Headteacher who lost job over safeguarding failures allowed to remain in profession

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A headteacher who was dismissed from her job at a primary school for failures in her safeguarding duties has not been banned from teaching as the breaches were not considered sufficiently serious.

Clare Bladen was headteacher at Gateway Primary School in Carterton between  September 2019 and October 2020 when she was dismissed after an investigation.

A hearing was recently carried out into allegations surrounding her conduct and a report said she failed in her safeguarding and child protection duties in relation to a number of pupils.

But the professional conduct panel hearing carried out by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) found that no prohibition order would be made against her as Ms Bladen’s conduct was not sufficiently serious to amount to unacceptable professional conduct.

It was found that she failed to take appropriate action and/or ensure appropriate action was taken to safeguard Pupil A when on or around 4 November 2019 he informed her “his dad has lots of guns”, stating that there were real bullets and trying to shoot a pistol.

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Ms Bladen stated that she had spoken to the pupil on the day and made one attempt to speak to the pupil’s parents but she was unable to contact them at that time.

The panel was told that when Ms Bladen was confronted by a witness on 18 June 2020, she then called Pupil A’s parents and according to Ms Bladen “it was quickly established that there had been a paint gun in the garage but it was no longer there”.

The panel noted that Pupil A was a young child and it was concerned that the issue involved the possibility of a “gun” or “pistol” at the child’s home.

The panel considered that the only additional reassurance was sought seven months after the incident.

It was also found Ms Bladen failed to take appropriate action and/or ensure appropriate action was taken to safeguard Pupil C when on 22 November 2019 an incident was brought to her attention concerning an adult pulling Pupil C’s hair and/or talking aggressively towards them. 

The report said the incident took place at the end of the school day and away from the school premises and was reported by a parent.

Ms Bladen said she had the first name but could not confirm the identity of the child. She decided to investigate on the Monday.

On the following Monday a separate parent had reported the same incident to the school and the earlier witness had also been able to identify the pupil.

When Ms Bladen got to school she agreed the witness should make a referral to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).

The panel noted that Ms Bladen had been unable to verify the identity of the child to make a referral and did not want to cause distress to the wrong family but considered that, at the very least, the local safeguarding team should have been consulted on that Friday afternoon.

The panel found Ms Bladen also failed to log several incidents recorded on ‘Pink Forms’ on CPOMS [Child Protection Online Management System] and failed to follow up these incidents.

She also failed to ensure DDSLs [Deputy Designated Safeguarding Leads] within the school had full access to the online child protection system.

But the panel was satisfied that Ms Bladen had taken appropriate steps to safeguard Pupil B in an incident concerning the pupil having cuts and scratches on both hands, including a deep wound on their right forearm and “angry spots” on the bottom half of their legs which looked like bites.

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The panel accepted Ms Bladen’s evidence that when she spoke to Pupil B she ascertained the pupil had been playing with the cat at home and the pupil’s parent confirmed this was the cause of the scratches and that the spots were insect bites.

Although the panel was satisfied that the conduct of Ms Bladen involved breaches of the Teachers’ Standards, it was also satisfied that this was not misconduct of a sufficiently serious nature which fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession.

The panel noted that the breaches were compounded by suboptimal record keeping and arose due to ineffective implementation of a computerised system that had been introduced by the previous leadership team.

The new leadership team had little collective understanding and no training in its operation.

The panel noted that there had been a lack of effective support available to Ms Bladen who was a newly appointed headteacher in a school that had just been graded as ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted immediately before she took up her post.

The panel noted that Ms Bladen had reflected in hindsight that she should not have accepted the post at that time.

The panel was also mindful that whilst there had been a risk of harm due to ineffective safeguarding actions on several occasions, there was no evidence of any actual harm caused to any pupil.

It concluded that based on all the evidence before it, it was not satisfied that Ms Bladen’s conduct was sufficiently serious to amount to unacceptable professional conduct.

The decision maker Sarah Buxcey, writing on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, said: “The panel finds that the conduct of Miss Bladen fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession. The findings of misconduct involved failures to take appropriate action to safeguard pupils.”

But, she said, the panel’s view was that “the nature of Ms Bladen’s behaviour was at the lower end of any scale of seriousness” and the panel had not found it amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

“For these reasons, I have concluded that a prohibition order is not proportionate or in the public interest.

“I consider that the publication of the findings made would be sufficient to send an appropriate message to the teacher as to the standards of behaviour that were not acceptable and that the publication would meet the public interest requirement of declaring proper standards of the profession.”

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