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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools investigation report


E.4: Lack of consistency between local authority designated officers

65. A close working relationship between schools and LADOs is a key component of a successful response to concerns and allegations. However, there is a great deal of variation across England in how LADOs engage with schools.

66. Research commissioned by the Inquiry from the National Centre for Social Research noted that “Schools reported variation across different local authorities in their thresholds for accepting referrals”.[1] Both mainstream and special schools reported that concerns referred to local authorities sometimes did not reach their thresholds. This was sometimes felt to be due to variability in response across local authorities (despite working from the same statutory guidance), which was a source of frustration for participants, including a member of staff at a special school:

“We’ve had an ongoing battle about the threshold. We report [and] they say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to know about that.’ Then you have an inspector who says, ‘You need to report it.’ That discrepancy is just painful … They may also differ between local authority and they disagree with what the inspector says … and obviously these are low-level things that we do feel are important for our young people to get sorted. So we do report it.”[2]

67. Ms Karen Gaster, executive principal at Southlands School, gave evidence about the positive benefits of having a LADO who works closely with the school, can be contacted for informal advice and visits the school once a year: “when you have that professional dialogue, it encourages transparency, encourages that openness, and I think it’s very supportive of the school”.[3] The school worked with 26 local authorities and considered there was variation in terms of the level of response and engagement of different LADOs.[4]

68. The results of research commissioned by the Department for Education, published in March 2012, stated that local authorities were interpreting the guidance in respect of allegations against teachers in different ways.[5]

the guidance is being interpreted and implemented in different ways, resulting in a spectrum of support which ranges between what might be described as a ‘rigid LA handling model’ and a ‘flexible LA handling model’. LAs operating a rigid approach encourage schools to refer all allegations to them irrespective of the degree of seriousness. These are then co-ordinated by the LADO and subject to the prevailing structured LA protocols which typically involve group conferences and strategy groups. This is a thorough but resource intensive model. At the other end of the spectrum LAs following a more flexible model have introduced elements of a devolved process for receiving and dealing with allegations. These LAs have established threshold criteria relating to the seriousness of the allegation and provide a support service to schools accordingly. Typically this will involve advising schools how to deal with less serious cases themselves. We are not clear on the relative balance between the rigid and more flexible models operating across LAs. However, purely from a resource perspective we suspect that the flexible model is likely to be the most prevalent.”[6]

69. The evidence indicates that, almost a decade later, there is still a lack of consistency in how the current guidance is interpreted by local authorities. It appears that many local authorities are operating what the Department for Education described as a ‘flexible model’ due to lack of resources or time. However, it appears that many schools need the guidance and advice afforded by the more ‘rigid’ model.

70. Ms Helen Humphreys, a specialist advisor for residential care at Ofsted, said that Ofsted’s inspections of local authorities’ children’s social care (including the LADO service) make clear that there is inconsistency in how LADOs carry out their role:

the problem is where you’ve got a weak LADO and you might have a school that is also weak in safeguarding and chooses not to raise things with the LADO, you’ve got some difficulties”.[7]

71. Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), also said that it was currently a “lottery” as to how LADOs worked with schools in their area.[8]

72. Ms Rhiannon Williams, deputy chief inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate, endorsed greater clarity for LADOs:

We would agree with the LADOs, and I think with all the other inspectorate evidence so far, that it would be really helpful to have national LADO training and guidance, greater national uniformity and to ensure that they are properly resourced in the local authorities”.[9]

73. Mr Anthony Marsh, a safeguarding advisor/child protection officer and LADO for the East Riding of Yorkshire Council since 2006, said that different local authorities have different arrangements for their LADOs. He stated that the regional LADO networks and the National LADO Network are trying to make procedures and standards more uniform and consistent.[10] He considered that it would be helpful for LADOs to have a common audit tool.[11]

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