Sunday, 3 October 2010

Publicising Carlile

So, we are nearly 3 weeks on from when Carlile's inquiry and its terms of reference were announced in the parents' meeting, and about 2 months on from when the Times first broke the story of the Carlile inquiry. I think it is about time we had a look at what the Trustees have done to ensure that people can contact Carlile to contribute evidence.

First let me describe what was promised at the parents' meeting on 14th September:
  1. Lord Carlile would be at the school on 5th October, and any parent who wished to speak to him could make an appointment via the headmaster's secretary Mrs. Simmonds.
  2. Notice of the inquiry would be placed in national and local newspapers, so that people can contact Lord Carlile directly at his chambers, and that parents could do this if they wished by email.
So far it appears that there has been one advert placed in last week's Ealing Gazette, on page 17. It provided a postal address to contact Lord Carlile, but no email address, although that had been promised. The advert failed to mention the word ‘crimes’ or ‘convictions’ and failed to mention that the inquiry is on the subject of child sexual abuse at St. Benedict’s school.

Although friends have been looking out for the adverts in the national press, there have been no sightings of any so far. If you happen to see one, do please email me to let me know.

The Terms of Reference are on the school website, in what web designers call a "level 4" location. i.e. one that can only be reached by at least 3 levels of link from the home (level 1) page of the site.

Currently on the home page of St Benedict’s we have the understandably vital announcement that there are a series of ‘Open Mornings and Evenings’ for which dates and times are provided. We also have the Latest News box on the home page which informs us of the following highly important events:
  • International Music Festival Success
  • Open House in The Cloisters
  • Four Shipwrecks, a Wedding and a Funeral
  • Historic first Tournament Win for U12 Netball Team
  • Lower Fourth Green and Orchard Picnic
  • Papal Visit – Twickenham and the Big Assembly
  • A day to remember at Lord’s
  • New Outdoor Play Area in Junior School
  • Fencing Victory against Eton
  • ‘Deutsche Abenteur’ at the German School

But strangely, no mention at all of an inquiry being conducted into child sex abuse at the school.

No one in web design expects any visitor to find anything posted in a level 4 location. And interestingly, even the level 4 page is lacking some rather important information. All of the following is missing.
  • The timetable for the inquiry.
  • Who the inquiry team wish to hear from
  • Whether discussions with Lord Carlile will be confidential
  • When it is expected that the report will be issued.
  • Contact details and methods of contributing to the inquiry
  • Location and dates of meetings
  • Contact details for Lord Carlile
The people most likely to have suffered child sex abuse in the past at St Benedict's School are the former pupils there. In other words, Old Priorians. The school knows how to contact Old Priorians - there is even an OPA email list for getting OPA and school news out to them. An obvious step would be to send out an email to the OPA mailing list to tell them about the inquiry and explain how they could get in touch and give evidence if they wished to. I have friends who are OPA members and on the email list. No such email has been received by them.

The overwhelming impression is that the school is keeping as quiet as possible about this inquiry, and doing all it can to ensure as few people as possible try to contact Lord Carlile. Then Carlile can produce a report saying that he didn't receive much evidence of abuse at the school, and this can be presented to parents as suggesting that it is all a storm in a teacup.

But if nobody (apart from readers of this blog) knows about the inqury, then the fact that Carlile receives relatively few submissions isn't evidence of anything at the school.

Parents, this is the kind of manipulation that is going on. The Trustees show no sign of any interest in having the inquiry get at the truth, they want an inquiry that can be presented as showing there is no evidence of widespread abuse.

And you might also like to consider that delay of a month between the ISI Supplementary Report being issued and copies of it being provided to you. Might it possibly be that in the intervening time, your cheques for the next term's school fees had to be sent? Of course, that wasn't the stated reason for the delay, the stated reason was that it would be impractical to contact parents during the holiday period. Of course it would. A letter might remain on your doormat for  whole fortnight before being opened. So to prevent that, they delayed sending it for a month instead. Much more practical. Definitely. No question.


