The report was released by West Berkshire Safeguarding Children’s Board at noon today. 

A copy of the review is here: Kennet School Serious Case Review

This is the Mandate Now review of this opaque production.

The SCR doesn’t actually describe what failings have occurred and whether as a result the abuse could have been prevented or could have been halted earlier than it was.

The fact that there were failings and missed opportunities isn’t mentioned until page 26 out of 34, at the start of section 9 “Conclusions and lessons learned” where it finally states.

This Serious Case Review recognises that there were a number of missed opportunities to prevent the abuse of children. The analysis and conclusion reinforce many of the messages about abuse in institutions, which have previously been identified through other SCRs and national research. What is indisputable is the importance of safe organisational cultures, which adopt all the required features and are vigilant in their ongoing monitoring and scrutiny, and which can and do protect children.” (my emphasis)

In other words, best practice is known, should have been known to the school and other related organisations, but was not followed. But we have to try and infer from improved practice described in the SCR what the failures had been, because they aren’t stated.

  • Because the failures aren’t stated, we have no means of knowing whether the described improvements are both appropriate and sufficient.
  • Although it is clear that significant failings did occur, there is nothing in the SCR which suggests that either criminal or disciplinary action should be taken against individuals or institutions which failed in this regard.

Criminal action is of course impossible because there is no statutory duty to report suspicions of abuse or even known abuse. A member of staff can even witness the rape of a child by a colleague on school premises and has no legal duty to report the matter to anyone. (Nothing in the report states whether such a clear indication of abuse occurred, because it doesn’t state what the indications were that were missed.)

That no disciplinary action has been proposed against those who failed to ensure adequate reporting procedures or who failed to report gives rise to a significant “moral hazard”. Kennet School is an academy and as described in section 5.1.6 on p12 doesn’t rely on the LA for safeguarding services. As a quasi independent-school relying on its reputation for its survival, a temptation will always exist to bury bad news and not report problems. For as long as the management and governors of academies never suffer adverse consequences for failing to report abuse, there will always be a temptation to drop back into old bad habits. The SCR does not offer any suggestions as to how that may be prevented.

In the absence of a statutory duty to report concerns, the only currently available brake on bad practice is whistleblowing. But whistleblowing is a dangerous activity for the whistleblower, as is indirectly acknowledged on page 28, which calls for a review of whistleblowing procedures. Such a review can in fact have no legal effect because whisleblowers aren’t protected by law and schools have no legal obligation to follow or even have a whistleblowing policy that protects whistleblowers. Therefore whistleblowing is of its nature a wholly inadequate means of holding organisations to account for their safeguarding arrangement, and no review can change this uncomfortable fact.

The SCR included in its scope (page 32) the need to review procedures for reporting concerns, but did not state what failures to report had occurred.

Even now in its latest (January 2017) version, the reporting procedures in the Kennet School Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy contain an odd mix of the words “must”, “should” and “will” which between them could be interpreted as offering a degree of latitude as to whether concerns are reported outside the school for independent assessment, and the text of the reporting procedure is not wholly consistent with the flowchart describing the same procedure.

The authors of the Individual Management Reviews (IMRs) are not identified and it is not known how independent they are from the institution they were reviewing. Section 2.6 calls into question the thoroughness with which the IMRs were initially carried out, which suggests that although the authors were “independent of direct management” we are in no position to know whether they were sufficiently independent to ensure that they reported the bad news without fear or favour. Given the criticisms made, there have to be doubts about this.

For instance the author of the IMR on Kennet School itself mentions the need for “professional curiosity and vigilance” in safeguarding (page 10) but offers no suggestions on how to hold senior management to account in the event that this lapses. Similarly page 11 has information on how parents and children should be encouraged to share their concerns, but is notably silent on the need to ensure that concerns are reported outside the school. There is a throwaway line on page 10 that “External discussion with the LADO must also occur within 72 hours.” but it is not clear that this means a report of concerns must be made. This is not nearly thorough enough to enable us to know what failings occurred, whether they have been rectified, and what measures exist to maintain best practice in the long term.

The overall impression given by this SCR is that they don’t want to say how bad the failings were because to do so would shock the public into demanding greater action. Instead they have concentrated on reassuring the public that the failings (whatever they were) could not possibly happen again because everything is different now. It is wholly unconvincing.

The article on the jailing of Robert Neill and the announcement of an SCR.

Author: Jonathan West