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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools Investigation Report

Contents

J.7: Teacher misconduct

75. The vetting and barring functions of the Disclosure and Barring Service apply across both England and Wales and are considered in Part I of this report.

76. In Wales, the EWC is an independent regulator which was created in 2015, taking over the regulatory functions of the General Teaching Council of Wales (GTCW), which was established in 2000.[1] It operates a registration system, so that those working in the maintained school sector, including teachers and school learning support staff, must be registered with the EWC. The chief executive of the EWC, Mr Hayden Llewellyn, said that there are now more learning support staff in schools in Wales than teachers.[2] Teachers, headteachers and learning support workers in independent schools in Wales do not have to register with the EWC.[3] Individuals who are registered must abide by a code of conduct written and maintained by the EWC, which also hears cases of misconduct and professional incompetence in the education sector.[4]

77. Only registered education staff may be referred to the EWC in relation to misconduct. The EWC therefore had no jurisdiction to take action in respect of the principal of Ruthin School when he was dismissed by the school in February 2020. The EWC has raised the issue with the Welsh Government over a number of years.[5] Mr Llewellyn told the Inquiry:

we believe it is an anomaly. Our view is, it shouldn’t matter where a learner is educated, whether it is in the maintained sector or the private sector, they still need to be secure and safeguarded.”[6]

78. Professor Holland said that it was “disappointing” that the Welsh Government had not taken action sooner to ensure that teachers at independent schools were required to register with the EWC.[7] She described it as a gap that had been known about for many years. There had been a review by the Welsh Government in late 2016 and early 2017 which had concluded that independent school teachers should register with the EWC, but there had been a change of government at that point and the issue was not addressed and had gone to the “bottom of the pile”.[8] Professor Holland instituted a review into the decision to drop the reform to the EWC and other gaps in the safeguarding framework for independent schools in Wales. The report was published in February 2021 and concluded that “the current Welsh Government has failed to respond adequately to … the safeguarding concerns related to independent schools that they reviewed between 2014–16”.[9] The Welsh Government has stated that “Subject to consultation and further policy development, the current proposal is that legislation to require independent school staff to register with the EWC will come into force in 2023”.[10]

79. The EWC regulates all registered teaching staff, including registrants who teach or tutor online. However, private tutors are not required to register, so unregistered online tutors would not fall within the jurisdiction of the EWC.[11] After leaving Ruthin School, the principal, Mr Belfield, set up an online school.[12] He would not have been required to register with the EWC to run an online school and none of the teaching staff would have been required to register with the EWC. The school is no longer online.

80. Where the EWC hears evidence and makes a finding of misconduct, it has a range of sanctions, including prohibition, suspension from teaching for a fixed period of time and placing conditions on the individual’s teaching practice.[13] However, Mr Llewellyn said that the EWC has no power to make an interim order prohibiting or suspending a referred individual from work in the education sector while the case is being considered. Mr Llewellyn considered that the lack of interim orders in Wales means that when serious safeguarding information is received from the police, the EWC is unable to act. He also said that this had led to the police sometimes deciding not to provide such information to the EWC, in the knowledge that the EWC had no powers to make immediate interim orders.[14] Professor Holland was concerned about this situation, stating:

a person under police investigation for a serious case can remain on a publically available register as a professional deemed fit and proper to be working with children and young people. This leads to an unacceptable potential for failure in our duties to safeguard children and young people in Wales.”[15]

81. At the time of the public hearings in November 2020, the EWC was one of the only regulators worldwide that did not have interim order powers. In December 2017, the Welsh Parliament’s Children, Young People and Education Committee published a report following its Teachers’ Professional Learning and Education Inquiry. The report included a recommendation to the Cabinet Secretary for Education that the EWC should be given statutory powers to impose interim suspension orders. The Cabinet Secretary asked the EWC to undertake its own consultation on the issue, which it did between November and December 2018. It concluded that there was overriding support for the EWC to be given such a power. The EWC wrote to the Minister with the outcome of the consultation in February 2019 and was given verbal confirmation that the government would proceed with a public consultation on the issue.[16] At the time of its written statement to this Inquiry, over a year later, the EWC was still awaiting the public consultation.[17] Shortly before our Phase 2 public hearings in September 2020, the Welsh Government launched a consultation on whether the EWC should be given the power to issue interim suspensions.[18] Subsequently, the EWC was given the power to make interim suspension orders from April 2021.[19]

82. Any employer of registered staff in schools in Wales is legally required to refer a member of teaching staff to the EWC if the staff member has been dismissed or where the staff member has resigned in circumstances where there was a possibility of dismissal for unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.[20] Between 2014 and 2019, the EWC made 60 prohibition orders in respect of school teachers or learning support workers, of which 27 related to sexual misconduct or breaching boundaries.[21] The EWC said that in recent years it has “seen a rise in sexual misconduct/breaching boundaries cases involving social media”.[22]

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