Female Genital Mutilation is illegal in England and Wales under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and is a form of child abuse and violence against women. FGM comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
It is mandatory, as stated in section 5B of the 2003 Act, for regulated health and social care professionals and teachers to report known cases of FGM experienced by under 18s, which they identify in work, to the police.
This duty applies to all teachers, including qualified teachers or persons who are employed or engaged to carry out teaching work in schools and other institutions and, in Wales, education practitioners regulated by the Education Workforce Council (EWC).
This document will outline the mandatory duty of teachers and school staff, the legal requirements this places on them, a suggested process to follow and an overview of the action which may be taken. This document should also be considered in conjunction with other FGM and safeguarding guidance. To further understand your/your school’s role in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, read our Keeping Children Safe in Education 3 Minute Read.
Making a report
The FGM Act 2003 makes it a legal requirement for teachers to make an official report to the police if, when completing their professional duties, they either:
- Are informed by a girl under the age of 18 that an act of FGM has been carried out on her.
- Observe physical signs which lead them to believe an act of FGM has been carried out on a girl under 18, and they have no reason to believe it was, or was part of, a surgical procedure.
These are referred to as ‘known’ cases, and do not apply where a woman is aged 18 or over and discloses she had FGM when she was under 18.
Most professionals will only visually identify FGM as a secondary result of undertaking other action. For teachers, there are no circumstances in which you should be examining a girl, other than in the occasion of assisting a young child to the toilet or changing a nappy. In such instances, the teacher must follow the same procedure but should not conduct any further examination of the child.
The duty to report a known case to the police is a personal duty which requires the individual professional who becomes aware of the case to make an official report; this responsibility cannot be transferred. If you know a report has already been made to another colleague, there is no requirement to make a second.
It is recommended that the report is made orally by calling 101. The legislation requires you to provide the following information:
- That you are making a report under the FGM mandatory reporting duty
- Your details
- Details of your school’s designated safeguarding lead
- The girl’s details
- If applicable, confirmation that you have undertaken, or plan to undertake, safeguarding actions
Where there is a risk to life or a likelihood of serious immediate harm, you should report the case immediately to police, dialling 999 if appropriate.
Throughout the process of making a report to the police, a comprehensive record of any discussions had and decisions made should be kept, in line with standard safeguarding practice. This will include the circumstances surrounding the initial identification or disclosure of FGM, details of any safeguarding actions, and when and how the case was reported.
In line with safeguarding best practice, the school/teacher filing the report should contact the girl’s parents/guardians as appropriate, to explain the report, why it is being made, and what it means. It has been advised that this discussion takes place prior to/parallel with the report being made.
If you believe that telling the parent/guardian about the report may result in a risk of serious harm to the child or anyone else, or the family fleeing the country, you should not discuss it.
After receiving a report, the police will initiate the multi-agency response in line with local safeguarding arrangements and consult with children’s social care prior to taking action.
Factors considered may include:
- Measures necessary to protect the girl and/or others identified as being at risk of harm. This will be led by children’s social care.
- Possible criminal investigation. This will be led by the police.
- The health and wellbeing of the girl and/or others, including how future care will be delivered. This will be led by health authorities.
Failure to comply
For teachers, failure to comply with the duty to report known cases of FGM will be dealt with in accordance with the school’s staff disciplinary procedures. If the school decides to dismiss a teacher as a result of the failure to comply, or in the case where the teacher would have been dismissed had they not resigned, the school is responsible for the decision of referring the matter to the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) in England, or the EWC in Wales.
For teachers in England, the NCTL will consider whether the facts surrounding the case, which resulted in a failure to comply, are proven, and whether they amount to unacceptable professional conduct. If proven, the NCTL will consider whether it is appropriate to make a prohibition order, preventing the individual from carrying out teaching work in any school, children’s home, sixth form college and youth accommodation in England.
For teachers in Wales, the EWC will look at the individual’s conduct, considering whether their failure to comply with the duty was so serious that it should affect their registration; this can lead to initiating fitness to practise proceedings.
DfE (2016) ‘Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information’