issues arise.

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