Whistleblowing in schools on the rise

A lack of “local authority oversight” over academies could help to explain the “huge increase” in calls to a whistleblowing advice line.

Whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work (PCaW) has revealed a 92 per cent rise in the number of calls from the education sector to its helpline – from 199 in 2011 to 382 in 2013.

The charity’s report into laws protecting whistleblowers says that a fifth of calls received in 2013 and 2014 were from people working in education.

And the proportion of claims from the sector against an employer under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) – a law which protects workers speaking out about organisational malpractice – rose from 5 per cent in 2009-2010 to 7 per cent in 2011-2013.

The report said the charity had “an ongoing concern about a lack of coherence in the way schools are regulated”.

Chief executive Cathy James told Schools Week: “The fact that one in five calls was from the sector should concern anyone with an interest in oversight, good governance and risk management.

“Why are these people not able to raise their issues with the schools? This is painting a picture of people struggling when questioning things at work in that sector.”

She says that it is now difficult for education workers to know where to air their concerns. “It’s a very fragmented and confusing picture.”

The report highlights the key trends arising from all employment tribunal decisions in 2011-2013 involving whistleblowing.

PCaW says that it will continue to monitor the factors driving up the number of education calls to the helpline and those that affect the number of claims lodged with employment tribunals.

Since 2013, when costs for those bringing a claim to an employment tribunal were introduced, there has been a 20 per cent drop in PIDA claims. More complex claims, such as whistleblowing, cost £250 to issue and £950 for the hearing.

According to the report, most whistleblowers first raised their concerns internally with either line management or senior management. The media, MPs and the police were the final recipient of concerns in 1 per cent of cases.

Warwick Mansell is a journalist who has dealt with a number of education sector whistleblowers. He said: “I’m finding that accountability is a difficult issue now. Who within education is actually responsible for looking at complaints? Do people go to Ofsted, the Education Funding Agency or the Regional Schools Commissioner? I’ve seen people being pushed around the different agencies.”

PWaC’s whistleblowing advice line is 0207 404 6609 Email: whistle@pcaw.org.uk