Thursday, 3 March 2011

The St. Augustine's Report

Well, I now finally have it, a parent has sent it through to me, and I've had a good read. The most important page is page 4, which details the ways in which the school has failed to meet regulatory requirements - in effect the ways in which the school was breaking the law. Here is the text of the clauses from that page.
2.4 At the time of the initial visit, the school did not meet all the requirements of the Independent School Standards Regulations 2003, as subsequently amended, and therefore it was required to:
  • ensure that any persons whose services are no longer used because they are considered unsuitable to work with children are always reported fully to the Independent Safeguarding Authority within one month of leaving the school
    [Regulation 3.(2)(b), under Welfare, health and safety];
  • ensure that appropriate checks and central register entries are made on staff appointed since 1st May 2007
    [Regulations 4.(2)(a), 4.(2)(b), and 4C.(2)(b) and (d), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
  • ensure that enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks are always obtained and recorded for proprietors as necessary
    [Regulation 4C.(7), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
  • ensure that the central register of appointments is correctly completed regarding staff appointed before 1st May 2007
    [Regulation 4C.(3), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
  • ensure that the facilities provided for pupils who are ill are appropriate
    [Regulation 5.(l), under Premises and accommodation].
2.5 At the time of the final team visit, the school had rectified some of the above shortcomings, as noted in the text of the report. However, the following requirements remain unresolved, and therefore the school must:
  • ensure that all appropriate checks are made on newly appointed staff [Regulation 4.(2)(a), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
  • ensure that the central register of appointments is correctly completed
    [Regulation 4C.(3), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors].
Let's look at these bullets in turn, and I'll put into plain English what they mean. Remember, if the requirement is to "ensure that xyz is done", what this means is that it wasn't being done by the school at the time of the inspection, but that it ought to have been.
  • ensure that any persons whose services are no longer used because they are considered unsuitable to work with children are always reported fully to the Independent Safeguarding Authority within one month of leaving the school
    [Regulation 3.(2)(b), under Welfare, health and safety];
This first one is very serious. It is a requirement of the regulations that if a governor or member of staff resigns or is sacked when the school considers them unsuitable to work with children, then the ISA must be informed within a month of that person's departure. "Unsuitable to work with children" doesn't necessarily mean that the staff member has been convicted of a criminal offence (e.g. an indecent assault). It could be that the staff member has committed a disciplinary offence. There are a number of grounds on which a person can be considered unfit to supervise children.

The fact that the ISI is requiring that this be ensured means that they found that members of staff have left in such circumstances and the school has not notified the ISA! This means that members of staff who are considered unfit to supervise children are free to go on to take up posts elsewhere, and the reason for their departure from St. Augustine's doesn't show up when the subsequent CRB check with enhanced disclosure is made. It is obvious how this puts children in danger. They have just removed the danger from the school, without having any consideration for their responsibilities for the protection of society at large, or of their legal responsibilities.

For the ISI to state this so baldly, there must be more than one clear-cut case where referral to the ISA should have been made but wasn't. One clear case might have been accepted as being an oversight, one or more marginal cases might be regarded as a matter of reasonable differences in judgement. But the ISI is looking for a change in policy and procedure to "ensure" that this doesn't happen again in future. (In fact, section 4.6 of the report (on page 10) tells us that there were two identified cases of failure to report.)
  • ensure that appropriate checks and central register entries are made on staff appointed since 1st May 2007
    [Regulations 4.(2)(a), 4.(2)(b), and 4C.(2)(b) and (d), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
This is a really basic safeguarding principle - you make sure that people known to be a danger to children don't get employed in a school in the first place. Teachers and other staff supervising children are required to undergo CRB checks with "enhanced disclosure", which means that events such as a previous school making a report to the ISA would be flagged up as well as criminal convictions.

