The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report, the purpose of which was to provide further information in respect of the Panel's current scrutiny topic of Child Sexual Exploitation.
At the previous meeting of the Panel, Members had indicated that they would like to speak to representatives from the town's secondary schools to gain an insight into the work that was being carried out in schools with regard to dealing with the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Members were particularly keen to learn:-
a) What was being done in schools to raise awareness of the issue of CSE amongst parents and pupils?
b) Staff training - are staff trained to recognise the signs of CSE and if so are they confident in knowing how to deal with such issues?
c) Do schools require any more support in helping them to deal with this issue?
In accordance with the above, Martin Burnett - Assistant Head Teacher at Acklam Grange School was in attendance at the meeting to provide Members with an overview of the work currently being carried out at Acklam Grange School in relation to the issue of CSE. It was highlighted that other senior school Head Teachers had received an invitation to attend the Panel however many of them had submitted apologies because they were already committed to attending a Raising Achievement event.
The Panel was advised that everybody involved in Acklam Grange School shared the same objective of helping to keep children and young people safe and promoting the welfare of all the children at the school. Awareness of the issue of CSE was continually raised through the school's curriculum, Psyche programme and year group/whole school assemblies. At least three assemblies were held over the school term to highlight the dangers and promote awareness of CSE. Peer mentors were also available for children to liaise with about this issue. Information on CSE was disseminated to pupils from Year 6 up to Year 11 and the information provided was tailored to meet individual pupils needs. Students who were perceived as being in danger of CSE received one to one advice/counselling from trained staff members.
The Panel was advised that Acklam Grange School had five designated members of staff dedicated to dealing with safeguarding. The Head Teacher and Assistant Head Teacher; who were both qualified to Level 3 in Child Protection/Safeguarding and Child Exploitation directed the other three members of the team; who were qualified to Level 2, in relation to supporting students with regard to safeguarding issues. The designated staff also received basic child protection training and training in inter-agency working which was refreshed at regular intervals. All other staff employed by the school received advice and training to ensure that they were aware of how to recognise the signs of CSE and were familiar with the approaches to dealing with the issue.
The Panel was advised that Acklam Grange School had recently been involved in a high profile CSE case and the fact that there was a robust safeguarding procedure in place had assisted staff and pupils in dealing with the situation.
In terms of staff resources for dealing with CSE, initially the school had struggled to deal with the volume of work involved in dealing with child protection issues. As a consequence the school had submitted a bid to the Big Lottery Fund for additional resources involved in dealing with CSE; in particular a post for dealing with vulnerable children and a post for dealing with students at risk of CSE together with one additional support worker and one counsellor. The bid was initally for a two year programme but it could attract a five year programme at a cost of £10m. It was highlighted that having adequate resources for dealing with CSE was key, particularly when dealing with the school's transient pupil population e.g. the mix of different cultures such as asylum seekers, asians and eastern european pupils. The importance of Agency Partnership work was acknowledged and Members were advised that the school had a good working relationship with Social Care and the Police.
The designated staff at Acklam Grange had access to a range of training on the subject of CSE including safeguarding training provided by the local authority. To enable staff to gain an external and national perspective on CSE they had also received training from the NSPCC on child neglect and abuse; training provided by SECOS and they had attended a seminar in Leeds in relation to CSE.
Mr Burnett advised that every primary and secondary school was required to have a Designated Officer for child protection. The Designated Officer for most schools was usually the Head Teacher, however this role had been delegated to Mr Burnett in respect of Acklam Grange School. Councillor Brunton advised that as a Governor at Acklam Grange School she received regular reports on any cases involving CSE.
It was highlighted that the age that children were subjected to CSE was getting lower and there were as many instances of CSE in primary schools as there were in secondary schools. The number of CSE cases had increased in the last few years and they affected children covering a range of ages. It was emphasised that the systems that were in place to deal with CSE meant that children and staff were better equipped to deal with issues and children were coming forward earlier because of the wide range of information and advice they had received on the subject.
It appeared that some schools had been the target of CSE for different reasons such as they may have a particularly large number of students from eastern Europe or a particularly diverse mix of cultures at the school. The cases of CSE predominantly affected girls although there were some cases involving boys. It was highlighted that if a student was the subject of neglect by their parents or guardians, they were particularly vulnerable to CSE especially if they were seeking the attention they were missing from their guardians.
