Last reviewed 16 December 2015

Following serious cases of abuse and malpractice at nurseries in recent years, every early years provider needs an effective whistleblowing policy in place that plays a key role in safeguarding children and protecting staff. Elizabeth Walker looks at the issues involved.

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing occurs when a staff member reports a concern about dangerous or illegal activity or any wrongdoing within their organisation. Wrongdoing includes:

  • someone’s health and safety being in danger

  • damage to the environment

  • a criminal offence

  • not obeying the law

  • covering up any wrongdoing

  • fraud and misusing funds

  • actions that negatively affect the welfare of children.

Malpractice can be past, present or prospective. Early years staff and volunteers should be aware of what to do if they have worries about any suspected wrongdoings in the provision and be confident that they will be supported if they come forward. Staff need to be encouraged to come forward rather than overlooking a potential problem. The earlier a concern is raised, the sooner it is possible for the provision to take action.

Reporting concerns

Whistleblowing legislation was introduced under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to encourage employees to come forward with disclosures of criminal behaviour or malpractice without the fear of reprisal or dismissal. Any disclosures should be in the “public interest” and not for personal gain. In order to be afforded protection against any subsequent detriment or dismissal that is linked to the disclosure, staff will need to demonstrate that:

  • they have reasonable belief of malpractice

  • the disclosure is in the interests of the public

  • they have brought the matter to the provision’s attention.

It is important that employees have the confidence to blow the whistle if they have any concerns to prevent any serious wrongdoings continuing. Staff need to know who they can approach with any suspected concerns especially if such concerns involve a more senior colleague.

If a staff member has a concern, he or she should aim to report it internally first before using an external “prescribed person or body”. Making a report to an external person immediately should only be undertaken where the staff member thinks the concern will be covered up, he or she would be treated unfairly if he/she were to complain, or if that staff member has raised the matter before, but the concern hasn’t been dealt with.

Provisions should identify a member of staff to receive concerns of this kind and identify the local authority contact person.

Staff members should raise concerns in this order where possible.

  • Line manager.

  • Specified person.

  • Local authority.

  • Union or professional association.

  • Prescribed person or body (eg Ofsted, Children’s Commissioner or NSPCC).

Alternatively, staff can contact the whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work, for further help and support.

Developing a policy

A whistleblowing policy makes it clear that reports of wrongdoings or illegal activity will be taken seriously within an organisation. An effective policy should cover both the whistleblower and the provision by showing a step-by-step process for raising and dealing with issues. Local authorities will offer support in developing a policy and can provide a copy of their whistleblowing arrangements which can be tailored to suit the provision’s needs. The policy should be based on the following principles.

  • All staff and volunteers have the right to raise concerns about perceived unacceptable practice or behaviour.

  • The responsibility for expressing concerns about unacceptable practice or behaviour rests with all staff and volunteers.

  • The provision will not tolerate harassment or victimisation and will take action to protect staff when they raise a concern in good faith.

  • Concerns are taken seriously and dealt with quickly and appropriately.

  • The provision will do its best to protect a whistleblower’s identity if the staff member does not want his/her name to be disclosed. However, if the concern raised needs to be addressed through another procedure, eg a disciplinary procedure, the worker may be required to provide a signed statement as part of the evidence.

  • In some circumstances the provision may have to disclose the identity of the staff member without consent, although this will be discussed first with the worker if possible.

  • Appropriate advice and support will be made available to staff and volunteers who raise concerns.

  • Those who raise concerns will be kept informed of the progress and outcome of any investigation.

  • The provision will not tolerate malicious allegations — this may be considered a disciplinary offence.

  • Staff and volunteers can take the matter further if they are dissatisfied with the provision’s response and seek external advice and guidance (useful contacts should be provided).

  • Issues raised are addressed via other policies and procedures as appropriate, eg safeguarding policy, grievance policy, disciplinary procedures, and health and safety policy.

  • Appropriate records are maintained for monitoring purposes.

Managers must ensure that all staff members are provided with a copy of the whistleblowing policy and that they are aware of:

  • what protection is available to them if they decide to report another member of staff.

  • what areas of malpractice or wrongdoing are covered in the whistleblowing policy.

  • the different routes available to them for reporting a concern, including who they can approach both at the provision and at the local authority.

Failure to report

In March 2015, the government announced proposals that would make it a criminal offence for social workers, teachers and other professionals who work with children not to report suspicions of child abuse. Under the proposals, professionals could face up to five years in prison if they fail to report suspected abuse under the criminal offence of wilful neglect, which currently only applies to health and care workers. Early years providers need to ensure that they review and update their whistleblowing policy regularly to reflect any changes in the law regarding mandatory reporting.

Further Information

  • Public Concern at Work is a whistleblowing charity that seeks to ensure that concerns about malpractice are properly raised and addressed in the workplace.

  • The Safe Network provides information and resources to help keep children safe during activities outside the home.

  • www.gov.uk provides useful information on whistleblowing for employees.

  • Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.