  1. The risk is that this process - carefully designed to impede awareness and complaints from the many former St Benedict's pupils who would have something to contribute - and borrowing from modern sophisticated "crisis management" techniques used in business, could have its planned outcome. The best hope for the hiders of truth is that a revisionist view of the sordid truth will emerge to placate new generations of fee payers for the school. If so, victory will be shortlived. The game is not over yet - some of us are making complaints. Truth is, you cannot wipe out truth as easily as a cloth swept over a whiteboard. This whole thing is a whitewash and everybody - but everybody - who was at St Benedict's at the relevant time knows the truth. To the Abbey supporters on this post, whose arguments I have followed carefully, I would say: the Benedictines did a lot of good yes, but what about the evil, the exploitation, the sex abuse? Don't deny what happened, but rather isolate and punish the offenders, and then make a clean slate. Shout about the good of the Bendictines, and it is much, yes, but don't suppress the evil.

  2. What is Lord Carlile's real role in this? Is he doing it for the money or does he have some Patten-like connection with the Benedictines? Surely he risks damaging his reputation by embarking on an enquiry that is already demonstrably flawed, by not making clear that is about sexual abuse and giving so little time for people to respond?

  3. You are correct, Carlile's involvement in this malodorous mess defies logic, and where is the presence of an expert in child sexual abuse in the independent school faith sector to assist the ‘inquiry?’

    The process so far is barely credible which suggests we are witnessing a re-veneering contract with a few additional bells and whistles from a 'big name QC.' Such an exercise would not welcome hundreds of submissions not least because the Trust has probably agreed an 'ish' budget for Carlile's work.

    This is going to be all very interesting.

  4. The “inquiry” process, apparently motivated by the Trust is most odd. We have years of child abuse at St Benedict’s which has been unreported (i) to the authorities such as police or social services, and unreported also to (ii) the ISA and forerunners dating back to 1960 via Notifications under the Education Acts.

    The first point is morally bankrupt and demonstrates the culture of successive administrations of the Trust; the second is a breach of primary legislation designed to track those individuals who are a danger children.

    Never mind Lord Carlile, why is the DfE not crawling all over the school, subsequently providing us all with a report on the history of failings, and their recommendations that will see little likelihood of a repeat , or a return to the ‘old ways.’

    One wonders if the DfE met the school and said ‘you do it or we will’ and the result - Carlile.

  5. It is questionable whether a report is necessary. The important thing is for there to be proper independent public scrutiny of independent schools. This means that the ISI, the DfE, the Charities Commission and the local safeguarding teams need to work effectively together. It is also important that there be effective and independent governance and trusteeship, rather than in-house appointments and yes-men and yes-women with a poor understanding of the importance of their role. This two-pronged approach - watchfulness from within and scrutiny from without are both necessary to ensure effective safeguarding within any institution. Do we know what action is being taken in response to ISI's recommendations? They were clear enough!

  6. Wouldn't those suggestions be great - but they are currently undeliverable on every level.

    The DfE is the source of so many of the problems which stop safeguarding in education from being effectively operated and managed in this country. They are constipated with theory with next to no understanding of the dynamics of abuse in independent settings. It is they who create the dislocated “statutory” framework that is so unfit for purpose.

    The Charity Commission in reality has almost nothing relevant to do with safeguarding per se; they are a sideshow in reality.

    Safeguarding inspection of schools is a degree subject on its own - in short it doesn’t happen as the ISI November Inspection report for St Benedict’s demonstrably proved. The ISI is a waste of space on this subject but no more so than Ofsted which Quality Assures ISI inspections and just google ‘Ofsted abuse + Channel4’ to see how incompetent the senior inspectorate is on this important safety critical subject.

    That leaves Governance. In addition to Governors this school has a coach load of "advisers." They were all collectively useless on safeguarding for years. Why you might wonder? It is largely down to "groupthink" and a collective desire not to ripple the waters of the stagnant pond through asking challenging questions for fear of being made to feel foolish. Like you I am all for independence using the American ‘class system ‘of Governance with no governor serving more than three years. ‘Going native’ is all too common on the useless boards that run so many independent schools, and safeguarding is bottom of their collective list of importance because “erherm! – it couldn’t happen here, it just could'nt because we are all too nice."

    The only scrutiny is parental apart from an inspection every six years. So if parents fail to pick up the batten because they are also suffering from ‘groupthink’ then improvement is going to be limited.

    So there are the problems. Solutions do exist but they are culturally challenging for schools to accept, and the liberal agenda at the DfE has no appetite for such challenges so their determination not to recognise shortcomings knows no limits.