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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


J.3: Reporting concerns and allegations

11. Statutory guidance Keeping Learners Safe sets out the duty to report safeguarding concerns and allegations in schools in Wales. There is separate guidance in Wales Safeguarding children in education: handling allegations of abuse against teachers and other staff (Circular 09/2014) to deal with the situation where an allegation is made against those teaching or volunteering in schools.[1] Circular 09/2014 applies to both state-funded and independent schools in Wales. Paragraph 4.1 of Circular 09/2014 states that allegations should be brought immediately to the attention of the headteacher or principal, or the chair of governors if the allegation is against the headteacher or principal, as was the case at Ruthin School.

12. It emerged after Mr Belfield’s suspension that a number of members of staff at Ruthin School had been uneasy about his habit of using social media to contact pupils but did not feel able to speak out due to his control over the school, including over the members of the COM. Staff therefore felt unable to follow the statutory guidance and report the principal to the chair of the COM.[2]

13. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education and Training in Wales, Mr Meilyr Rowlands, said that staff informed Estyn inspectors after Mr Belfield had been dismissed that he had cameras strategically placed around the school and their emails had been monitored during inspections.[3] This was reflected in the report of the Estyn visit in November 2019, which found that “staff indicate reluctance to use the school’s recording system to report safeguarding issues”.[4]

14. Denbighshire County Council also identified that, despite a number of safeguarding concerns about the school that resulted in multidisciplinary meetings in 2018 and 2019, those referrals all came via other agencies rather than the school.[5] The school was under an obligation to inform the local authority of such allegations.

15. Once Denbighshire County Council was notified by CAMHS in April 2019, the designated officer for safeguarding (LADO) convened a meeting. The role of the LADO where allegations are made about an individual working or volunteering in a school is set out in Circular 09/2014.[6]

16. The guidance in Wales also states that there should be a discussion between the LADO and the school if after “the statutory authorities have completed their consideration of the allegation the matter is referred back to the governing body to complete the staff disciplinary process”.[7] It states that, in some cases, an independent investigation may be necessary. An independent investigation is mandatory in maintained schools in Wales where “a teacher employed under a contract of employment at a school has abused a pupil registered at the same school”.[8] It is not mandatory in independent schools. While it was never suggested that the headteacher of Ruthin School had abused a pupil, the statutory authorities were of the view that independent investigation should take place. This was eventually done, despite the COM initially suggesting that the investigation should be led by a governor. The local authority noted that if an independent school refused to carry out an independent investigation there was no action they could take to compel the governing body to do so.[9]

Duty to report

17. Section 130 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which came into force in April 2016, places a duty on “relevant partners” who have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm to refer the matter to the local authority. Relevant partners include the police, other local authorities, providers of probation services, local health boards, NHS trusts and youth offending teams.[10]

18. Keeping Learners Safe sets out the section 130 duty as it relates to teachers and others employed in a school.[11] Anyone working in an educational setting and employed by the local authority must report to the local authority when there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk. This applies to most teachers in Wales who are employed in schools maintained by the local authority.

19. The duty under section 130 does not, however, apply to teachers employed in independent schools. Teachers who are not employed by the local authority should take account of the Wales safeguarding procedures, which state that the duty to report should be considered as “effective practice”.[12] The preface to Keeping Learners Safe states:

“Throughout this guidance the terms must, should and effective practice are used. The term must is used when there is a statutory duty to meet the requirement. The word should is used when the advice set out should be followed unless there is good reason not to. The term effective practice is used where it is considered the education setting ought to follow the advice, but there is no requirement to do so”.[13] (Emphasis in original)

Independent teachers in Wales are therefore not currently under a duty to report cases of suspected abuse to the local authority. Mr Albert Heaney, chief social care officer for the Welsh Government, said that this was under review.[14]

20. There is currently no sanction in the 2014 Act for a failure to report. The Welsh Government is reviewing this but considers that failing to comply with the duty would raise issues of fitness to practice which could be dealt with by the Education Workforce Council (EWC).[15] However, the EWC has regulatory jurisdiction only in respect of registered education workers and independent school teachers are not currently required to register with the EWC (see Part J.7).

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