A recently published IICSA research report has identified a lack of confidence in staff, children, parents and local authorities in identifying ‘grey areas’ of child sexual abuse; varied reporting practices of child sexual abuse between residential schools despite following the same statutory guidance; and schools reporting difficulties in escalating referrals to local authorities.
These are amongst a number of findings based on information collated from 15 residential schools and seven local authorities. This information was drawn from safeguarding incidents, as recorded by the schools, and also qualitative interviews with staff, children, parents and relevant local authority employees.
The report stems from the ongoing IICSA Residential Schools Inquiry which aims to investigate the institutional response to allegations of child sexual abuse in residential schools. The report relates to the Inquiry’s research function, which was set up to generate new insight into both recent and non-recent child sexual abuse to help inform the Inquiry’s future recommendations.
The report acknowledges that within the education sector ‘residential schools face distinct and complex challenges to prevent and respond to incidents of child sexual abuse effectively’. As closed and self-sufficient communities, where students and staff live together, residential schools must ensure that sufficient safeguarding practices are in place around the clock, in study and leisure time, and whilst balancing independence and privacy.
The research also revealed that parents and children wanted work to raise awareness within schools to start as early as possible. The report recognises the importance of awareness raising and training of staff, parents and pupils, and that staff must play a greater role in identifying and responding to safeguarding issues and be aware of the particular risks and responsibilities that come with being ‘in loco parentis’ to the students in their care.
The IICSA Residential Schools Inquiry was divided into two phases. Phase one focused on closed, special and residential music schools. Phase two is a thematic investigation in which the public hearing was scheduled for May 2020. In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, this public hearing has now been rescheduled for November 2020. IICSA’s ultimate recommendations will draw on the evidence already gathered in phase one, the evidence and testimony collected in phase two, and the findings of this research report. It is likely that the themes and findings identified within this research report will resurface in the Inquiry’s conclusions and recommendations.
David Milton, Partner, BLM