Regulatory requirementsLet's be completely clear about what this says. The school is not supposed to investigate complaints of abuse. Any case of substance is automatically passed to the local safeguarding children board (part of Social Services) for them to investigate. As you can see from my previous articles analysing the school's Child protection policy, the school has been dedicated towards finding any possible excuse not to make such referrals.
At the time of the inspection visit on 30 April 2010, the school’s safeguarding policy was found to cover most of the requirements which are the duties of governors of independent schools. However, the school’s written policy for dealing with allegations and suspicions of abuse was focused on investigation by the school rather than speedy referral to outside agencies. As a result, under Regulation 3.(2)(b) of the Independent School Standards Regulations, the school was required to word the policy so that it is clear that in the case of a disclosure or suspicion of abuse:
(i) the investigations are to be carried out by the local safeguarding children board or in case of doubt the advice of such an agency is to be sought;
(ii) the child’s interests are paramount;
(iii) referrals are made not only where a case is considered by the school to be serious and criminal;
(iv) no case of substance is investigated and dealt with under the school’s internal procedures.
The school was also advised to include in the policy more of the best practice guidance from Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education.
Only in the new version of the policy issued today (4 months after the initial visit in April) is any attempt made to fulfil these requirements. The 24 May 2010 version of the policy, and before that the 1 September 2009 version had none of this.
It would appear that the school has been breaking primary legislation for many years, perhaps even decades, and not returning Notifications to the DfE or the ISA, and in all that time the ISI and its predecessors have never noticed. You can't expect the ISI to police the school - if they have let this past for so many years, one can't really expect them to keep a close eye on the school hereafter.
Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education is 129 pages long. The report doesn't say what improvements should be made from from what sections of this document. So parents aren't in a position to know whether all the requested changes have been made.
The DfE has said that it is parents who are responsible for holding schools to account for child protection – clearly this is not understood by the ISI and so they determinedly do not inform parents of their expectations of the school – presumably because it would further damage the school’s reputation.
Soon after the inspection visits, the school had posted on its website a fully compliant version of its safeguarding policy, and it undertook that from September 2010 it would include examples of ways in which staff, volunteers and members of the religious community are guided to help avoid the possibility of allegations in the future.
The 24 May 2010 version of the policy most certainly did not comply with the requirements mentioned above in the report. The ISI appeared to be unaware of this when I contacted Durell Barnes on 4th August to ask him about it.
I was outraged when I saw this paragraph in the report, as I had received assurances from the DfE that they were aware of the 24 May version of the Child Protection Policy and did not regard it as the final compliant version. I phoned the DfE on 4th August demanding an explanation, following up with an email to describe my concerns. In reply, I received the following very cagey email from Georgina Carney of the DfE on 5 August.
Dear Mr West
Thank you for your email confirming the concerns we discussed. The detail you have provided is helpful.
We have now obtained a copy of what the school considers to be the final version of its child protection document. Officials are in the process of reviewing the document in detail and we will take advice from the relevant policy team. I confirm that any on-going concerns will be taken up with the school directly.
Independent Education and Boarding Schools Team
Department for Education
And yet the following appeared in an article in the Times the next day.
Anthony Nelson, solicitor for Ealing Abbey, said the Abbot was anxious to address the mistakes of the past and make sure they were never repeated.Something similar appeared on the BBC website.
“We held an urgent two-hour meeting with the ISI and the Department for Education last week to discuss the report and the school’s child protection policy is now completely compliant with their requirements,” said Mr Nelson.
Chris Cleugh, St Benedict's current headmaster, says policy changes had been implemented since the visit.
"We have fully co-operated with the ISI while they did the inspection. Whenever they have made suggestions we have been very compliant.
"We would never do anything that would not ensure the safety of the children in this school."
But the fact is that at the time these statements were made, no significant changes had been made to the child protection policy. The ISI had made suggestions, and they simply hadn't been carried out.
On to the next paragraph of the ISI's statement on regulatory requirements:
Under Standard 4C of the Independent School Standards Regulations, the school was required to ensure that the dates of checks are included in the single central register of appointments. At the time of the second follow-up visit, this action had been taken.What! The school didn't even maintain the statutory information properly in its central register of appointments? That is a scandal! Unfortunately, we don't know how much of a scandal, because the ISI hasn't been very specific in terms of what was missing. This is what Regulation 4C states.
4C.—(1) The proprietor shall keep a register which meets the following requirements.That's a lot of different checks, and a lot of different dates to be entered. But we don't know which ones are missing, because the ISI doesn't say. And they didn't notice this in their November 2009 inspection.
(2) In relation to each member of staff appointed on or after 1st May 2007, the register shall show whether—
(a) his identity was checked;
(b) a check was made to establish whether he is subject to any direction made under section 142 of the Education Act 2002 or any disqualification, prohibition or restriction which takes effect as if contained in such a direction;
(c) checks were undertaken to ensure, where appropriate, that he had the relevant qualifications;
(d) an enhanced criminal record certificate was obtained in respect of him;
(e) checks were made pursuant to paragraph 4(2)(c);
(f) a check of his right to work in the United Kingdom was made; and
(g) checks were made pursuant to paragraph 4(2)(e),
and the register shall include the date on which each such check was completed or the certificate obtained.
As you can tell from the wording of Regulation 4C. correct maintenance of the register is crucial to safe recruitment practice, making sure that unqualified teachers are not appointed, and making sure that staff who have been found to be unsuitable to work with children are not appointed.
This is not limited to those who have actually been convicted of something. When a staff member is appointed, an enhanced disclosure CRB check is supposed to be conducted. This should reveal details of any Notifications reported by schools who had previously employed the person. A school really should not be recruiting a teacher who has been sacked by another school for inappropriate sexual conduct towards pupils, even if that conduct did not result in a criminal conviction. If there is any irregularity in the register of appointments, this is a the sort of thing that can happen.
This should have been noticed in the November 2009 inspection. Since the ISI didn’t notice that the school hadn’t published a compliant child protection policy, why should we believe them when they say that the school now has a compliant register of appointments?
Let us summarise the situation the ISI has found. At the time of their visit, the school had a Child Protection Policy that failed to fulfil the school's statutory obligations, and the school was not maintaining its central register of appointments according to statutory requirements. So it was practicing unsafe recruitment and inadequate child protection. And breaking the law in the process.