But the ISI is clearly stating that the school isn't consistently doing this. It isn't a matter of just one or two checks being a bit late, or the school being a bit slow with making sure that they update their register with the checks that have been made. In other words, this isn't a minor bureaucratic slip-up. For the criticism to be this harsh, it must mean that a significant number of staff have either not been CRB checked at all, or have been permitted to work unsupervised before their CRB check has come through, or there has been a failure to adequately check identities, qualifications and references. The ISI hasn't stated in detail what the failings are, they have just said that the school had to ensure that it was all put right.

Again, if you know the language, this is a stinging criticism of the school and of its failure to assure the safety of the pupils.
  • ensure that enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks are always obtained and recorded for proprietors as necessary
    [Regulation 4C.(7), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
This means that the school has not obtained the necessary CRB checks for all the governors of the school and Trustees of the charitable company which is ultimately responsible for the school. Notice they say "obtained and recorded". So again this is not a minor bureaucratic record-keeping error. It seems that they have neglected even to obtain an enhanced CRB check for at least one of the governors or trustees. So not only have they not ensured that appointed staff are safe around children, they haven't done this either for the proprietors with the ultimate responsibility for running the school.
  • ensure that the central register of appointments is correctly completed regarding staff appointed before 1st May 2007
    [Regulation 4C.(3), under Suitability of staff, supply staff and proprietors];
The rules are slightly different for staff who were appointed before that date. In May 2007 the rules were changed in that identity checks and checks for the right to work in the UK became necessary, foreign nationals had to have an enhanced CRB check, and additional checks had to be carried out on staff who had lived abroad if the CRB check is insufficient.

But the most important aspect of this point in the ISI report is that the central register of appointments is not even correct and complete for staff who have been at the school for some years. This isn't a minor bureaucratic delay in getting the records up to date - this means that the records haven't been adequately maintained for the last several years. If it weren't for the coincidence that the rules changed in 2007, I doubt that we would have been able to know that from the ISI report.

There is an implicit criticism of OFSTED here. The school has only recently joined the ISC, and so its last inspection in July 2006 was carried out by OFSTED, not ISI. And yet ISI is critical of arrangements going back to before May 2007. The OFSTED report of the July 2006 inspection (published in October 2006) had this to say about safeguarding.

The school’s child protection policy is up to date and implemented effectively. The headteacher is the responsible child protection officer. She is readily approachable to pupils and provides an inspirational role model of respect and care for pupils of all ages.

It is hard to believe that all the safeguarding problems have sprung up since July 2006 to the extent that the ISI is making criticisms concerning regulatory failings from before May 2007. Mrs Gumley Mason has been headteacher for much longer than that, so there is no reason for the quality of safeguarding arrangements to have suddenly gone downhill just at that time. But if the problems haven't sprung up suddenly, then OFSTED missed this entirely last time they visited - and who knows how many inspections previously have also missed it?
  • ensure that the facilities provided for pupils who are ill are appropriate
    [Regulation 5.(l), under Premises and accommodation].
This is the one point where the ISI report is entirely clear what the regulatory failing was. On page 10, it indicates that at the time for the initial inspection there was no washbasin in the sick room, but that this failing has since been rectified.

The initial inspection took place on 23rd and 24th March 2010. The final team visit took place on 4-6 May 2010. By then (i.e. about 6 weeks later) some of these regulatory failings had still not been rectified. Specifically, CRB checks on new staff were still not being properly carried out, and the central register of appointments had still not been corrected. If the register was still not right even after six weeks, then that is further evidence that it was in a terrible mess before.

But the ISI indicates that the other regulatory failings have been rectified. This means that the school has now belatedly sent the two notifications to the ISA which should have been made concerning former staff members who are unfit to supervise children.

