Thursday, 24 March 2011

Letter to Trustees and Governors

22nd March 2011

To the Governors and Trustees of St. Augustine’s Priory School

Dear Sir/Madam

ISI Inspection of St. Augustine’s Priory School 

I am writing to you as a concerned member of the public with a former connection to the school. My daughter for a short time attended the Junior School at St. Augustine’s some years ago.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) made an inspection of the school on 23rd and 24th March 2010, with a follow-up visit from 4-6 May 2010. A follow-up visit of this nature is highly unusual, as you can see from viewing reports of other schools on the ISI website

The ISI was extremely critical of the safeguarding and child protection measures at the school, both in terms of written policy and actual practice, and found that the school was in breach of a variety of regulatory requirements. Specific criticisms included the following:
  • The school failed to send a notification to the Independent Safeguarding Authority on occasions where a member of staff left the school in circumstances where they were considered unsuitable to work with children. At least two such occasions were identified.
  • CRB and List 99 checks on staff have not been carried out with sufficient rigour, and new members of staff have been permitted unsupervised contact with children before their CRB checks had been completed. In a small number of cases the delay in obtaining the appropriate CRB check was “lengthy”.
  • CRB checks with enhanced disclosure have not been obtained for all the governors and proprietors (i.e. the Trustees)
  • The Central Register of Appointments has not been properly maintained.
  • The school’s Child Protection Policy does not meet regulatory requirements, placing an inappropriate emphasis on investigation of allegations by the school rather than immediate referral of all incidents and allegations of abuse to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO).
  • The Governors and Trustees were not kept adequately informed by the highest level of management within the school (i.e. the headmistress) and were insufficiently proactive in obtaining the information necessary to fulfil their statutory duties.
The school’s response to these criticisms appears to have been to initiate the complaints process within the ISI, and also to seek Judicial Review of the ISI report in the High Court Administrative Court. Case number CO/11444/2010 (St. Augustine's Priory School Ltd vs Independent Schools Inspectorate) was allocated to the case when the action was brought in early November. A temporary injunction prohibiting publication of the report was obtained on 1st November 2010. The Secretary of State for Education was added as a party to the case on 6th December 2010.

Both the complaint and the legal action have either failed or been abandoned. The injunction has been lifted, and the ISI provided the final version of the report to the school on 28th February 2011, and published the report on its own website 2 weeks later. The report still contains all the criticisms the school claimed were unjustified when it brought the action in High Court. Goodness only knows how much money this action has cost the school, since I suspect that with the failure of the action, the school has been required to pay the costs of all parties.  The money has presumably come out of charitable funds.

As required by law, the report was sent to parents, with a covering letter written by the Headmistress. The covering letter made no reference at all to any regulatory failings, and consequently also made no apology for the failures nor any mention of any action the school would be taking to rectify them.

For some years I have run a blog which has become a campaigning website concerning child protection issues, particularly in the context of the measures needed to make St. Benedict’s School safe for children.

On my blog, I have published an analysis of the ISI Report on St. Augustine’s, putting it into plain language for parents. I have also published the entire text of the Statement of Grounds of the school’s complaint against the ISI, a document which can be obtained from the court and is in the public domain. I have also reviewed portions of the latest version of the school’s child protection policy, and found that even after the ISI’s criticisms, the sections defining “sexual abuse”, describing signs by which sexual abuse could be recognised, and procedures for reporting incidents and allegations to the LADO all remain woefully inadequate.

These documents have generated considerable interest. The blog has averaged more than 1000 page views per day over the last fortnight, and there have been a considerable number of comments from parents, staff and others. Some of these comments have been highly critical particularly of the Headmistress. Almost all have been made anonymously, some clearly stating that they remain anonymous out of fear that retaliation by the headmistress will be directed toward their daughters at the school. You are welcome to view the articles and the comments on the blog.

