In 2014 the Department for Education provided guidance stating that people working with children under the age of eight in a school environment can be disqualified from doing so if a person living or employed at their household is themselves disqualified. This was an extension of the provisions relating to the disqualification of childcare providers.
A recent decision by the Supreme Court has emphasised the importance of safeguarding and staff relationships when it upheld a school’s decision to dismiss a Head Teacher in the case of Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.
What happened in the case?
This case concerned a Head Teacher who, whilst not in a romantic relationship, had more than financial ties with an individual, S, who had been convicted of taking indecent images of children. S was consequently subject to a sexual offences prevention order that barred him from having unsupervised access to children under the age of 18.
The Head Teacher took advice from various external sources, which resulted in her not informing the governing body of her school about her relationship with S.
Subsequently the school became aware of this relationship and dismissed the Head Teacher for gross misconduct. The school relied on the key role of the Head Teacher in child safeguarding and protection, and decided that she should have known that any such matters should have been disclosed. Her failure to do so, it decided, amounted to a breach of duty. The school also took into consideration the Head Teacher’s failure to accept her error of judgement and felt that her failure to understand this responsibility potentially put children under the school’s care at risk.
On this basis, an employment tribunal found the school’s decision to dismiss was within the “band of reasonable responses”.
The Head Teacher appealed a number of times, right up to and including the Supreme Court, and all appeals were unsuccessful. Although this Head Teacher did not live in the same household as the individual, it was recognised that the Childcare Act 2006 and Childcare (Disqualification) Regulations 2009 emphasise the importance of safeguarding children.
What can other schools learn about safeguarding children from this case?
This case highlights the need to remind all staff, including Head Teachers, that if they have any doubt with regards to any relationship and potential safeguarding issues, they should inform the school so it can consider and manage any potential risks, as appropriate.