 In addition to these regulatory failings, there are a number of areas in which the school has been graded "unsatisfactory". The first of these areas is governance, leadership and management.
2.3 The quality of governance, leadership and management, whilst good in some aspects, notably in supporting high attainment and excellent personal development, is unsatisfactory overall because it has not ensured that safeguarding procedures and practice meet the required standard. The school has been slow to report teachers who may be unsuitable to work with children and its procedures for making and recording appointments have not been sufficiently rigorous. Relationships between governors and senior managers are good. Governors are committed to the school and give their time generously to become actively involved in its daily life. 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 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. Responses to the pre-inspection questionnaire indicate that the vast majority of parents and pupils are very happy with the school.
Let's unpack this. Safeguarding procedures aren't up to scratch (more on this later). In addition, the proprietors haven't been kept fully informed! The person responsible for informing the proprietors about safeguarding issues is the headteacher or the designated teacher for children. At St. Augustine's, Mrs. Frances Gumley Mason is both headteacher and designated teacher for child protection. The ISI are saying that she hasn't kept the proprietors informed, and that they haven't thought to demand information.

The next area marked down is welfare, health and safety.
4.6 The school's arrangements for welfare, health and safety, while good in some aspects, are unsatisfactory overall because the required appointment checks were not carried out and recorded and concerns about the suitability of two staff members were not reported to the appropriate authorities as required. The school acted quickly to take and act upon advice from safeguarding agencies in relation to the referrals. Good progress has since been made in the completion of the single central register of appointments.
It can hardly be graded other than unsatisfactory if there are relevant regulatory failings. But there is more on health and safety.
4.8 The school is compassionate and caring towards any vulnerable pupils. All employees, governors and volunteers are trained in child protection issues and there is an appropriate number of designated child protection officers; a number of senior staff have undertaken training in safe recruitment methods. Safeguarding issues also feature as a standing item on governors’ meeting agenda. The child protection policy, whilst good in some respects and containing useful guidance for staff, is unsatisfactory overall. In particular, it does not follow closely enough the statutory guidance in relation to the manner in which concerns are handled and reported, placing inappropriate emphasis on investigation by the school and not identifying clearly the proper threshold for referring concerns to other agencies such as the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). This has led to weaknesses in implementation. At the initial inspection visit, significant shortcomings in practice were identified with regard to the requirement to report to the appropriate authorities, within one month of leaving the school, any person whose services are no longer required because he or she is considered unsuitable to work with children.
So, the child protection policy was inadequate. The additional failing mentioned here is the same as was identified at St. Benedict's. The school was attempting to investigate allegations itself rather than referring them automatically to the LADO.

There are very good and important reasons why the school should not undertake its own investigations. First, there is a clear conflict of interest - the reputation of the school is damaged by a paedophile case, and so the temptation is to quietly investigate and find that there is no problem, and therefore no need to tell anybody about it. Second, the staff member who is being investigated will already be known to the headteacher and may have been appointed by her. The natural assumption for the headteacher is that such a person is unlikely to have done whatever is being alleged. And so the investigation is prejudiced at the outset by the preconceptions of the person supposedly investigating. From the information available in the report there is no way of knowing whether these failings have resulted in avoidable harm to children at the school.

The great advantage of automatic referral to the LADO is that the LADO is independent of the school. So he or she is in a better position to see whether the allegation warrants an investigation by the police or by Social Services. He or she is not going to be burdened with the belief that the teacher is a wonderful person who would never do such a thing.

It is noticeable that a brand-new safeguarding policy has just been published on the school website, ratified by the governors on 16th February 2011, or nearly 11 months after the initial visit from the inspectors which identified the safeguarding concerns. But even now the safguarding policy is not at clear as it should be on this topic.

The Ealing Safeguarding Children board Guidance says:
15.2.1 The employer must inform the local authority designated officer (LADO) immediately an allegation is made.

The St. Augustine's Safeguarding policy says:
When deciding whether to make a referral, following an allegation or suspicion of abuse, the Designated teacher will not make her own decision over what appear to be borderline cases, but rather the doubts and concerns should be discussed with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). This may be done tentatively and without giving names in the first instance. What appears trivial at first may later be revealed to be much more serious and an allegation of child abuse or neglect may lead to a criminal investigation.

