Friday, 4 March 2011


The letter to parents accompanying the ISI report on St. Augustine's was a wonder to behold. It was loaded with enough spin to make Graeme Swann want to come over and take lessons.

The first thing the headmistress did was to provide lots of nice little quotes about how wonderful the girls are. That is bound to create a nice warm impression with the parents - everybody likes to hear compliments directed towards their children.

Then she nicely conflated the Diocesan report with ISI report. The Diocesan report was published back in September. The only reason it was provided with the ISI report now was because the headmistress knew perfectly well how gruesome the ISI report would be, and needed a good report to balance it out.

I have to say that you can put no weight on the Diocesan report at all. Deacon Anthony Clark, the diocesan inspector, also recently inspected St. Benedict's School, and his reports on both the Senior School and the Junior School were just as gushing as his St. Augustine's report, even though they were carried out in July and December 2010, after the the problems of St. Benedict's had hit the national press, and even though Peter Turner, the diocesan safeguarding adviser, had known about the safeguarding shortcomings at St. Benedict's for several years prior to the inspection visit.

Now, I accept that the diocesan report is not supposed to be about safeguarding. It addresses the teaching of religious education and the extent to which the ethos of the school reflects that of the sponsoring religion.But it occurs to me that the ethos of a religion is communicated in part at least through the effectiveness by which its adherents live and act according to their religious principles. And a school which has shown to be as cavalier as St. Benedict's over the safety and welfare of its pupils surely merits some mention of the fact in the diocesan report? But there is none. So as far as I'm concerned, Deacon Anthony Clark's report deserves to be filed in the bin. Distributing it to parents was a waste of some perfectly good trees.

But the real masterpiece of the letter was how the headmistress minimised the criticisms in the ISI report. Here is the relevant paragraph.
Naturally no organisation is perfect. We continue to battle to keep up with our ever expanding use of ICT. Our Central Register of Appointments has been revamped and is now a thing of bureaucratic beauty. Our Child Protection (Safeguarding) Policy, revised at the time of the ISI inspection, has been completely re-written and is now, I hope, more user-friendly. In addition our Child Protection Committee has added three single page procedural flowcharts, providing readers with an instant over-view of steps to be taken. These will be reviewed each year to keep up with changing legislation. These policies and procedures can be viewed on our website or copies can be requested from the school office.
"Naturally no organisation is perfect". A very nice way of gliding over the fact that the school has been found to have been persistently breaking the law.

The first point she made, and the only real admission of any shortcoming, was to do with the struggle to use ICT effectively.

After that, she's congratulating herself at every opportunity. "Our Central Register of Appointments has been revamped and is now a thing of bureaucratic beauty" carefully avoids making any mention of the reason it had to be revamped. If you read the report, you learn that the reason is that it was in such a mess that it wasn't performing its primary function - to keep a record of the staff, their qualifications, references, identities, right to work in the UK and their CRB checks, as required by law.

Then we have "Our Child Protection (Safeguarding) Policy, revised at the time of the ISI inspection, has been completely re-written and is now, I hope, more user-friendly", which again skirts very carefully round the truth, which is that the policy was grossly inadequate, was hurriedly rewritten just in time for the ISI visit, was failed by the ISI and had to be rewritten all over again, and has only just been republished nearly a year later. She hopes that it is "more user friendly", as if that were its primary purpose., It isn't, the primary purpose is to ensure that procedures exist and are followed which serve to protect the children, as required by law.

Then we are told "These will be reviewed each year to keep up with changing legislation", as if that weren't a legal requirement anyway, and one which had been ignored up to now, and finally we are told "These policies and procedures can be viewed on our website or copies can be requested from the school office." which has been a legal requirement for some years, and is nothing to be all that proud of.

All this is designed to give the impression that everything is so wonderful at the school that you as parents really have no need to bother your little heads with the ISI report itself. Just file it unread and let the school carry on as before.

But in actual fact, I recommend you do read the report, very carefully, and take the trouble to understand what it is saying. I have described my understanding of it, but you should no more rely on my interpretation than that of Mrs Gumley Mason. Read the report for yourself and draw your own conclusions.


  1. Having read the report and accompanying letter I draw very much the same conclusions as you do Mr West. In addition to what you say, as a parent and having attended school functions for years, I have observed the quirkyness of Mrs Gumley-Mason and found her approach to leading such an establishment to border on narcisistic; in so far as the school becoming an extension of her own ego.That said, it would come as no surprise if the extended delay in our receiving this ISI report was due to some self preservation exercise by Mrs Gumley Mason. Maybe John Ferguson, mentioned in a comment on an earlier post, would be able to shed some more light on that, if he is indeed the non-connected newly appointed 'objective' governor. He can be contacted at

  2. 8.35 you are quite simply wrong. The new governor is, as quite clear from the calendar, Professor G Bennett.

