Abuse by a person in professional role

There are occasions when you have concerns about a colleague or other professional, or someone you know tells you of their concerns. Everyone needs to know how to act to keep children and young people safe.

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William Vahey, a prolific sex offender, was able to obtain employment at a school in London.  The Serious Case Review following the discovery of the abuse that he had perpetrated at the school found that whilst there were aspects of his behaviour that should have alerted senior staff these were never looked into.  The review found that Vahey was in effect ‘hiding in plain sight’.  Immediately from the point of his employment he started to undertake certain actions (e.g. having children alone in his room), in effect normalising the behaviour.

The review found that Vahey not only groomed children but groomed the staff as well, assuming a great deal of power and influence in the school.  Therefore whilst individuals had concerns, these were never taken further – this being despite the review finding some pupils referred to him as ‘paedo Vahey’.

If you have concerns about the actions of a colleague, speak to your line manager or designated safeguarding lead.  If you work in a school speak to either the headteacher or, if the concerns relate to the headteacher, the Chair of Governors (in sole proprietor schools, approach the LADO directly).

Be prepared to think the unthinkable.

The duty on schools

When pupils are at school, the school has a duty to keep them safe from harm and abuse.

The school should create a safe environment; all staff in regulated activity should be employed through safer recruitment process, including DBS.

Keeping pupils safe from harm and abuse includes abuse by a person in a professional role. Staff should be trained in child protection, be able to identify risks and take appropriate action. The school should promote a culture of vigilance.

“All staff should receive appropriate safeguarding and child protection training which is regularly updated. In addition all staff members should receive safeguarding and child protection updates (for example, via email, e-bulletins and staff meetings), as required, but at least annually, to provide them with relevant skills and knowledge to safeguard children effectively” – KCSIE 2018 (para 14, p.7)

Role of consent

It is a crime to have a sexual relationship with a child under the age of 16. It is offence for an adult to have a sexual relationship with a young person under the age of 18 if the adult is in a ‘position of trust’. It applies whilst the pupil is under 18 if over the age of consent.

To reduce the risks schools should

  • ensure safer recruiting practice is in place; those who abuse children will seek employment with access to children
  • staff who are trained to identify signs of abuse, including what to do if they or someone else is worried about a pupil
  • a designated teacher responsible for dealing with child protection
  • a child protection policy which includes procedures to be followed if a teacher or other member of staff is accused of harming a child
  • teach pupils how to protect themselves, including:
    • risky behaviour
    • suitable and inappropriate physical contact
  • promote an open culture, in which staff my raise concerns without fear of reprisal
  • provide opportunity for pupils to discuss concerns
  • empower all to embrace their child protection responsibilities
  • Provide staff and pupils with the necessary tools for reporting
  • Designated safeguarding Leads should pass concerns regarding staff to their LADO

If staff have concerns

If staff members have concerns about another staff member this should be referred to the headteacher or principal. Where there are concerns about the headteacher or principal, this should be referred to the chair of governors, chair of the management committee or proprietor of an independent school as appropriate. In the event of allegations of abuse being made against the headteacher, where the headteacher is also the sole proprietor of an independent school, allegations should be reported directly to the designated officer(s) at the local authority (LADO). Staff may consider discussing any concerns with the school’s designated safeguarding lead and make any referral via them.

Grooming in schools

The Jeremy Forrest case has again demonstrated this risk. Grooming does not only focus on pupils, but also involves grooming of staff, Ian Huntley also groomed staff. Perpetrators will aim to present as caring, hardworking staff who will employ tactics to gain power and 1-1 access to pupils within the school. Remember school provides a regular point of contact. Perpetrators can befriend victims with ease. The child’s infatuation can override the child’s ability to see through and resist the coercion and deception.

Spot the signs

• An unusual amount of 1-1 time
• Pupil seeking a particular person
• Generous marking of work
• Over use of praise
• Extra support

Take action

  • Raise any concerns with the Designated Safeguarding Lead, Headteacher or Principal
  • Report and follow your safeguarding procedures and keep taking action until you know they’re safe

independent investigations

Paragraph 200 of Keeping Children Safe in Education notes that in some circumstances, “such as lack of appropriate resource within the school or college, or the nature or complexity of the allegation, the allegation will require an independent investigator”.

Safeguarding Network can help by sourcing a qualified, insured, DBS checked and experienced investigator. Your school will receive detailed advice on how to proceed, support at meetings and a detailed report with clear recommendations for your governing body on how to proceed. Contact us for further information.


  • Safe Working Practices

    In all our work with children and their families, we must consider the risk to ourselves, both physically and emotionally.  In order to be an effective practitioner you need to feel safe, secure and supported by your organisation.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for school staff summarising abuse by a person in professional role
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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