That seems like rather a lot of wriggle room is being inserted, in that the school is being given the option to decide what are borderline cases. Why can't the policy simply reflect the ESCB guidance and simply say "The Designated Teacher shall inform the LADO immediately an allegation is made."? Simple, to the point, and sets a clear requirement. It is then for the LADO to decide that the issue is trivial, borderline or whatever, and inform the school as to what action (if any) is appropriate. That is what the LADO is there for.

Then there is more on leadership and management
5.3 Leadership and management of the educational aspects of the school are mostly good but weaknesses in safeguarding practice make them unsatisfactory overall. The senior management team have worked well together and many improvements have been successfully made since the last inspection. These underpin pupils’ excellent personal development and good achievements. Senior managers generate a clear sense of commonality of purpose through their commitment to the school’s ethos; pupils know that they are cared for as individuals and not just on the basis of their academic achievements. The senior management team encourages in staff a sense of the school’s traditions and values. At the same time it is open to new developments in response to the girls’ interests, for example the inclusion of psychology in the A-level option choices.

5.4 Leadership at the highest level has relied heavily on informal procedures to identify and implement improvements. This approach, whilst effective for some management processes, does not provide a consistent mechanism for evaluating the success of new initiatives, for monitoring the implementation of policies or for driving strategic development based on earlier achievements. Weaknesses in the operation of recruitment checks and in the drafting and implementation of the child protection policy have resulted in inadequacies in safeguarding practice. However, good measures operate to ensure that all staff and volunteers are aware of and trained in their responsibilities concerning pupils’ safeguarding, welfare, health and safety.

There is something very curious about the use of language here. The report is reasonably complimentary about the "senior management team", but is rather critical of "leadership at the highest level". The ISI never names names in its reports when offering judgements, it only provides generalised indications of levels of management. But given that safeguarding is again the subject here, it is possible to decode this. The ISI is making specific criticism of the headmistress, who has this responsibility in her role as Designated Teacher for safeguarding.

Publication of this report has been delayed by several months. Normally an ISI report is published 3-4 months after the initial visit. The ISI has confirmed that publication was delayed by legal action. Why it is being published now is something of a mystery given how critical the ISI is of the school's safeguarding arrangements - admittedly in somewhat coded language. One can only wonder what the original draft report looked like.


  1. Taxi for Gumley Mason!

  2. As a concerned St B's parent this report must be terrible news for any St Augustine's parent. It shows that both schools are derelict in their duties at safeguarding our children. Chillman, Strahan and Gumley Mason ought to be throughly ashamed of themselves and the current governors of St Augustine's should be taking action to rid the school of all 3 of the "unholy trinity". If the governors fail to act then the D of E must step in and force the issue.
    These people do not deserve to have any position of authority where the safeguarding of children is at risk.
    It will be be interesting to see what the local and national press have to say about the serious problems that have been discovered at yet another school linked to the abbey. The press will probably have a field day - so governors take note -get shot of the unholy trinity before you are all tarred with the same brush.

  3. Mr West, on this blog "Confessions of a Skeptic", what would be fascinating reading would be the confessions of a Headmistress! It would appear from your speculation that you are doubtful as to there being no link between the ISI's findings, which you have deciphered present Mrs Gumley Mason in a bad light and the legal action which was taken.

  4. Even better would be "Confessions of a disgraced ex Headmistress" !!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Forgive my ignorance, but if the headmistress and the governors of an independent school have failed to do their job in one of the most sensitive and important aspects of running a school, then where does this leave the school? Who is going to hold them to account?

  6. Is 'Strahan' the Strahan who used to be upper fifth division master at St Benny's, at the height of GD's reign of terror in the 1980's?

  7. I am an interested reader of this blog with no connection to either of the schools other than I know parents with children at both. I also have an appreciation of the DfE and its modus operandi and I hope none of you are expecting them to take any action. They will do nothing.

    You might wonder why?

    We are talking about an issue in an independent school. The mindset of the DfE is "we regulate for these schools" (in truth the regulations are made entirely of chocolate) "but we want nothing to do with them."

