The government has been told to stump up more cash to train school staff if ministers go ahead with new proposals that could see teachers, catering staff and secretaries sent to prison for failing to report child abuse.
The government launched a consultation yesterday on plans to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory for those working with children.
The consultation states that, in the case of schools, teachers and teaching assistants, plus those in administrative or support roles such as secretaries, catering staff and caretakers, could have a legal duty to report abuse.
Failure to do could result in fines or even imprisonment.
There is currently no legal requirement for school staff to report abuse, only statutory guidance that states they must inform the local authority immediately over concerns.
But the move to toughen up reporting follows high-profile abuse cases including Jimmy Savile and the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, the government document said.
Russell Hobby (pictured above), general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said he “cautiously supports” calls for effective forms of mandatory reporting.
Our concern is that it would be counterproductive
But he said: “The benefits of mandatory reporting are clear: it reinforces the belief that the welfare of children must always have primacy over the reputations of institutions. It also demands and facilitates urgent intervention.
“However, there are challenges with mandatory reporting that must be acknowledged. Full training must be given to mandated reporters so that they understand what is required of them in law. A lack of resources in already overstretched children’s services nationwide must be recognised and addressed.”
The consultation document outlines two proposals: mandatory reporting that would require staff or organisations to report abuse “if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place”, or a “duty to act” that means staff or organisations would have to take appropriate action, which could include reporting.
Potential consequences of breaching the new rules range from employer action to criminal sanctions.
The proposals follow a new duty brought in last year under the counter-terrorism act for schools to have “due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.
However the referral scheme has been plagued with problems with experts saying teachers have not received adequate training, resulting in unnecessary referrals.
Leora Cruddas (pictured right), director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, added that school leaders and teachers are already “absolutely assiduous” in reporting abuse. “We do not think there is anything to be achieved by introducing statutory measures to make reporting mandatory.
“Our concern is that it would be counterproductive to introduce such a duty as it would potentially lead to over-reporting, which would put additional pressure on social services departments which are already under huge strain.”
The government said in 2014 it did not want to consult on such plans because it could result in an increase of unfounded referrals.
But a joint statement from Edward Timpson, children’s minister, and Home Office minister Sarah Newton, yesterday read: “High profile cases have led to calls for specific reforms to our child protection system.”
“The issues involved are complex and the evidence for such schemes is mixed. We need to consider carefully all the available evidence and views of a range of experts, children, families, survivors and practitioners so that any changes we make to the system do deliver the best outcomes for children.”