Stevenage primary school did not call Social Services over child sex claims

Martins Wood Primary School, Stevenage

An unannounced Ofsted inspection at Martins Wood Primary School in Stevenage last November uncovered 'significant' safeguarding concerns - Credit: Google maps

A Stevenage primary school failed to alert Social Services after pupils reported seeing classmates engaged in sexual activity.

Martins Wood Primary School wrote notes on a computer database but didn’t inform external agencies, or the guardians of at least one of the children.

The incidents only came to light when that child moved to another school and engaged in similar behaviour with more children.

Their family believe that if Martins Wood had followed proper procedures the later incidents could have been avoided.

“We’ve had no acknowledgement, no apology,” they said. “It’s an inexcusable failure.”

After they complained to the Department for Education (DfE), the school received an unannounced Ofsted visit.

Inspectors found “significant” safeguarding problems and branded its leadership “inadequate”.

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Shock

One morning, Jennifer* was called into an urgent meeting at her child’s school.

She had become Child A’s legal guardian when they were five years old and enrolled them in Martins Wood Primary, but it was now years later and they were at a new school.

In the meeting, Jennifer was told that Child A had sexually assaulted two younger pupils.

“It was one of the biggest shocks of my life,” she said.

But she was even more shocked when Social Services told her that it wasn’t the first time this had happened.

Martins Wood had recorded a similar incident years earlier but had not alerted anybody, she was told.

Anger

This appeared to be a breach of Hertfordshire child protection policy, which states: “When there is suspicion or an allegation of a child having sexually abused or being likely to sexually abuse another child, it should be referred immediately to Children's Services or the Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT).”

Jennifer’s anger grew when she learned Martins Wood had actually recorded five serious incidents, not just one.

Pupils had twice reported seeing Child A engaged in sexual activity with others.

Child A had also disclosed to a staff member that before Jennifer became their guardian, they had been sexually abused.

Martins Wood Primary School in Stevenage

Martins Wood Primary School had received reports that children were witnessed engaging in sexual activity, but did not refer the incidents to Social Services - Credit: Google Streetview

Concern

Jennifer was concerned that if she hadn’t been told about the Martins Wood incidents, other children’s families may not have been either.

“There could be parents that don’t know their child has witnessed this or had this done to them,” she said.

She also worried that there could be more incidents which were not seen or reported.

But her main concern was that because Martins Wood had not alerted anybody, no interventions were made and Child A had continued their behaviour.

For years, she and her family sought answers from the school and Hertfordshire County Council (HCC).

They were told two audits and a “full investigation” had deemed the school’s safeguarding practices “satisfactory”.

But they were denied a copy of the investigation report because it contained “personal data”.

Ofsted

Last year they wrote to the DfE. Months later, Ofsted visited Martins Wood.

Inspectors found: “Leaders and governors have not created a culture that safeguards the most vulnerable pupils or secures support from relevant external agencies in a timely way.”

The governors were removed and the school is now being forced to become an academy - but the family, concerned that it took so long and so many complaints, are contemplating legal action.

“Somebody does need to be held accountable for this,” said Jennifer. “I just can’t understand how it’s been allowed to go so wrong and the local authority and the government aren’t more concerned about it.”

Hertfordshire County Council

Hertfordshire County Council declined to answer a number of questions from The Comet, but said it was confident all necessary actions had been taken - Credit: Google Streetview

The Authorities

We asked Martins Wood whether the families of other children involved had been informed, whether any staff had faced disciplinary action and whether it wished to apologise.

It did not answer, but said it was “confident that the alleged incidents have been fully investigated and the necessary actions taken”.

It said safeguarding issues found by Ofsted had been “urgently addressed”.

HCC reiterated those statements.

We asked HCC and the DfE whether Ofsted’s findings called into question the results of the prior audits and investigation. Neither answered.

We asked HCC whether it would provide counselling to all children involved and whether it wished to apologise. It did not answer.

An HCC spokesperson said: “We are confident that everyone who needs to have been informed of the outcomes of the investigation has been informed.”

*Child A and their family have been anonymised for legal reasons.

For more, read:

Stevenage primary school under investigation over financial 'deficiencies'

Good Stevenage school drops to inadequate over safeguarding concerns