As noted in our earlier blogs the sheer number of testimonies shared on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website strongly suggests that rape culture is prevalent not only in universities and independent schools, but also in the state education sector. Over 50 state schools have been named. Many education authorities are only now becoming cognisant of the extent of its existence and, as a result, the liabilities to which they may be exposed. State schools will be part of Ofsted’s focus as much as the independent sector.
It goes without saying that state education establishments have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children at their establishment. Schools and colleges, and of course their staff, form part of the wider safeguarding system for children and all those who come into contact with such children have a role to play.
There may be allegations of failures in that safeguarding duty, either ‘generally’ in not having appropriate policies and procedures in place, or more ‘narrowly’, with such policies and procedures not properly being implemented in an individual case. Either could leave the Education Authority open to a public liability claim for negligent safeguarding, in addition to adverse publicity.
There may be a particular concern with children with alternative learning needs, potentially with an increased vulnerability to rape culture and increased duties to safeguard.
The public sector also has wider additional duties, such as in social care, including to intervene in appropriate circumstances. More claims arising out of alleged failure to do so may be intimated, given the publicity surrounding ‘Everyone’s Invited’.
Local authorities will also have duties to protect and look after their employees, be it those working in schools or in social services. The stressful impact on staff dealing with an increased workload, or potentially being accused of failing to discharge a duty will need to be factored in and may lead to employment liability claims, particularly where an employee has been named.
The clear risk for the public sector is that the initial focus on the independent sector shifts and it becomes the subject of unwanted attention.