Leighton Andrews AC / AM
Y Gweinidog Addysg a Sgiliau
Minister for Education and Skills
Gwenda Thomas AC / AM
Y Dirprwy Weinidog Plant a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
Cllr Jamie Adams
Leader, Pembrokeshire County
Council
County Hall
Haverfordwest
SA61 1TP
Dear Leader,
We write to express our continuing grave concerns about your authority’s
safeguarding arrangements.
We remind you that section 175 of the Education Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”),
requires your authority to make arrangements for ensuring that the authority’s
education functions are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting
the welfare of children. The authority must also, in accordance with section 28
of the Children Act 2004 (“the 2004 Act”) make arrangements for ensuring that
a) its functions (other than education functions to which section 175 of the
2002 Act applies) are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and
promote the welfare of children; and b) any services provided by another
person pursuant to arrangements made by the authority in discharge of its
functions are provided having regard to that need.
Your predecessor as Leader, Councillor John Davies, assured us in his letter
of 9 September 2011 that the authority was taking seriously the findings of the
joint investigation by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate, Wales
(CSSIW) and Estyn into safeguarding arrangements. He reported that
Pembrokeshire County Council has the ‘will and capability to implement the
required improvements’ in safeguarding arrangements.
We have provided support and challenge to the authority, firstly in the form of
the Ministerial Advisory Board whilst the authority drafted its improvement
plan and then the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board (PMB) for the
implementation phase. You will be aware of the PMB’s remit.
We write to inform you, however, that despite that support, the PMB inform us
that progress in improving safeguarding arrangements for children in
Pembrokeshire is still worryingly slow. The indications are that senior officers
in the authority, do not accept the need to change the authority’s approach to
safeguarding. On occasions, chief officers appear either not to know what is
happening in the authority’s schools or do know but then fail to disclose
12 June 2012
information appropriately (to the PMB or other officers or Council members) or
take appropriate action.
On 27 May 2012 the PMB advised the Welsh Ministers that in its view senior
officers in the authority do not see the need for change in the culture and
modes of operation which it has always followed. On the contrary, it wishes to
see them preserved. The PMB concluded that:
“The logical consequence of this situation is that the PMB is placed in the
position of being unable to perform, in relation to the officers, the role for
which it was appointed. It is not possible to be a productive "critical friend"
to a person who essentially does not wish to be befriended. Indeed, there
is the further consideration that persistence by the "friend" in such a
relationship in effect colludes in the maintenance of the status quo”.
It is with great disappointment and growing concern that we continue to
receive reports of failings in the education service’s safeguarding
arrangements, senior officers’ role in that failing and the authority’s failure as a
whole to address the issue.
A number of concerning issues have come to our attention relating to the
authority’s handling of safeguarding matters. They include the following:
a) a letter from the Chief Executive of the authority to Her Majesty’s Chief
Inspector of Education and Training and to the Care and Social
Services Inspectorate Wales (“CSSIW”) dated 2nd September 2011, in
which the authority assured Welsh Ministers that all people coming into
contact with children on behalf of the authority had been the subject of
appropriate employment checks. An undated note from the Head of HR
was sent to headteachers at the start of the autumn term 2011
requiring that “with regard to volunteers..(all) individuals will require a
vaild CRB check and two written references in place prior to the start of
volunteering. The necessary documentation relating to CRBs should be
forwarded to HR in the same way as for employees, and the local
manager/Headteacher will have the responsibility for obtaining
references – which should then be forwarded to HR where they will be
logged and filed”. In December 2011 the Welsh Ministers learned from
CSSIW that volunteers had not been properly vetted. The findings from
the joint CSSIW and Estyn work were set out in correspondence to the
Chief Executive dated 12 December 2011,which reported that “Only a
small number of the records in HR had evidence of references being
obtained. None of the authority’s staff were able to say whether two
references had been obtained for the majority of volunteers, or if these
volunteers were in fact already working with children, as they did not
know”. Therefore, the Welsh Ministers can have no confidence in the
authority’s ability to comply with its own policies, procedures and
statutory requirements regarding the checking of people coming into
contact with children on behalf of the authority;
b) in June 2009 a complaint was made by an advocate of a pupil at the
Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Neyland. That complaint revealed that
children were being locked in a small time out room, with padded walls,
and floor, with no natural light and ventilation. Despite an initial
investigation and police recommendations, no disciplinary investigation
has ever been carried out by the authority;
c) the authority has still not dealt with some of the governance issues, in
particular the commissioning of the time out room in the PRU and the
competence and disciplinary issues arising from this case, despite
agreeing to expedite this at a meeting with CSSIW in January 2012 and
a recommendation to do this in the March 2012 report of the Senior
Management Review Group on the Review of the Investigation into
allegations regarding the Pupil Referral Unit in Neyland. This stated
“Recommendation re Disciplinary Action. That the original
recommendation by the police in the meeting of July 21st 2009 “that
conduct and disciplinary issues be followed” should now result in a
disciplinary inquiry”.
