Children’s Commissioner
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Abuse at Whitefield School – Children’s Commissioner’s response

The investigation by the BBC into abuse at Whitefield School in Walthamstow is absolutely shocking. I am horrified by the content of the CCTV footage and the scale of what was uncovered.

My heart goes out to any child who experienced that and the families who have never been given the full details of what their children experienced.

My office was made aware of the case in 2021 by a charity which supports disabled survivors of abuse, and told of the ongoing police and local authority investigation taking place. Support was offered to the families involved by my advocacy service Help at Hand, though assurances were given that support was already being provided by the police, social workers and therapeutic services.

One of my major concerns with this case is the failure to communicate well with parents and the failure to listen to children. It really does need to be the first thing we do in these situations and the thing we do all the way through.

Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s three-way. It’s the parents and carers, it’s the children and it’s the staff in the school. When parents have experienced these things, what they feel most concerned about is that no-one is talking to them, no-one is communicating with them, no-one is telling them the truth. That needs to be a priority in learning the lessons from what happened at Whitefield.

Since learning more about the case from the BBC’s extensive investigation, my office has followed up with the local authority in line with my duty of care for some of the most vulnerable children, including those receiving support from social care services. We have asked questions about the safeguarding and referrals processes – it’s clear there is far too much uncertainty about the use of restraint, seclusion, and the circumstances in which this is appropriate.

The guidance around the use of isolation says that it should only happen in the most serious disciplinary situations and for the shortest time possible. We need to look more carefully at the guidance, given the confusion I hear from this case but also around the country, and to make sure people are absolutely clear about what is and isn’t allowed and why.

All the services who work with children need a much better understanding of what is happening around the country when it comes to how calming rooms are used more broadly. My office and I are making further enquiries.

Over the next year my Help at Hand team will also be exploring what happens with safeguarding concerns when they do not meet the threshold for criminal prosecutions, as seems to be the case at Whitefield School. In particular, this will look at the role of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), for which early scoping discussion with the Department for Education and Ofsted are underway.

Anyone who has been affected by the cases at Whitefield School or would like further support or advice can contact Help at Hand:

Listen to the Children’s Commissioner’s interview as part of the BBC File on 4 investigation here:


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