Govt pressed on Department of Education’s response to grooming case
The Gibraltar Government was pressed on Thursday by the GSD, Together Gibraltar and the teachers’ union, Gibraltar NASUWT, to address “failures” in existing procedures and policies at the Department of Education identified during an investigation into claims that a teacher had engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a 16-year old student.
The case was revealed earlier this week by No.6 Convent Place, which said the investigation by an independent board led by Gillian Guzman, QC, was launched after the Government received reports in 2019 of the relationship between the teacher and a student at Westside school.
The board found the teacher’s behaviour was “significantly disturbing” and “wholly unprofessional”. The teacher was banned from Gibraltar’s schools and from working with children.
No.6 Convent Place said it would act on the recommendations of the board and was reviewing all safeguarding protocols and policies.
It will also be reviewing existing laws to ensure these are “robust and clear” with the aim of safeguarding all students.
“Failures in the existing procedures and policies at the Department of Education are also being investigated,” No.6 Convent Place added.
The matter was initially referred to the Royal Gibraltar Police but there was no evidence of criminal conduct. Police later reviewed the board's findings but reached the same conclusion.
Gibraltar NASUWT, the teachers’ union, said it was shocked by the findings and questioned the way the Department of Education had responded to the case.
Likewise the GSD said any failings in the Department of Education’s response were a matter of “grave concern”.
“The GSD is concerned at the apparent failures by the Department of Education to ensure safeguarding standards were applied at Westside School in the child grooming case reported [on Wednesday],” the GSD said in a statement.
“Children are put in the trust of teachers and that trust should not be abused.”
“Grooming of children is completely unacceptable. Children should be safe in schools and parents satisfied that children are safe.”
Together Gibraltar said it was “profoundly concerned” by the case and the “failure of internal protocols” it had exposed.
Gibraltar NASUWT applauded the actions of the teachers and senior management team at Westside School, who it said highlighted and reported the inappropriate conduct of the individual to the Department of Education and followed all safeguarding procedures “in an exemplary fashion” at all times.
But it raised serious questions about what it described as “the failure by the Department of Education to ensure that safeguarding standards were applied accordingly”.
“The union condemns the actions of this [teacher] who by abusing her position of trust in what has been labelled as significantly disturbing and wholly unprofessional conduct, has brought the teaching profession into disrepute,” the union said in a statement.
“We strongly urge HM Government to use the findings of the investigation to not only prevent the individual from working with children in any school or in other capacities, but to not allow this person to ever work in the public sector again.”
“We also cannot comprehend how no criminal proceedings have resulted from the facts of this investigation.”
“Further, the fact that failures in existing procedures and policies at the Department of Education are being investigated raises serious doubts over the capability of those individuals promoted to these leadership positions.”
“The union cannot accept that people entrusted to be the gatekeepers of our education system would mishandle or indeed be incapable of handling such a serious situation.”
Gibraltar NASUWT said it will write to the Government to request an urgent meeting with the Minister for Education and “ascertain the extent of the apparent mismanagement of this grave incident by the Department of Education, the second such incident in a very short period of time”.
“At present, and until we are privy to further information, the union will not be asking for any resignations at the Department of Education, but fully reserves its right to do so in the future,” the union added.
The message was echoed by the GSD, which said teachers must be supported in their call urging Government to use the findings of the investigation to take immediate action.
“Indeed, whilst we applaud the actions and vigilance of teachers and senior management team at Westside School who had highlighted and reported the inappropriate conduct of the individual teacher to the Department of Education, it is a grave concern that there appears to have been failures either in the way this was handled by the Department and/or failures in the system/protocols and/or their implementation,” the GSD said.
“We have not had sight of the full report of the independent investigation and, therefore, do not know whether these failures were systemic or due to individual errors or a combination of both.”
“Either way lessons must be learnt and decisive immediate action is required to allay the concerns of both teachers and parents.”
“We need to ensure that the risk of this ever happening again is minimized and that means using the failures in this case as an opportunity to review safeguarding protocols, codes of conduct and child protection policies, so that they are fit for purpose and implemented accordingly - from the highest education official right down to the most junior member of the profession.”
The Opposition noted that the Government had condemned the teacher’s actions and said it was committed to ensuring that schools remained a safe haven for students.
“However, there is an urgent need to inject confidence in the system by reviewing existing procedures so parents can be reassured that their children attend school without fear of this happening again,” the GSD added.
Together Gibraltar, which said it had been making representations for the family of the student for the past six months, said that according to its information, Westside teachers notified the Department of Education of the inappropriate behaviour as early as the beginning of 2019, and that the Department had already produced safeguarding reports about this issue in March 2019.
“The party has been made aware that evidence of the behaviour was presented to members of the Department, who, instead of immediately removing the teacher from service, decided to place her in a Primary School,” TG said.
“TG believes that this issue should be investigated further and the criteria for this decision disclosed.”
“It is the belief of the party that, if the aforementioned circumstances are proven true, this decision placed other children at risk, and displays intolerable failures in the Department’s safeguarding protocols.”
According to TG, the teacher was interdicted as soon as Ms Guzman’s board was convened
in June of 2020.
“However, notwithstanding this interdiction and the two ongoing investigations - by the ‘Gillian Guzman Board’ and the RGP - the teacher was allowed to go back to work at a primary school at the start of term in September 2020.”
“She was finally removed from her post two days later.”
Together Gibraltar urged Government and its Human Resources department to complete their
internal investigation as soon as possible.
“It is the belief of the party that after a 12-month, in-depth investigation by an independent board, all of these issues must have been well documented and presented to the relevant authorities,” TG said.
“If the well-being of children in our community has been put at risk it must be made known to the general public, and steps must be taken to ensure that those responsible face consequences, and that these safeguarding issues do not reoccur.”