Sunday, 20 March 2011

Analysis of the complaint

Reading the Statement of Grounds of the case made by St. Augustine's against the ISI allows us to draw some very interesting conclusions.

Although both Mrs Gumley Mason and the school solicitors Elliot Bond & Bradbury have reportedly been saying that the case had nothing to do with safeguarding, it clearly did. Paragraph 7 and 8 of the Statement clearly describe what they were complaining about.
7. The Proposed Report states that the inspectors concluded that at the time of the initial inspection the School failed to comply fully with the regulatory requirements because, inter alia:

(1) the School failed to ensure that any persons whose services were no longer used because they were considered unsuitable to work with children were always reported fully to the Independent Safeguarding Authority within one month of leaving the School;

(2) the School failed to ensure that appropriate checks and central register entries were made, an alleged failure which was said to include failing to ensure that enhanced Criminal Records Bureau ("CRB") checks were always obtained and recorded for a governor as necessary.

8. The Proposed Report further states, having regard to those conclusions, that:

(1) the School's arrangements for welfare, health and safety are inadequate;

(2) the child protection policy is unsatisfactory overall and at the initial inspection significant failures in referral practice were identified;

(3) governance of the school is unsatisfactory overall because it does not monitor closely enough the School's arrangements for safeguarding;

(4) leadership and management of the educational aspects of the School are mostly good but weaknesses in safeguarding practice make them unsatisfactory overall.
All these criticisms are still in the published version of the report. So the legal action and any associated complaints to the ISI appear to have achieved little or nothing except for a delay of at least 4 months.

I say "at least" 4 months because we know that the ISI was about to publish the report on 2nd November 2010, but we don't know by how much the report had already been delayed as a result of earlier complaints from the school.

There are two possible explanations I can think of for the school deciding on legal action against the ISI.

One possibility is that the school genuinely believed that the criticisms of the ISI were unfair and not factually based. The other possibility is that they did realise that the detailed criticisms were fair and were just trying it on. I have no doubt that in the correspondence between the school and the ISI, the ISI will have provided a detailed justification for its conclusions. It is a great pity that the ISI does not publish those detailed justifications, as it would illuminate the situation most effectively.

Let's consider the first possibility - that the school originally thought the criticism was unfounded. There is a standard procedure the ISI follows for all inspections, where a draft of the report is provided to the school and the school has the opportunity to comment prior to publication. There is also a complaints procedure, in three stages. I have no doubt that the school activated the complaints procedure at least to Stage 1 and will have received a detailed description of the facts on which the ISI based its conclusions.

The legal action has been stood down and the report now published, complete with all the criticisms which the school originally complained about. Therefore we can only conclude that if the school genuinely did believe that the ISI had its facts wrong, the school no longer believes this. Also, if this scenario is true, we can conclude that at the time of the inspection, the school's management (specifically Mrs Gumley Mason and the Governors and Trustees) didn't know what was going on in their own school, and were genuinely surprised by what the ISI uncovered. Not a very good advert for the quality of management. Gross incompetence is about the kindest description that could be given to this situation.

The second possibility is rather darker - that the school realised that the ISI's facts were substantially correct, but decided to complain anyway in order to try and get the report suppressed or at least watered down. The school does have a motivation for trying it on in this way. I can do no better in describing that motivation than to quote the school's own words in the complaint itself.
25. This is of particular relevance because on publication of the Proposed Report the School will come under an obligation to send copies to parents and guardians, many of whom also have children at St. Benedict's. The favourable assessment of St. Benedict's is liable to be compared with the unfavourable assessment of the School.
There you have it. St. Augustine's is in competition with other independent schools for pupils, and for the fee income that those pupils produce. Favourable ISI reports are major marketing tools, they are trumpeted in the local press and quotes from them are liberally scattered through school prospectuses. And St. Augustine's, being specifically a Catholic independent school, is especially in competition with St. Benedict's, since St. Benedict's is Catholic, co-educational and located less than a mile away. St. Augustine's was undoubtedly hoping to recruit some of the girls currently at St. Benedict's whose parents are concerned about the child protection failings at St. Benedict's. But an ISI report stating that there are also serious safeguarding shortcomings at St. Augustine's puts the kybosh on that strategy.

So, in this scenario, to resuscitate that strategy and maintain the competitiveness of the school, the management could have decided to complain and see if they could get the ISI report withdrawn or its conclusions watered down into meaninglessness. In the circumstances, that's not a bad strategy to follow. The ISI might have capitulated - there was no way of knowing if they would unless they tried. And even if they didn't, it might be that the process could be strung out for long enough that some pupils at least would come over before the report appeared. It would be interesting to learn how many pupils have transferred from St. Benedict's over the last year or so.

