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Question to Lord Agnew – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education from Baroness Walmsley.
Given the subject asked about by Baroness Walmsley, it was disappointing that Lord Agnew did not mention the child sex abuse that occurred at his former prep school Beeston Hall, near Cromer, during the 1970’s and perpetrated by science teacher Melvyn Rush. Lord Agnew had long left the school, but this seems as relevant to the House as the fact that some of his wife’s family attended Ampleforth.
In his reply Lord Agnew mentioned potential closure of Ampleforth. Quite simply this is a dead letter. Strictly speaking it is deregistration of a school, but we are unable to name any boarding school that has been deregistered for safeguarding failures. If the Department for Education informs us, we will provide the information.
The reaction in the House to Baroness Walmsley’s question indicates the growing support for the introduction of Mandatory Reporting in Regulated Activities.
Lord Agnew’s reply was full of holes. The reaction of Baroness Walmsley indicated just how porous it was. In another reply to a related question he relied on social workers to prop up the Government’s desired position, which is simply absurd. Social workers have almost nothing to do with the design or delivery of child protection in Regulated Activities – but the Government’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to safeguarding delivers some inexplicable reasoning. Familial safeguarding/abuse has to work with ‘discretionary reporting’ but this protocol simply cannot be made to function in Regulated Activities. They need law to support good staff and deliver accountability. We exchanged emails with Professor Ben Mathews on this topic. He kindly sent sent this reply which helpfully casts further light on the error that has for so long failed safeguarding in Regulated Activities. Lord Agnew also attempted to hint that there is a form of mandatory reporting via the Disclosure and Barring Service (“DBS”). This is plainly wrong. DBS referrals are about the future employment of adults who present a risk to children. A DBS referral is an ‘after the event’ referral and has no contemporaneous impact on an abusive incident in a school or similar setting.
We have no comment to make about the question from Lord Campbell-Savours, but Lord Agnew’s reply that he would write to the inquiry should be noted. ‘The first “I” in IICSA is “Independent”, and for good reason. We hope that the Government will not try to influence the Inquiry, or if it does that such (inappropriate) influence will be disregarded.’
Lord Lexden, who did not declare any interest before asking his question, gave us a version of the ‘regulation is stringent’ and ‘things are different now’ narrative. It was little more than chaff but it seemed to pep up Lord Agnew.
Lord Watson made a highly relevant point about the failure of the inspectorates to inspect against safeguarding. He certainly hit the mark as this news report on Channel 4 from 2011 explains. Little has changed since this film was made as can be evidenced. As for the peer review inspections of safeguarding undertaken by the ISI, which is quality assured by Ofsted, there are simply insufficient pixels to explain its ineffectiveness. So far the ISI has been let off the hook by IICSA which seems not to know what questions to ask.
The final question was from Baroness Brinton who supports the introduction of MR across Regulated Activities. Lord Agnew read some of the pre-determined outcomes from the ‘Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse and Neglect’ consultation summary which failed to rely on empirical evidence to reach its conclusions. Here is why the Government is so averse to MR. As you can see it has nothing to do with child protection.
We will shortly publish our review of the Government’s summary of responses and action to the consultation.