Kingston Council’s efforts to move on from its child safeguarding crisis were dealt a blow this week, after fresh reports of vulnerable children being failed by the service were revealed.
Claims that a pupil had been gang raped, though not while at school, and that a member of non-teaching staff, since fired, was caught “ogling” students on CCTV were among the revelations made during a scrutiny panel meeting on Tuesday night.
But the news came as a surprise to senior officers and council leader Councillor Derek Osbourne, who called the claims “scandalous”.
Headteachers Siobhan Lowe from Tolworth Girls’ School and Pip Utting from Burlington Junior School had been invited to the meeting by chairman Dennis Doe, to speak on their experiences since former director of services Duncan Clark was ousted in the wake of July’s damning Ofsted inspection.
In front of Coun Osbourne, chief executive Bruce McDonald, new director of children’s services Nick Whitfield and Councillor Patrica Bamford, lead member for children and young people, Mrs Lowe read out a list of complaints compiled on behalf of the borough’s headteachers – all taking place since the publication of the Ofsted report.
They included students being suddenly removed from schools shortly before they were due to sit exams, and some vulnerable pupils having to stay at school until late at night waiting for a social worker to arrive after raising a concern that afternoon.
Backed by Ms Utting, Mrs Lowe described a lack of communication between schools and child protection, saying referrals were often bounced between the safeguarding team and ASKK (Advancing Services for Kingston Kids) with little result.
She said: “It is terribly frustrating as a school when you bounce between the systems.
“Safeguarding lack understanding of the school environment and, at times, can be incredibly rude. Things have not improved.”
But she gave her support to Mr Whitfield and said: “It must be noted there are some amazing members of the team who are very student-focused.”
Despite the claims, Coun Osbourne insisted the authority was making progress.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “If there are things we don’t know about, the questions is why don’t we know about it?
“What I want to make sure of is what the reality is. If they are 100 per cent true then it is shocking and not acceptable.
“But trying to turn around where we were is going to take some time and many of the staff who will be leaving or have left were still in place at the time of these incidents and failures. “In that sense, this is a reflection of the problems that have already been highlighted.”
Coun Osbourne said none of the claims made at the meeting had been raised at the Kingston School Improvement Partnership, which meets monthly to discuss educational issues in the borough.
Coun Bamford said: “I was shocked and dismayed to hear these revelations, and I asked the headteacher to provide all the details of the cases mentioned that same night. Until I know about these cases in detail it would be entirely wrong for me to comment further.”