  3. Well, well, well. This is all causing us great enjoyment in the staffroom at St Benedict's. Cleugh is the happiest we've seen him for ages.

  4. 23:57
    Do please let Cleugh know that I haven't forgotten him. I shall be looking over the Carlile report in great detail when it comes out.

  5. I am aware of a parent with a daughter at St Augustine's who wants to move to St Benedict's.


  6. The St Augustine's situation is shameful. St Benedict's did at least hold a parents' forum to explain how a line was to be drawn under the past and that there was, despite this being an uncomfortable event for Cleugh and the Abbot, at least an admission of failure and some apparent will to move forward in a meaningful way. It is absolutely unspeakable that Mrs Gumley Mason has swept the whole mess under the carpet as if nothing has gone wrong. Reminds me of the Duke in the Gondoliers, who leads his army from behind because he finds it 'less exciting'. Where are the Christian values?

  7. I should appreciate getting a clearer picture of this Gumley Mason woman about whom so much has been written. Mr West, can you fill in the gaps and tell us more about her?

  8. Apparently she has not even held any discussion with her staff over the content of this ISI report!!! It would appear that everyone is going to be left guessing and asking question after question on this blog. The parents at St Benedict's can at least be satisfied that any teacher who they approach regarding the issues concerning Safeguarding here, will be able to reassure them that Mr Cleugh is properly briefing his staff in a professional and sensitive manner and any relevant information is disseminated by staff accordingly. You have to feel for the teachers and administrators when they have no knowledge and therefore no answers to questions regarding this ISI inspection report.

  9. Frances Gumley-Mason is listed in Debrett's People of Today. 'A portrait of power, influence and celebrity in modern Britain…'
    It is the ultimate biographical study of the UK's most successful and influential people.In which you will find details of the careers of leading people in business, arts and culture, politics and sport.

    In Sandi Toksvig's foreword she says "that those listed have not only achieved, but they have to carry on achieving if they want to be in the book next year. The pressure is on everyone listed..."

    We shall see.

  10. The posting @ 23.57.

    This is all causing us great enjoyment in the staffroom at St Benedict's. Cleugh is the happiest we've seen him for ages.

    There is no joy for anyone when one institutional shit which failed children for decades, is joined by another institutional shit which has been reckless, cavalier and arrogant with safeguarding.

    Veritas is the Augustine's motto.


  11. 23:57 it is interesting to hear that you are all getting such great enjoyment from this current discussion. It is a sad person who can revel in the shortcomings of another.It would appear that the religious ethos which is entrenched in the modus operandum of an establishment can be sidestepped when it suits. Living by Christian values is easy peasy, although it would appear that some people find these values more 'useful' when spouted as promotional jargen.

    The relationship between the two schools was once great, what has gone wrong? One can only guess it has had something to do with Benedict's going co-ed, or perhaps it is more personal than that. GM had a son at Benedicts, were there issues relating to that? Is it merely a clash or personalities? Whatever the cause for the love loss between these heads it is saddening that they are not able to practice what they preach and make things amicable again.

  12. One wonders why such matters should come down to questions of personal dislike and personal taste. It is extraordinarily small-minded and ego-centric if this is the case. It is noticeable from the ISI reports on both schools that they are much more alike than they are different both 'in what they have done and what they have failed to do', so to speak.
    In many ways the lack of humility is the most shocking aspect to the response. What sort of example are these people to the youngsters in their care? I am aware from my children that a growing number of pupils from both schools are following this blog with amazement and that it is slowly eroding respect not only for certain individuals but also for education itself.
    No young person is ever naïve enough to think all adults are perfect, but they are taught that honesty is to be valued and, above all, that forgiveness is at the centre of their faith. This word 'forgiveness' is at the heart of the rule of St Benedict and central to the mission statement on St Augustine's website. A necessary precursor to forgiveness is a frank and candid admission of wrongs and mistakes in the confidence that you will be forgiven, and surely this is a good thing. It is what we try to teach our children and in some way why we send them to faith schools. It would appear that, for some reason, Mrs Gumley Mason and Mr Cleugh are both incapable of humility, that essential cornerstone for anyone who is a Christian. Our children need good examples, not bad ones. Shame on both of you.

