The Times reports today on the case of a school teacher, convicted of sex offences against children, who had been the subject of concerns on the part of the school where he worked for some considerable time.
Jonathan Thomson-Glover taught German at a fee paying school, Clifton College in Bristol. At his trial last year, he was found to have hidden camera in school showers and in a bedroom, where he encouraged children to engage in sexual activity.
An independent investigator, Penny Jones commissioned by the school to investigate his crimes found that there was a failure to keep records and pass on concerns or investigate complaints.
Apparently Mr Thomson-Glover had been found, tied or taped to a chair on a number of occasions, including one occasion when he was found on a cricket pitch wearing only his underpants. A cleaner reported finding a boy wrapped up in cling film by the teacher in 2005, who had also encouraged pupils to drink and smoke, as well as taking them to his holiday home in Cornwall.
The report of the independent investigator demonstrates a peculiar Achilles heel of schools, including those in the private sector. All schools are required to have child protection policies, and such policies may have been in existence for many years. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 is only one of a long line of statutes, going back decades which have obliged schools to make checks on their staff, and report those concerns.
Child protection policies generally provide for an investigation to be undertaken by the school, and the concerns passed to the authorities (social services and the police) if warranted. The problem for schools is recognising that "horseplay" between teachers and staff may not be innocent activity all, but grooming for abuse. At the same time, senior teachers may be unwilling to "rock the boat" and call in the authorities. This can mean that no investigation is undertaken, and what is a very serious warning sign is instead brushed under the carpet. In time, given what we know about the historic nature of child abuse allegations, these concerns can come back to haunt a school with a vengeance.
It is often mistakenly thought that safeguarding is a relatively new development in childcare law. This is very far from being the case.
An early example from nearly 30 years ago, is the Education Reform Act 1988.
Section 218(6)(a) to (c) of the Education Reform Act said that the Secretary of State would make regulations prohibiting or restricting the employment of teachers. That section applied to local education authorities (section 218(c) together with teachers employed otherwise by LEA’s (section 218(b) and further and higher education authorities (section 218(a)). Private schools were not covered at that time.
The regulations introduced under Section 218(6)(a) were the Education (Teachers) Regulations 1989 No. 1319 which came into force on the 1st September 1989.
Regulation 7 stated that the regulations would apply in relation to the employment of persons— “(a) by a local education authority, as teachers (whether or not at a school or further education institution) or as workers with children or young persons;”
Regulation 10(2) allowed the Secretary of State to bar or restrict a person’s employment. The grounds for exercising that power were set out under Regulation 10(1)):-
“(a) on medical grounds;
(b) on grounds of a person’s misconduct (whether or not evidenced by his conviction of a criminal offence); or
(c) in relation only to employment as a teacher, on educational grounds.”
Regulation 11 stated:-
“Where a person is dismissed from relevant employment on grounds of his misconduct (whether or not he is convicted of a criminal offence) or his employers would have so dismissed him, or considered so dismissing him, but for his resignation, his employers shall report the facts of the case to the Secretary of State.”
The 1989 Regulations were replaced by the Education (Teachers) Regulations 1993 No. 443 which came into force on the 1st April 1993. These are broadly the same as the 1989 Regulations.
Later on, section 218(6)(d) of the 1988 Act enabled the Secretary of State to make regulations in relation to the restriction of the employment of teachers at private schools. That requirement came into force on the 1st January 1994 under Section 290(3)(b) of the Education Act 1993 and was preserved by Schedule 38 of the Education Act 1996.
Section 49 of the Education Act 1997 also inserted a new section 218(6A) & (6B) into the 1988 Act.
The grounds for restriction/disqualification were further extended by section 5 of the Protection of Children Act 1999 which inserted section 6ZA into the 1988 Act.
The regulations for private schools were introduced by Education (Teachers) (Amendment) Regulations 1994 No. 222 which came into force on the 1st March 1994. Regulation 3 amends Regulation 10 of the Education (Teachers) Regulations 1993 so that those regulations applied to private schools.
“Misconduct” was nowhere defined in the statutes and statutory instruments, but it was made clear that it was not dependent on a criminal conviction.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer