I’m glad to see the Prime Minister here to deliver a statement in support of this legislation, and I’m equally glad that the Right Honourable Gentleman’s second meeting with the teachers’ unions seems to have gone better than his first one. That seems to have helped promote what might appear at first as a more reasonable solution.
But, as I read through the proposed legislation and hear his statement, I would suggest for the sake of reasonable moves to make in response to a serious problem that the Right Honourable Gentleman have a third, and perhaps even a fourth, meeting. Because while this legislation has the right motives at its core, it solves only one of the problems that teachers’ unions so rightfully brought to this Government’s attention months ago: the right of teachers and staff victims to report violence and abuse against them.
Beyond that, this legislation allows those complaints to go to a body that can do nothing about them. The legislation does not give Ofsted any ability to DO anything.
In the spirit of the repeated attempts by the Prime Minister to use Google or some other internet search engine to do research, I did so, looking up information about Ofsted. On their own site with corporate information about Ofsted and its activities, I found this:
- consider issues about individual pupils
- investigate specific incidents
- judge how well a school responded to a complaint
- mediate or resolve disputes between you and the school
- consider complaints if there are other legal ways to pursue them (for example, complaints about admission or providing education for individual - pupils with special educational needs)
Legislation dating back to the establishment of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools in England and the related Inspectorate when it was established under the Education (Schools) Act 1992 limited the inspection to the school as a whole and how well it was fulfilling its function and using resources. This limited mandate was retained in later legislation including the School Inspections Act 1996, then the Education Act 2005 which replaced the 1996 Act, then the Education and Inspections Act 2006. In each of these pieces of legislation the mandate on inspections by what would become Ofsted was focused on the behavior of a school as a whole, and the role of the Chief Inspector to provide advice on policy to the Secretary of State was focused on schools as institutions or even one particular school- but it was to the school, not the investigation of a specific complaint. This is why Ofsted itself clearly and definitively states they cannot and do not act as an investigator for specific instances of abuse or violence as this Act would have them be. They do not have an investigatory arm nor even meaningful experience in investigating complaints about violence and abuse against staff.
Unless there are going to be changes to Ofsted’s mandate through legislation, this legislation, while it has its heart in the right place, will fail to actually and meaningfully improve quality of life for teachers and staff with respect to the very important issues of abuse and violence in schools. Further, by placing responsibility to act with Ofsted, which I again will note does not have the authority to act in individual cases, it removes the responsibility to act from employers of teachers and staff and renders them almost blameless for what happens.
Yes, employers must not, under this legislation, do anything that would prevent the reporting of violence and abuse against teachers and staff. I note this and welcome it as a step in the right direction.
But it also implicitly absolves them of a duty to take affirmative actions to protect teachers and staff… something that is already required of them by legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and especially the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is the regulation which places a duty on employers to assess and manage risks to their employees and others arising from work activities. It states categorically that employers must make arrangements to ensure the health and safety of the workplace; must also make arrangements for emergencies, adequate information and training for employees and for health surveillance where appropriate.
So the answer is not to create a system wherein teachers and staff may freely report abuse to a system that is incapable of handling it, but rather pushing for employers to do their statutory duty to protect teachers: to identify the real risks posed to teachers and staff of violence and abuse, to develop a plan to mitigate those risks, and to ensure teachers that do suffer are provided with meaningful support. None of those provisions are provided for under the Government’s legislation, which I think represents a missed opportunity to get things right.
As it stands, I would recommend that my colleagues defeat this legislation. At the same time, I cannot deny that with the Government’s interest, this is a vehicle to actually do the right thing by the teachers that are counting on us to act. I’d rather make this legislation better and more effective than get into debates both here in this House and in the press about who failed versus who voted against which legislation.
To that end, I offer the following amendment to the legislation, and ask that the Government consider this amendment as a friendly one:
STRIKE all language in the bill and replace with the following:
Schools (Violence and Abuse) Act 2019
- The Secretary of State shall, within three months of the coming into force of this Act, issue statutory guidance to all schools regarding the implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 with regards to addressing workplace violence and abuse against teachers.
- Such statutory guidance shall include, at a minimum, the legal requirement that employers of teachers and staff:
-- Include in their risk assessments of workplace safety with respect to teachers and staff the possibility of violence and/or abuse and conduct such risk assessments on an annual basis.
-- Include in their health and safety policies a procedure through which complaints about violence or abuse are reported to employers, administrators, or designated staff.
-- Include in this complaints procedure a method by which complaints will be investigated, statements will be taken, and reports will be prepared and agreed upon by the member of staff who was the victim of behaviour leading to the complaint.
-- Include in their health and safety policies a series of actions to be taken to address this risk specifically
-- Include in their health and safety policies actions to protect staff and teachers that report violence and abuse. Such actions should include (but not be limited to) providing a safe space for teachers and staff that need it, providing contact with union members and officials for support, providing medical treatment if needed, providing counseling services, and providing those teachers and staff a chance to weigh in on a revised risk assessment.
-- Include in their health and safety policies a procedure through which abuse and violence is appropriately reported to local police.
- The Health and Safety Executive shall establish a reporting mechanism wherein staff and teachers may directly report instances of violence and abuse where teachers and staff have tried to submit a complaint through normal health and safety policy procedures but where there has been no additional action taken.
- Employers, administrators, designated staff identified by health and safety policies, or any individual working in a school who:
-- fails to take action on a complaint of abuse and/or violence within a reasonable period of time, such period not to exceed two weeks from the date of complaint,
-- discourages teachers from reporting instances of abuse and/of violence,
-- refuses to explain to a teacher how they are able to report instances of abuse and/or violence, and/or
-- creates a hostile environment in which a teacher is reasonably led to believe that they will suffer some sort of negative consequence for reporting instances of abuse and/or violence
- shall be considered liable for failing to discharge a duty to which they are subject by virtue of sections 2 to 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
- The Secretary of State shall, within three months of the coming into force of this Act, issue statutory guidance to all schools regarding assistance and support of pupils or students whose behaviour presents a demonstrable and ongoing risk to the health, safety and wellbeing to other members of the school community. Such statutory guidance shall include, at a minimum:
-- The procedures for developing an individual risk assessment and the procedure for sharing such risk assessment with staff.
-- The inclusion of measures to protect staff from risk including those that might arise from threats while also balancing the right of a student to receive an education.
-- The procedures for securing health support for such pupils or students and other government support to address the underlying causes of risk for those pupils, as well as how that support will be provided without disrupting education.
Budgetary and Implementation Considerations
- This Act will apply throughout England
Allow me, Mr Speaker, to explain the rationale behind this amendment. As I stated earlier, the legislation as presented by the Government has its heart in the right place, but the methods that are used to get to the situation where we are now: where teachers feel unsafe and unable to report, do not get fully to where we need to be. It places a burden on a regulator and removes it from the entity that, under existing legislation, already has a responsibility to promote the health and safety of staff and students in school.
The appropriate regulators of health and safety in the workplace- which this is- is the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities where local authorities are the operators or provide oversight for schools. And so this amendment establishes them as the creator of a complaints form for teachers and staff who do not feel that their employers are doing what they must under the law.
It also provides very clear guidance to employers in school what their responsibilities are for protecting teachers and staff. It makes them a proactive part of the solution through the requirement to provide risk assessments- something they already are required to do- and to identify policies that will be in place to protect those risks. It also provides very clear guidance to employers that they must include in their policies to protect those that report abuse- offering them a safe space, for instance, and access to counseling. Those are important actions to safeguard the mental and physical well-being of teachers and staff that appear absent in the Government’s proposal.
Now I do want to applaud the Government for making it so that every teacher and staff member has the unquestioned right to report violence and abuse. While some of the provisions related to that have changed in my proposed amendment, I do want to recognise that the proposal to punish those who would try to block a report from being submitted or investigated is a strong deterrent against a very real fear that teachers’ unions expressed, and I hope that the changes I have proposed- which tie back to the penalties and sanctions already provided for under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974- do not appear as though I am trying to water down those provisions at all. I am not. In fact the penalties under that Act are just as strict if not stricter than the Government’s proposal.
Lastly I also agree with the Government’s position that part of this proactive work on addressing violence and abuse in schools also needs to make sure we are looking at pupils. That too is a position that I applaud and only seek to build on. But rather than making Ofsted- an unrelated regulator- as the provisioner of support services, that again needs to be on the shoulders of those who run schools where problems exist. So this amendment would require the development of a risk assessment to be shared with staff about potential problems, and it would require those risks to be addressed through access to physical and mental health specialists or other support that might be necessary. Pupils or students who might be at greatest risk to “lash out,” as it were, may only be doing so because of a lack of support outside of school, or it may be to other issues that should be addressed before violence and abuse either happens or gets worse. We want to make sure we support students at risk though whatever means we can while also protecting their right to get an education- as anything which interferes with an education may only serve to make the problem work.
Mr Speaker, I respect that the Government wants to take this issue seriously, and this proposed legislation demonstrates a real desire to enact change for the better.
There even is still a role for Ofsted; Ofsted will do as it normally does and ensure, through its inspections of schools where it has the remit to do so, that schools are in fact following this law and implementing the procedures that my proposed amendment will require. They will be a useful oversight tool to ensure that the work that we do here- no matter what the bill- will be effective.
At the same time, Ofsted will be able to use information on reported violence and assault to determine if there need to be changes to these policies to make them more effective. Ofsted will help to enforce this legislation AND make it stronger, which I think is something that we can all agree is a good thing.
But I also think we can do more to be clear when it comes to the responsibility of employers and the rights of teachers and staff. I don’t want to vote this down when we have a chance to make this legislation stronger and better and more effective. To that end, I hope the Government will consider this amendment friendly so that we can make a real difference in the health and safety of teachers and staff in our schools who have come to us with concerns that deserve to be heard.