In Acklam Grange school, children were shown videos to highlight how CSE might occur. A drama group involving Year 9 and 10 pupils had also performed an hour long production based on a true story to show how CSE can happen and this was perceived as being a powerful tool in raising awareness of CSE and had received very positive feedback from both staff and pupils. At least ten to twelve Year 10 female pupils from Acklam Grange School had been involved in a recent CSE case and they were currently talking to and working with the Police. As a result of this case, two other Police Operations had been established. A Theatre Group who had been visiting the school had also raised two issues for concern which the school were currently investigating.
The Panel was advised that Acklam Grange school liaised regularly with the Community Cohesion Group (whose membership consisted of community leaders of all the different cultures), to raise awareness of CSE. Some of the practices involved in CSE were not perceived to be improper in some cultures and it was important to educate people of all cultures with regard to what was acceptable in this country. The Panel was advised that 32% of the population of Acklam Grange school pupils belonged to the ethnic minorities including 28% belonging to the BME community.
The Panel was advised that a recent Ofsted inspection had commented that the inclusion and progression system was running very well. Mr Burnett advised that Acklam Grange school prided itself on the safety, care and guidance and pastoral support on child protection that it provided to pupils. The early intervention systems in place to identify potential cases and the mechanisms in place to support victims were robust.
The Panel was advised that Acklam Grange school had been asked to pilot a bullying ambassador training programme which involved anti bullying ambassadors receiving training to identify cases of bullying at the school. Parents were made aware of any issues of concern via a text messaging system and parent mail.
Where the school had any particular concerns with regard to the wellbeing of a pupil, the school arranged to speak to the parents of the pupil on an individual basis. Community Leaders also received regular briefings from Mr Burnett on any issues of concern and this had proved to be very effective. The Community Leaders valued the partnership that they had with the school and embraced the fact that the school were working with them in this way.
It was acknowledged that it was difficult to deal with parents in cases where their child had been subjected to CSE. Acklam Grange school offered parents the facility if required, to meet the Police and Barnardos and other inter-agency partners in the school rather than their own home.
Mr Burnett pointed out that in the case of Child Protection, the three primary agencies involved were Social Care, Health and Education. The Panel was advised that any member of Social Care or Health staff involved in child protection was required to receive official supervision from a suitably qualified manager. It was highlighted that some of the education staff dealt with traumatising evidence as part of their child protection role, yet there was a lack of officially recognised supervisors for education staff in the child protection arena. Acklam Grange had facilitated access to counsellors for staff involved in child protection cases but not every school offered this facility. Acklam Grange school bought in the services of a counsellor, initially for one day a week but this had been increased to two days a week; however it was hoped that if the school's bid for Big Lottery funding was successful, the school could look at funding a full-time counsellor to work with the staff as well as the children.
Mr Burnett advised that Acklam Grange School had developed a team of support staff which included non-teaching staff with spare time and commitment to support pupils with issues. The staff at Acklam Grange also met regularly with other schools to discuss problem students, share good practice and carry out Peer Reviews.
A Member made reference to the issue of honour marriages where children were taken out of the country for an arranged marriage, and asked what action Acklam Grange school had taken in respect of this issue. Mr Burnett advised that for any request involving a holiday abroad, the parents were required to provide the date of departure and date of return and flight details. The education authority had a named contact at Interpol who they could alert if a particular school had any concerns about a pupil's wellbeing. The trigger for any action would be the absence of the pupil on the date they were expected to return to school. Staff also discussed the details of the holiday with the pupil before the date of departure if there were any concerns. If there was only one child travelling abroad from a particular family where the child had other siblings in the school then this would raise concerns.
Mr Burnett advised the Panel that Acklam Grange school also intended to raise awareness of the issue of female genital mutilation through religious education sessions.
The Chair thanked Mr Burnett for his contribution to the work of the Scrutiny Panel and requested that he attend a future meeting to provide any updates or developments in relation to the work of Acklam Grange school in relation to CSE.
AGREED that the information provided be incorporated into the Panels Final Report on Child Sexual Exploitation prior to submission to the next meeting of the Panel.