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72% of whistleblowers working in education say they faced some form of detriment or harm after whistleblowing

New research from the UK’s whistleblowing charity Protect shows too many whistleblowers working in schools are ignored and victimised for raising public interest concerns.  Schools should have a whistleblowing champion on the school board, training should be provided to all managers on how to properly listen and act on concerns.  Ofsted should be made a prescribed person for whistleblowing in schools to ensure those working in education are better protected when they approach them with concerns. 

Findings from analysed of calls to Protect’s Advice Line, which has been providing free legal advice for 30 years, found 72% of whistleblowers working in education say they suffered some form of detriment or harm after blowing the whistle on a public interest issue.  36% said they were either dismissed or felt they had to resign after raising their concerns.  The research came from an analysis of 457 cases from their Advice Line over a 2-year period between 2020-2022. 

Though the research looked at cases from the Advice Line that covered education from nursery to further education, schools- both Primary and Secondary- made up 79% of the data for the report. 

Further findings include: 

  • The top concern raised was dealing were safeguarding (e.g., failure to have adequate training or processes) and bullying.  
  • 40% of whistleblowers report that their concerns were ignored, this was typically from their employer where the vast majority (76% tried to raise their concerns internally first).   

Ofsted received 1,543 contacts from staff working in schools, 338 were considered a ‘qualifying complaint’ for which Ofsted could investigate.  Well-being of pupils and leadership and management were the top two concerns making up 89% of the concerns raised. Despite these numbers Ofsted are not recognised as a regulatory body (known as a prescribed person) under the whistleblowing protection law.  Being a prescribed person would give extra legal protection for those whistleblowers blowing the whistle, and Ofsted would need to publish data on the number, type of concerns raised and any regulatory action they have taken from the whistleblowing on an annual basis. 

Andrew Pepper-Parsons, Head of Policy for Protect, said ‘our research shows staff in education are willing to raise concerns, but too often they are ignored and retaliated against. Ofsted and other regulators in education should be doing much more to ensure schools and other education bodies are in reacting in the right way to whistleblowing concerns, and protecting those staff that do come forward.  In Protect’s view, Ofsted should include whistleblowing arrangements in its inspections, as a good proxy for the culture of the school.’

To read more about the report click here