Private school principal calls for children’s whistleblowing officer to tackle ‘blatant intimidation’

The principal of one of Scotland’s top private schools has called for a whistleblowing officer to be appointed to protect the wellbeing of children and young people.

Melvyn Roffe, who has been head of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh since 2014, said too often public bodies “close ranks and protect themselves when things go awry”.

He also claimed that, when reports of neglect or abuse are made, whistleblowers “face blatant intimidation”.

Mr Roffe (pictured) said an independent national whistleblowing officer (INWO) should be put in place – such as already exists in the NHS – who would be tasked with protecting those who come forward with information to protect children.

He proposed extending whistleblower protection powers to the Children and Young People’s Commissioner – a position currently held by Bruce Adamson – placing a duty on him to protect informants and report to Parliament and the public.

Writing on the website of campaign group ScotlandCan, Mr Roffe said: “(The Scottish Government) could create a type of INWO for children and young persons’ services overnight.

“The commissioner’s remit would extend to supporting those with evidence that children’s rights or safety are being compromised and would include a duty to report to Parliament and the public about what is actually happening.

“There would then at least be a better chance of the right questions being asked, proper answers being given and, most importantly, the right actions being taken to ensure that the Scottish state does indeed deliver for all children the safety that any wise parent would wish for theirs.”

Mr Roffe also waded into the debate over the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law.

The Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill earlier this year, before it was struck down by the UK Supreme Court, which claimed parts of the law were outside the legislative competence of the Bill.

Mr Roffe said the constitutional wrangling could be overcome by placing a duty on local authorities to abide by the UNCRC, rather than push for full integration into Scots law.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All children and young people have the right to be protected from harm and abuse. We are determined to ensure that robust child protection measures are in place across Scotland and continue to be followed at all times.

“The revised National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland was published in September 2021 for all those who support children and families, whether they work in health, police, third sector, local authority or education settings.

“Ministers are committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC and to making sure children’s rights are always respected, protected and fulfilled by public authorities.

“Incorporating the UNCRC will, in future, allow children and young people and their representatives to go to court to access their rights. However, as far as possible, we want to avoid the need for the courts to intervene and instead to allow for issues to be resolved at a local level.

“To help achieve this, we are working with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to develop a child-friendly complaints process that children and young people can use when they believe that a public authority is acting in a way that is incompatible with the UNCRC requirements as incorporated.”

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