Following a meeting in April 2011, in May 2011 CSSIW wrote to the
authority’s Chief Executive seeking information about the child
protection investigation relating to the PRU, specifically “Two other
schools/educational establishments were identified as operating locked
time out rooms. Whilst at least one of these rooms was described in
our meeting as very different in size and facilities, did the s47
investigation include making enquiries about the policy and practices in
place in these two schools?” and
“Were enquiries made as to whether any children had been locked in
these rooms on their own and for what periods of time, whether these
incidents were monitored at all times and that full dated and signed
records were kept of all such incidents? If not, please explain why”.
Later the Board asked the authority for assurances that there were no
other rooms like the padded room in the Neyland PRU in the authority,
and that children were not being locked up. No satisfactory assurances
have been received;
d) A number of the assurances provide by the authority have proved to be
manifestly unreliable;
e) the authority issued a press statement on February 8 in the Western
Telegraph which stated that ‘no other school in the county has a
similarly used facility’ to that in padded room in the Neyland PRU.
However, the PMB has discovered a very similar padded room at a
primary school in the county (Pembroke Dock). Furthermore, this
school had two other windowless rooms in which, according to records
kept by the school in relation to the use of these rooms, children were
routinely locked. The new head teacher discontinued this practice and
modified the rooms, but we understand that she faced considerable
opposition doing so. In the PMB’s view, the existence and use of these
rooms would have remained undisclosed but for the PMB’s visit to the
school. We have since heard that there are, or have been, at least five
rooms in which children were locked in the county and there may be
several more. We understand that there is no evidence of records kept
in relation to the use of these five rooms;
f) On 26 May 2012, it came to the PMB’s attention that there are at least
a further 18 rooms which apparently were being used for “time out”
purposes in other schools in Pembrokeshire. It would appear that the
authority has only recently become aware of the existence of these
further rooms as result of the audit it carried out as a direct
consequence of the PMB’s ‘discovery’ of the additional rooms at
Pembroke Dock School. However, the authority’s education service
did not disclose the existence of these additional rooms to the PMB
when they became known to it. The PMB came to know of their
existence as a result of information provide by the authority’s Head of
Children’s Services. It would appear that the Head of Children’s
Service had not previously known of their existence, which is indicative
of the PMB’s view that the authority’s Education and Social Services
departments work in ‘silos’ and there is a disconnection between them
at both strategic and operational level. This incident is also indicative
of the authority’s failure to inform and consult with the PMB
appropriately;
g) in March 2012 an allegation was made about a teacher at another
school (Meads Infant School) tying a child’s hands behind his back.
However, the PMB was not told about this until the evening before the
story was to be reported in the press. The Director of Education did not
step in when the school failed to take appropriate action until urged to
do so by the PMB five days later;
h) the PMB asked for assurances that all those coming into contact with
children over the Christmas period last year had been vetted where
relevant. In response, the Director of Education instructed schools in
Pembrokeshire to conduct CRB checks on all volunteers dressing up
as Father Christmas for the schools’ festive activities. However,
volunteers being used on a one off basis, or less than three times in a
30 day period, do not need to be checked. We would expect,
therefore, that a Director of Education would know that it was not
necessary to insist on checks for volunteers dressing up as Father
Christmas and we would have expected the Director to have addressed
his mind properly to this issue before issuing such instructions.
i) the minutes of a meeting containing sensitive information about 25
cases of allegations of professional abuse were published on the
authority’s website on 14 December 2011. These were subsequently
reported in the press; and
j) the report of the Senior Management Review Group on the Review of
the Investigation into allegations regarding the Pupil Referral Unit
Neyland, was not shared with the full Council by the Leader and
elected members report that they were unaware of the Review.