  13. The fact that Benedict's staff and Cleugh would be gloating over this is horrifying on so many levels. Local society at it's ugliest.

  14. The essential truth about the truth is that it is an inclusive category. It is whole, complete, sustainable and withstanding of robust scrutiny. The essential truth about a lie is that it is partial, partisan and personal. So truth exists on the level of the intellect, of value and of morality. Lies and cover-ups and spin, once they are exposed do, on the other hand, the eternal damage of destroying trust and credibility; they make one wonder how many other lies might have been told and lead one to question and scrutinise more closely what one is told in the future. This has the catastrophic effect on liars, be they individuals or institutions, of focussing the spot-light of scrutiny on their every move. Is this not the very essence of what this blog is about?

  15. 8:42: Hear, hear!

  16. Does anyone know anything about the governors or proprietors of the school? Who are these people and what are their credentials? As a parent I am confused because there is list of governors in the calendar but the report seems to talk about the 'proprietor' as somebody separate. I don't understand.

  17. The Charity Commission website has this info on the setup at St Augustine's Priory:

    The Directors (Trustees) who served during the year to 31 July 2007 were:
    Mr D. Murphy M.A. (Oxon)
    Mr C. Bennett
    Rt Rev. K. Conry Bishop of Arundel and Brighton
    Mrs C. Murphy M.A. (Oxon)
    Miss C. McIntyre
    Mr A. M. J. Fitzgerald
    Ms D. A. Neilson

  18. 10.02 and 10.18 hear, hear too.

  19. Prof A. Hemmingway took over from Chillman as chair of govs at St Augustine's. Is she another puppet?, it certainly looks that way.
    Surely, as an eductated and sucessful woman in her own right, she can read this report and understand that the only real problem at St Augustine's is the current headmistress.

  20. Two points 15.10

    1. The extract from the report on the previous thread indicates that the proprietors have not been kept 'fully informed'. Is this code for 'lied to' or 'things have been kept from them'. This indicates that they have either wilfully or neglectfully failed to fulfil their obligations. Mr West points out very clearly who has responsibility to 'inform' them.

    2. The report rather strangely points to governors' 'commitment' to the school. One wonders how the school has gotten into this mess if they were so truly committed.

    You are right that intelligent and independent adults should be capable of seeing the wood for the trees. Let's hope they do.

  21. Intelligent? Independent? Gosh, what big assumptions! The set-up is probably just like we have at Benedict's, a bunch of clueless, decrepit sycophants who don't really have the least notion what they are supposed to be there for.
    The charity commission website gives makes very clear the responsibilities of bodies which act as trustees; safeguarding is one of them. Making sure they inform themselves about their duties is another.
    The charity commission website also sets out the procedure and grounds for making a complaint about charity trustees who fail to fulfil their duties.

  22. 1) However, proprietors have not always been kept fully informed and have not
    questioned with sufficient rigour to enable them to fulfil all their responsibilities in
    respect of compliance with regulations.

    The proprietors of the school are the Trustees of St Augustine’s Priory School Ltd. The person ultimately responsible for child protection is the Chairman of the Trust as the examination of DfE documents on this matter makes clear. So ultimately it is Mr D P A Murphy MA (Oxon).

    It is possible of course that his role has been delegated to one of the Governors, (see para 5) but if this is the case the slipshop administration (Governors and Trustees) fail to inform parents via the school’s website. If you have questions about this appalling report they should be addressed to Mr Murphy as proprietor and chairman of the Trust.

    2) The systems for accountability within the leadership team are not sufficiently clear and, at the time of the initial inspection, leadership had not adequately discharged its responsibility for regulatory matters.

    3) (Governance) is unsatisfactory overall because it does not monitor closely enough the school’s arrangements for safeguarding.

    The Governors are not up to much according to paras 2 + 3 so do not expect any improvement unless there is a ‘clear out’ and a new board installed by the Trustees of the charity with plenty of independence among the numbers. The current board will be suffering from “Groupthink” and there is nothing worse for a school (Wiki it). Groupthink is common on school boards and exists in spades at St Benedict’s. Fresh faced independence is required in governance, one elected parent and a staff member is no bad idea. I am keen on the American class system of governance – no more than three years can be served, no re-election, transparent independence of at least 40% of governors. It works and brings vibrancy.

    4) The governing body is small and so has a relatively limited range of varied professional knowledge and skill. It is currently in the process of strengthening its composition by recruiting a new governor with legal expertise. This governor has no current connection with the school, and this is intended to bring a useful objectivity to discussions.

