Government pledges national action following Doncaster abuse inquiry

Wed,2 November 2022
News Education Health & Social Care
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has pledged to overhaul residential placements for Disabled children after a safeguarding report revealed "a culture of abuse" at three children's homes in Doncaster.

South Yorkshire Police are continuing to investigate allegations of criminal behaviour at the dual registered homes and residential special schools, which were owned by the Hesley Group. They were closed last year following an Ofsted investigation after whistleblowers raised serious concerns about the care and safety of 60 Disabled children and young adults.

The then education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, took the unprecedented step of asking the independent child safeguarding practice review panel to undertake a review to run alongside the ongoing police investigation.

Last week Ms Keegan published the first phase of the panel's report, which was based on a national review of safeguarding Disabled children in residential settings. Despite its national scope, Ms Keegan said the report outlined "the shocking abuse and safeguarding failures" in Doncaster. Allegations include medical malpractice and sexual offences between 2018 and the homes' closure.

The report raised questions about the effectiveness of Ofsted's monitoring of the homes.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "It is clear that the management and staff of these homes were not open and honest with authorities, including Ofsted.

"But it's also clear there are lessons for all of us to learn."

Ms Keegan said: "The review set out the complex interactions between Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and children's social care services, and the challenges regarding placement quality, commissioning and oversight."

A second report, to be published next spring, will make additional recommendations around practice and policy.

However, Ms Keegan announced that the Department for Education will bring forward work to:

• Strengthen the standards and regulations governing the care of children
• Strengthen national minimum standards for residential special schools
• Work with Ofsted to strengthen its inspection and regulatory powers to hold private providers of children's homes to account. 

Referring to the Government's green paper on SEND and the independent review of children's social care report, which were both published in the spring, she said: "Our plans for children's social care and SEND reform are being drawn up in parallel so that reforms resulting from these reviews lead to a coherent system that works for all vulnerable children. We are rapidly working up an ambitious and comprehensive implementation strategy in response to the reviews."

Bethany Bale, DR UK Policy and Campaigns Officer, said: "This is a deeply disturbing report which highlights how the Government, local authorities, Ofsted and their partners need to be doing more to ensure Disabled children and young people are cared for and educated in a safe environment. The lack of accountability that this report highlights also needs urgent action by central government. SEND support needs sufficient resourcing and funding to enable education providers and local authorities to consistently implement their legal duty to provide all children with a safe and accessible education".