30 March 2015
New rules forcing teachers to report cases of FGM to police will make it harder for children to seek help, it was claimed today.
Teachers are now legally obliged to report cases of FGM to police, but this could undermine the trust children have in their teachers, the ATL conference heard.
Delegates at the meeting in Liverpool were today set to debate an emergency motion calling on the government to remove the “threat of criminalisation” from education professionals.
David Cameron announced at the Girl Summit in London last year that doctors, social workers and teachers would be legally obliged to report female genital mutilation if they see it.
Mandatory reporting of FGM was introduced to the Serious Crime Act, which received royal assent this month. Teachers who failed to report will be dealt with by existing disciplinary measures.
But Helen Porter, a biology teacher from Newbury, said the move could cause children to lose their trust in teachers, and mean teachers drop out of the profession for fear of being disciplined.
She said teachers also fear being criminalised for failing to report sexual exploitation and radicalisation as well.
“All teachers want to stop these things and are absolutely horrified by the events in Rotherham.” But she said the current system, where teachers report concerns to a member of staff dedicated to child protection, already works well.
“We report any concerns, however small, immediately to the child protection lead. That builds up a whole picture of what’s happening to that child. They would decide when to report and who to report to. They have the experience and expertise. We think it’s a good system, but staff need a bit more training to make us aware of the signs and symptoms of sexual exploitation and radicalisation,” she said.
She added that as a consequence of the new rules: “We think there will be a breakdown of trust between pupils and families. If that happens families may move schools and then it’s much harder to keep track of what’s happening in particular families.
“Young children will be less likely to talk to a teacher because they won’t trust them.
She added that teacher recruitment will also suffer. “It will be one more nail in the coffin of teacher recruitment. It is already happening with social workers. If you get it wrong you are vilified.”
Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone announced the new rules in February, saying: “We believe that introducing a mandatory duty will provide clarity for professionals and will give them the confidence to confront FGM. It will aid police investigations and increase the number of perpetrators caught and prosecuted.
“It will also send a clear message to perpetrators that they will be held responsible for their actions and help prevent this appalling crime from happening.”