Apparently as a result of pressure from parents, the Headmistress has announced that there will be a parents’ meeting on Friday 25th March in order to discuss the report. I urge you to attend the meeting in order to hear the parents’ concerns at first hand and to answer their questions.

I also urge you to ensure that the school’s Child Protection Policy is further revised and made a model of best practice. In particular I request that the policy is made fully compliant with clause 15.2.1 of the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board guidance, which states the following with regard to allegations of abuse by staff. “The employer must inform the local authority designated officer (LADO) immediately an allegation is made.

I also request that you arrange for regular external checks to ensure that the revised policy is being diligently and effectively implemented, and that you ensure that any other outstanding regulatory failures are corrected as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely
 Jonathan West

Prof Geoffrey Bennett
Dr Marcella Dowling Brannagan
Mrs Harkreet Grewal
Prof Anne Hemingway
Mrs Audrey Kendall

Mr. Colin Bennett
Rt Rev Kieran Conry
Mr Alexis Fitzgerald
Miss Claire McIntyre
Mr David Murphy
Mrs Claire Murphy
Miss Denise Neilson


  1. Are the two Murphys and the two Bennetts related to each other? This looks kind of fishy.

  2. Well the question is, will Mr David Murphy the chairman of trustees be at the meeting? He should be, he has no distance to travel.

    I suggest someone asks at the outset so he has the opportunity to identify himself. He may be there and not wish to be identified. As the registered owner of the school he is the person with the statutory responsibility for ensuring effective safeguarding is embedded in the school as the link below demonstrates.

    Take a look at this video - this shows you the trust’s responsibility for safeguarding as the registered owners of the school.

    At St Augustine's you have the unusual structure of having governors in addition to trustees. The governors of St Augustine's act as a tier of management but have no statutory responsibility. The Trustees should have issued a written brief to the governors stating their role and responsibilities including their function around safeguarding. But the embedding of effective safeguarding in the school remains the statutory responsibility of the chairman of trustees

    What role do the Governors at your school have in safeguarding? The statutory responsibility cannot be delegated by the trustees, but I imagine they have charged the governors with some sort of safeguarding function. We read in the ISI report that safeguarding is on the agenda at each governors meeting - so they have a function of some sort - they need to explain what this is because they may not necessarily know, it may never have been formalised. Such a mess would contribute to the explanation of what has gone so radically wrong at St Augustine’s.

    Clearly the headmistress as the Designated Officer Safeguarding and Chief Executive of the school has played a very central part in the failure. We only have to read the report to see this. And still the school does not have a ESCB compliant policy. The governors and trustees clearly left it to her to take care of this very important aspect of school life and she has performed abysmally to the point of being reckless.

    In any event it all comes back to David Murphy so he needs to be there to explain himself as the registered owner of the school.

    If he is not there, then you have the answer about the suitability of the current trustees being in charge of a school.

  3. And if Mr Murphy is not there 09.42 I will be writing to the Charity Commission.

    Thank you Mr West, your site is both illuminating and informative.

  4. The letter is drafted because it is clear the Trustees do not know what they don't know.

    Ignorance is bliss except when it affects children at St Augustine's.

    It is a dim-witted regime.

  5. Maybe Mr Murphy would like to hold a question and answer session for all parents, with regard to employment of the Gumley-Mason's, and maybe he could explain the accounts.

  6. Look on the Charity Commissions website, last documents posted were were July 2009, where is 2010. Why have these not been published?

  7. It looks to me as though the accounts each year are received in late April or May of the following year. If you check your calendar, you will see that it is not yet late April or early May 2011, and therefore the 2010 documents would not yet have been posted.

  8. I think you have read the message incorrectly, no accounts were submitted for 2009 they would have have shown April/May 2010. Why the delay, hope you will respond as above and explain the reasons for the delay in publishing 2009 accounts. Charity Commission 1097781 number so you can check for yourself they have not been logged.

  9. It says right there: JUly 2009 accounts received May 17 2010.