But in this scenario, there are dangers involved. One was that the ISI would stand firm - as it seems that they have. That means that the issue of the safeguarding shortcomings is compounded by the the delay in informing parents, which is clearly the sole responsibility of the school.

But even that might have not been a fatal problem, since ISI reports and especially their criticisms are couched in a language that takes a bit of decoding. It might be that parents wouldn't have realised the seriousness of the criticisms, especially if the language could have been watered down a bit.

At the time the legal action was taken out, I had written no articles about St. Augustine's. I'm sure Mrs Gumley Mason was aware of the blog and aware of the hard time that St. Benedict's was getting. At the beginning of November, Pearce and Maestri had been arrested but not yet charged, St. Benedict's had recently (and somewhat belatedly) distributed the ISI Supplementary Report to parents, and Mr Cleugh and the Abbot had had a torrid time in the parents' meeting called to discuss the report. All very satisfactory in terms of the relative reputation of St. Augustine's. It wasn't until the end of November that I published my first article on St. Augustine's wondering where their ISI report had disappeared to, and speculated that there might be a safeguarding problem, a speculation which has turned out to be all too well founded.

I'll leave it to you to decide. Did St. Augustine's originally think they had been hard done by in the ISI report, or did they realise from the outset that the ISI criticisms were valid? I don't know. Perhaps somebody would like to ask Mrs Gumley Mason.


  1. Good morning, Mr West

    So here we go again. Let's try to decode your latest article which is entitled "analysis". A misnomer of the highest order but you do make some very good points indeed about safeguarding. It's just a shame that they are so well disguised in lunacy and read like something from the Salem Witch Trials. We are not in 17th century Suffolk or Massachusetts, Mr West, get with the 21st century!

    Let's strip your article of its kindergarten reasoning and what are we left with:

    1. Mrs G-M should have told the ISI that she had a problem with three teachers. Fact. She identified the problem, she notified several people in authority and she acted. Fine, well done Mrs G-M, but you didn't tell the all-important auditors. A cardinal sin in our new world religion where Saint Regulation sits next God. Remedy? Easy, we'll be ready for the next ISI report, bring it on.

    2. The school should consider the management structure of the school, perhaps a little less micro-management from the head and a little more empowering of middle management. Fact. Remedy? Not so easy but we've got the next ISI report on the horizon. There is very little that these governors, this head, these deputies and these parents cannot achieve. We are talented leaders in our respective fields and if we cannot do it, no-one can.

    And that's about it as far as I can see. I have read the ISI report numerous times and I cannot see any more than that. Please enlighten me, Mr West and your like-minded bloggers, if you think I am being blind or narrow-minded or naieve.

    But please, anyone who has the misfortune of reading this blog, do not react like this:

    "Oh my goodness, the school is DANGEROUS. I am paying all these fees to send my daughter to the equivalent of Waterloo Road! What if one of the teachers is shagging a sixth former in the new science block? Aaaah!!! Where is that prospectus for St Benedict's and Notting Hill & Ealing?"

    So as I said yesterday, 'grow up Mr West or go away' but if you continue, please continue to publish my contributions. I have noticed a certain delay and am worried that you will be selective in what you publish. I am not going to go away and will meet your every point for as long as it takes until we reach a solution.

    Anonymous 04.47 (just in case you had not worked it out)

  2. Good morning 04:47

    Your ignorance is showing once again. A very similar kind of ignorance drafted last year's child protection policy.

    It isn't the ISI that she should have contacted, but rather the Independent Safeguarding Authority. And it isn't "should" but "must". She was breaking the law in not doing so. The laws are there for a good reason - protecting children. She ignored those laws. And then she tried to suppress the ISI report when they called her on it.

    And you are supporting her in doing so, and describing those who attempt to bring the matter to light as engaging in a witch hunt.

    I'm happy for people to draw their own conclusions as to your reasons for reasoning in this fashion.

  3. That's right, Mr West, Mrs G-M broke the law and now she is being hauled over the coals.

    But please do not start your response with the word "ignorance", this debate has now moved on to a much higher level. Let's look at the ISI Report again:

    Para 2.6: "weaknesses in meeting the regulatory requirements"

    Para 4.1: "The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the pupils is excellent"

    Anonymous 04.47

  4. Yes Mrs Gumley Mason (aka anonymous 04:47), you broke the law. And then you tried to suppress the ISI report to prevent that fact being revealed to parents.

