The GSD has now seen the full report by Gillian Guzman QC into the child grooming case at Westside involving a teacher and a pupil who was a minor at the time.
This confirms that there was a serious breach of trust of a vulnerable minor by a teacher. The Government has, since the receipt of the report, taken action in respect of that former teacher and prevented her from teaching in schools.
However the report and accompanying papers also show some serious failures by the Department of Education and individuals occupying senior posts with safeguarding responsibilities. It is apparent from the documents that officials received documented reports and evidence that highlighted safeguarding concerns in respect of the minor several months before they were known to the school’s management and failed to report this. The report notes that the Department of Education “failed in not clearly and unequivocally communicating the seriousness of the initial report made. The full report and documents were not disclosed to the school or to the Director of Education by those involved…” That meant that crucial time was lost within which prompt safeguarding action could have been taken. While the report notes that management in the department of education acted in good faith it is also clear that had information been provided earlier a different approach would likely have been taken to protect a vulnerable person.
The report has recommended that protocols and communication processes be revised with a view to their improvement given the failures noted in it. Significant lessons need to be learned from this case. The evidence that gave rise to this case was reported in March 2019 to department senior officials and the Guzman report was delivered in August 2021. The GSD notes that Government has stated that it has addressed the recommendations made on the improvement of processes and protocols and calls for the old policies and the reviewed ones to be published for all to see how these have changed. People will want reassurance that the Department’s safeguarding policies are fit for purpose and that this could not be allowed to happen again in future. 8 months on from the Guzman Report the Government also needs to satisfactorily answer how it is dealing with the departmental failures in this case.
The Government has accepted the principle that there should be a further internal investigation on whether disciplinary action should be taken and has not ruled out that this may lead to disciplinary proceedings in its public statements. But given the findings of the Report and the seniority of those concerned an internal investigation is not the right way forward. There needs to be a transparent arms-length process free from any influence. As such the Government should commit to an independent investigation into whether there should now be disciplinary proceedings following from this case. The independent investigation should also make recommendations on process and policies above and beyond any internal review that has taken place.
There would seem to be ample evidence in the report and accompanying papers to allow an independent investigator once he or she has interviewed the relevant parties to take a decision on this one way or the other soon. This would cater for due process concerns and would also allow the process to be unimpeachable. This matter has been ongoing for a long time and the family deserve some closure in this case as well as knowing that the departmental failures have been dealt with and accounted for by an independent review.
As the Report notes a “school should be a safe haven for students and for parents to have peace of mind of the security and well-being of their children.” This was a case of a serious breach of trust by a former teacher but worse still of knowledge by the department and senior officials tasked with safeguarding who chose not to pass on the information received to the school promptly. There have been serious departmental failures and these cannot be ignored. The Government needs to be much clearer and transparent about ensuring that the decisions on whether there are disciplinary proceedings or not are taken independently and promptly. It also now needs to publish the departmental policies it says have been improved so parents are reassured that there are now robust and improved safeguarding and protection regimes in place.