When four-year-old Daniel Pelka died he looked like a concentration camp victim and weighed less than two stone. Teachers from his school, Little Heath Primary in Coventry, spoke of his stealing food from other children and scavenging in bins. This is from the BBC…
Teaching assistant Beatrice O’Brien told Birmingham Crown Court: “We watched him walk up to the bin, look to see if anyone was looking and pick out either the core of an apple or a pear and he started to eat it.”
She said she found him “trying to get the last bit of yoghurt out” of an empty tube in another bin.
“I was very concerned. He did not look at all well and he had lost a lot of weight,” she said.
The school raised concerns about his weight and the deputy head teacher rang Daniel’s GP, who examined him and put him on a course of nutritional tablets.
An education welfare officer and the school nurse also visited his mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27.
She has been jailed, along with her partner Mariusz Krezolek, 34, after a jury at Birmingham Crown Court decided they first starved and then murdered Daniel.
But how much power do teachers have in getting concerns for a child’s welfare followed up by the authorities?
David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “The worrying thing about this case is that there were teachers who were aware of the problems, they seemed to have taken some sort of action, but that course of action wasn’t effective.
“There’s a serious case review looking into that, so I wouldn’t want to criticise anybody unfairly, but we need to understand what was happening between the school and children’s social care.”
The Coventry Safeguarding Children Board said it would publish a serious case review into Daniel’s death in September.
The teaching union the NASUWT said it felt there was a “growing disconnect” between schools and social services because of government cuts.
General secretary Chris Keates said she believed the response schools got after making referrals often depended on the resources of the local authority, rather than how serious their concerns were.
“[Teachers] want timely action taken to investigate their concerns and reassurances that the child is safe while that is taking place,” she said.
“There’s a big gap that’s been created by cuts and changes to government legislation, and that is not always happening.”
…The government announced new child protection guidelines for teachers in March, which it has just finished a consultation on.
It plans to reduce its original 120-page Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education document, originally published in 2007, to about 30 pages.
The NASUWT said this reduction in guidelines would leave schools and teachers “extremely exposed”.
Ms Keates said: “Since 2010, when the government reduced red tape in the child protection system, a number of things have hit the floor that were there to protect not only children but teachers as well.
“Detailed guidance is being replaced with lines like ‘You should make sure people are appropriately trained’ without giving any detail about what that training should be.
“If something goes wrong the government can say ‘We told you people should be appropriately trained’ but they’ve taken away all the detail of what ‘appropriate’ is.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said teachers needed “to use their professional judgment to make commonsense decisions to protect children”.
He said: “We have consulted on revised guidance which will allow schools and further education colleges to exercise their own judgement on how to respond to safeguarding issues based on their assessment of individual situations.
“We are analysing the responses and will publish the guidance in due course.”
Would you feel sufficiently empowered if confronted with a situation like this? If you raised concerns about a pupil’s welfare, do you think there would be an appropriate response? How could the situation be improved? Please share in the comments or on twitter…