    And if this is not a matter of ignorance of the law, we would have to conclude instead that the breaking of the law was deliberate. I think you're better off claiming ignorance.

  5. The only true ignorance is you not knowing who I am and here's the deal. Your blog on Sunday created dozens of responses but only one by an identifiable person, namely you. And I genuinely admire your braveness and the strength of your opinions, it is so much easier to stay in the shadows where the arrows always miss. You get one more person to support your views AND your methods, then I will come out of the shadows too.

    Anonymous 04.47

  6. I'm sure that can be arranged. And the people who made the 1748 page views yesterday will I'm sure be very interested to see who is trying to justify or minimise the extent to which Mrs Gumley Mason has been breaking the law.

  7. That's truly wonderful news, 1,748 views in one day! I'm so keen to come out of the shadows now, maybe I will become a minor celebrity, I really cannot wait.

    But please remember that I am new to all this and you must know your fellow bloggers quite well. Surely it will not take you that long to find someone who supports your views AND methods? How about that one yesterday who called me an "Abbeyvista", you and him seemed to be on quite good terms?

    Anonymous 04.47

  8. .
    04.47 So that I do not misunderstand, who or what is the auditor(s)?

  9. What are the alternatives to the methods employed by Mr West?

  10. So, 04:47. On the "Why schools should not investigate allegations of abuse" article, Stefan Puchowski has stated his support for my views and my methods.

    I look forward to your next comment being made with your name attached, as you promised.

  11. Reveal yourself!

  12. Well what a suprise 04.47 strangely quiet.

  13. Out of the shadows 04.47. Coward

  14. I strongly support Mr West and his methods.

    Without his efforts the ISI would not have returned to St Benedict's to carry out the repeat inspection and Lord Carlile's report would never have been commissioned.

    Michael Grant (St Benedict's pupil 1975 - 1982).

  15. Good morning 04.47.

    Since you've asked, I'd like to introduce myself and give a bit of an idea of who I am and why I support Jonathan West's aims and methods.

    My personal connection with Ealing Abbey as a parishoner lasted 43 years. I was born in the parish, baptised in the Abbey church, did my first holy communion there, became a daily communicant, was confirmed there, attended family weddings, baptisms and funerals there.

    My family connection with St Benedict's School began in 1948 when my father, CS Walker, arrived there as a teacher. Many members of my close and extended family and many of my friends were pupils there.

    My knowledge of child protection issues arises from a 26-year career in 9 countries (and counting) as a teacher, teacher trainer, lecturer and consultant in education, and from my work as a trainer for the Police Forces of England and Wales College on the reform of child protection policies and practices. (These reforms followed the Soham case, when existing child protection practices were shown to be inadequate).

    I fully support Jonathan West's aims and methods. I applaud him and this blog for campaigning for justice for the victims of abuse, and for better protection for all the children who remain at risk at St Benedict's and St Augustine's schools, thanks to poorly conceived, inadequately understood, laxly applied, shiftily managed and complacently inspected policies and procedures.

    I hope I've made myself clear.

    So, go on then. Who are you, and what is your connection with all this?

    Sarah Walker

  16. quote/…

    Not so easy but we've got the next ISI report on the horizon. There is very little that these governors, this head, these deputies and these parents cannot achieve. We are talented leaders in our respective fields and if we cannot do it, no-one can.

    end quote/…

    This is very revealing. Furthermore, the tone and syntax of 04:47's lengthy post is very reminiscent of the style of Mrs Gumley-Mason. Here is Debrett's listing:

    You might also be interested in the RateMyTeacher website, which is very unpopular with many teachers, of course:

    Here is a polemic by Mrs G-M in which she appears to make fun of children with speech impediments:

    Why does the child plagiarist in Gumley-Mason's post-Enid Blyton universe have to have a lisp? Most of the underhanded little shits I have caught out plagiarising people's work have been been physically 'perfect' enough to have flourished in the Hitler Youth or Bund Deutscher M├Ądel. Or perhaps I am being a tad humourless. Perhaps it is just an innocent reference to Richmal Crompton's Violet Elizabeth moppet?

    Here's another FGM pronouncement from the Times Education Supplement:


    Nonetheless, if a teacher Time Lord does materialise, Mrs Gumley-Mason believes he would have definite advantages in the classroom.

    "Dr Who always has a glamorous assistant, and once you get to senior school, there aren't any glamorous assistants in the classroom.

    "And he can unlock any doors. I have a couple of cupboards in my room where that would be very useful," she said.

    end quote/…

    Who needs glamourous assistants in the classroom when one has one's pick of impressionable or scared pubescent girls, eh, Mrs Gormless-Muddleduck?