For the avoidance of doubt, the proper use of time out rooms and similar may
be appropriate for children with certain behavioural problems and/or additional
learning needs. It is not, however, appropriate for children to be locked in
such a room, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, for brief
periods and under supervision. It is never appropriate for such rooms to be
used or constructed for the purposes of detention or punishment. Use of such
rooms must always be recorded. Since such practices may also constitute
criminal offences, the evidence we have seen has been passed to the Police.
All of this should be self-evident to any competent professional. No authority
should have to wait for instructions or guidance from the Welsh Government
or others on these matters. Nevertheless, your authority frequently asks for
advice before acting, or justifies actions by saying it had not received
guidance to the contrary.
The issues listed above are a very discouraging catalogue and it appears that
there is an inability, or an unwillingness, on the part of senior officers of the
authority to get to grips with the real problems. The PMB reports that any
overt co-operation by senior officers is generally little more than window
dressing. Actions tend to be reactive, and are only taken under prompts from
the PMB, the inspectorates or Welsh Government. There also remains within
the authority a culture where elected members seem unable to submit officers
to proper scrutiny and challenge, and officers and front line staff are afraid to
disclose concerns.
In light of all of this, we wonder what confidence you, or for that matter, we,
can have in your senior officers. We would like you to provide us with the
reasons why the authority acted as it did in each of these cases, and what
actions the authority has put in place to prevent further repetitions. In
particular, we wish to know:
. why, three years after it was discovered that children were being locked in
a padded room in the PRU, no appropriate investigation has ever been
taken;
. why the authority has never answered to the PMB’s satisfaction, questions
about the existence and use of similar rooms in the authority;
. if the authority did not know the answer to these questions, we would like
to know why it did not, and why it was only when the PMB learned by
chance of the rooms at Pembroke Dock Blue School that the authority
commissioned a perfunctory, physical audit, rather than also aiming to
understand how the rooms were used;
. who commissioned or authorised the use any of these rooms;
. who did know about the rooms, and what was done with that information;
and
. why were proper records not kept of the use of each of these rooms?
We would also like evidence of:
. whether the Director of Education was operating in accordance with
statutory guidance or the authority’s own guidance in his instructions for
checks on volunteers in schools (both in terms of retrospective references
and Santas), and if not, the policy that he was following;
. why the Director delayed, until prompted, in taking action in the case of the
Meads Infant School incident;
. what is the Director’s justification for not ensuring that schools did not
continue to use rooms like those revealed to the PMB; and
. the authority’s approach to whistle-blowing.
We require that you respond to these concerns by 5pm on 22nd June. In
doing so, please be reminded that this list is only provided as an illustration
and that there are many more examples of failings. Your authority will be
aware of the wealth and strength of the concerns as the PMB and the
inspectorates have repeatedly brought them to the authority’s attention. We
must be satisfied that children in Pembrokeshire are safe, and will continue to
be safe after the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board has left. Therefore, your
response must satisfy us not only that you are capable of addressing these
specific concerns, but also that the service will be managed in ways which
ensure that any future concerns are properly and swiftly addressed.
Welsh Ministers have a wide range of powers of direction including, but not
limited to, sections 496 to 497A of the Education Act 1996. Those powers of
direction have been exercised previously to direct the authority on 16 August
2011. We have made it clear that, unless there is evidence or real and
sustained improvement in the areas highlighted by the report of the joint
inspection by CSSIW and Estyn, published in August 2011, we will issue
further directions in order to secure that improvement. At the moment we do
not see evidence of that improvement and our preliminary view is that your
authority is failing in its safeguarding duties set out in section 175 of the
Education Act 2002 and potentially section 28 of the Children Act 2004. At
present we are minded to make a direction that would give the Chair of the
PMB the power to issue such instructions as he considers reasonably
necessary to secure that your authority adequately discharges its
safeguarding duties. Your authority would then have to comply with any such
instructions issued by the PMB Chair.
However, before we decide that such a direction is necessary we want to give
the authority the opportunity to comment in respect of the issues outlined in
this letter. We will consider any comments made by the authority and all other
relevant factors before making any decision to issue a Direction.
We look forward to your response, by 5.00pm on Friday 22 June 2012.
Leighton Andrews AC / AM Gwenda Thomas AC / AM
Y Gweinidog Addysg a Sgiliau Y Dirprwy Weinidog Plant a
Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol
Minister for Education and Skills Deputy Minister for Children and
Social Services