    This is an interesting statement. The governor in question is Professor Geoffrey Bennett QC. Is Geoffrey Bennett independent of the administration and management of St Benedict’s? The draft ISI report has been with the school for some time and if Mr Bennett’s independence is mistaken then school had a duty to correct the error. I think Professor Bennett has a question to answer because I have been looking at information which is in the public domain and have discovered dates which indicate the Mrs Gumley-Mason and Professor Bennett were at Cambridge at the same time. If they knew each other then this looks like a friendship stretching back to the early seventies, and the ISI claim looks disingenuous. Were I a parent I would be writing to Mr Bennett requesting he confirm anyone known to him at the school, and for how long prior to his appointment.

    5) However, the regulatory shortcomings found during the initial visit of the inspection indicate that the proprietors or their delegated governing body have not been sufficiently diligent in overseeing the school’s child protection policy and its arrangements for checking, reporting and referring to the relevant authorities on the suitability of staff and others in contact with children.

    The inspectors have not established whether it is governors or trustees who are ultimately responsible for safeguarding. This is shameful, why not? Has safeguarding been delegated to the governors and if so to whom? Why has this not been put in the report? In absence of this information then it is Mr Murphy you should be addressing your questions towards.

    Parents are entitled to know but the ISI infrequently get to the bottom of anything related to safeguarding.

  23. It's all very interesting. I have a daughter at St Augustine's who told ME about this blog. Many girls read it apparently. I did think that Professor Hemingway would bring some much needed common sense and decency to the table. I can remember speaking with a staff member at parents evening and saying I had hoped that she would shake things up a bit. It looks like she has been taken in by the head which is a shame. I'd expected more from her. I was as a parent disgusted by the covering letter sent out with both reports. I mean dos she really think we are stupid? Many parents are in agreement. At least Benedicts had the sense to call a meeting to discuss the issues. Gumley-Mason will not do that and I can't work out whether it's arrogance, stupidity, pride or a mixture of all. It sounds terrible to say this but I dont want to speak with her about this for fear of what will happen to my daughter. Someone in an earlier post mentioned ego and it is exactly that. She sees the school as an extension of herself and therefore a criticism of the school is a criticism of her. I've seen other parents children suffer for speaking out or simply remove their child from school. If she is the only one giving information to governors and trustees then no wonder they are not in the loop. It's a disgrace. I wish the governing body would grow a pair. Also what about ELECTED parent govs? I also don't see teacher govs on the calendar. Why is that I wonder? I suppose none of them want to sign their own death warrant

  24. As a friend of a prior member of staff at St Augs I can tell you this is mild in comparison to some of the stuff I've heard. Anyone who disagrees either leaves or has their lives made a misery by her and her husband who by the sound of things is the real power behind the throne. You need to meet him once to realise just how frightening that prospect is. It was time for her to leave years ago. This report says that SHE failed in her duty to safeguard children. The fault is hers and hers alone. Any other institution would have dismissed her. Any decent professional would have resigned. For that to happen one needs to acknowledge making a mistake. In her mind she doesn't make mistakes. For the sake of the school just leave

  25. 12:16
    If you are concerned at the prospect of reprisals against your daughter as a result of openly asking questions of the headteacher, then a very obvious question needs to be asked.

    Why is your daughter attending a school run by somebody whom you so profoundly mistrust?

    I don't expect you to answer here. But I do think the question is worth a bit of contemplation.

  26. I'll answer here. Quite simply because she has good friends there and likes her teachers. I know I'm not alone in believing that the only problem at that school is the Headmistress but it needs a large number of us to make a difference. You are right Mr West. We shouldnt be scared but you are not dealing with a regular person here. She is not respected or even liked as far as I can make out. She is feared

  27. 12:16/12:43

    From your description, she sounds like a standard-issue bully.

    In my experience, most bullies are also cowards, and act as cowards as soon as somebody (or more often, some group of people) stand up to their bullying tactics.

    So, if you want to do something about it, you need to get organised. I suggest you start by phoning round the other parents. If you would like to email me privately ( I could make a few suggestions which you might find helpful.

  28. If Gumley Mason has failed in her duty to report then who takes action agaist her?

  29. 14.29 Her direct line of report is the board of Governors who as a result of their inexperience will be inert with fear. But the Chairman of the board would normally be the one provided the Trustees have clearly delegated this function to them. This you can only discover by asking.

    This is a gross dereliction of duty as I said at 10.00 - both the Governor/Trustee responsible for safeguarding should go along with the head.

  30. And most of the Admin Staff!