    When you place a child in an independent school the DfE will tell you that - ”you are on your own.”

    St A’s has clearly broken the law as a result of not returning Notifications, or Referrals as they are now termed since the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 which came into force last year, but you may be surprised to hear that there is no precedent for any school being taken to court by the DfE for this failure despite it being so serious. It’s a piece of chocolate legislation, completely useless. Education is surrounded by this type of crap.

    The DfE is going to do nothing about Cholmondley-Warner’s failures (forgive my prep school humor - whoever would contrive the name Gumley-Warner?) or those of the Governors. It’s clear from the ISI report that the tail wags the dog at this school. The report implies the Governors are useless and the board suffers from Groupthink because the ISI informs us that that all the board are ‘connected’ to the school but that it is going to bring in someone independent of the setting with a “legal background” to bring some ‘objectivity’ to discussions.

    Now I wonder who this might be? I am offering no odds that your new Governor will be a gentleman named Mr John Ferguson.

    So parents – you are on your own. You will have to do a Libya because the board surrounding Cholmondley-Warner is going to do nothing as it would be an act of self harm. No one other than the board can sack her and they will not because they are all connected with the school. Her position is bomb proof, the board is bomb proof, and the DfE will tell you they can do nothing, the only people who can is you the parents because there is no one else. You are on your own.

  8. There are serious issues in all this. We don't know if there have been problem teachers at this school and if there have been if they did anything that put children at risk.
    Even if St Augustine's isn't in fact another St Benedict's this may only by the grace of God because if a school like this doesn't have it's defences properly in place then there is an easier way in for those who might have ill intentions.
    Parents at all schools should be able to feel like they can be confident their children are being kept safe from harm. It's not always a question of what actually happened so much as a question that something could have. This probably made St Augustine's more vulnerable in recent years than St Benedict's which, in Cleugh, at least has an experienced professional who has worked in a variety of schools at the helm.
    There does seem to have been a lot of concern on here about the leadership and competence of Frances Gumley Mason, and it appears the ISI felt the same. It does look like she and the governors of the school have failed dramatically in a basic duty.
    Some questions that ought to get answered.
    What is known about Gumley Mason and the governors?
    Will they be held to account by anyone?
    Could the same problems arise again?
    Has there been a public apology issued from this school?
    What sort of legal action was taken and what for?

  9. 14.42's point is right, it looks as if there is a link. I just wonder how much of my fees have been wasted on legal expenses, and for what gain? These things don't usually come cheap and should not be necessary if everything is done properly.

  10. What is so surprising about this report is that the keystone cops inspectorate has managed to discover this information - but then they had a huge hint courtesy of Chillman resigning so shortly before the KC's landed at the school.

    Now was he one of the Notifications that should have been returned?

  11. 23.38 asks - What sort of legal action was taken and what for?

    I speculate you will not have to wait too long to find out.

  12. I am not going to defend procedural failures which breach the law, as at St A, and I note too the obvious links of St A with St B, very similar schools, with significant cross over in parties (not confined, I know in detail, to Chillman and Strahan). I am as alarmed as the next person at Gumley-Mason's manipulative tactics. However, let me ask this question. Is it not the case that no kind of child abuse has been alleged at St A's? Is it not the case that, despite the inadequacies of checks, there is nothing sinister or harmful found to have slipped below the net (with the possible exception of one monk - who was not a teacher there)? If I am right - and I accept I may not be - we are talking about the difference between a home that leaves a baby alone for a week when the parents go on holiday, and comes back - negligent, in fact criminally so, but the child is unscathed - as at St A, and the same situation only with the situation that the child molestors are given a back door key - at St B's. The crime of neglect, as at St A's, is worrying, but not uncommon, and does not measure up to the crime of active cooperation/participation/allowing the key, that of St B's. If anyone has a valid perspective I have got this wrong, please tell me, as I'm concerned to understand the truth.

  13. Oh, please,
    Enough already.
    So .. imagine this... once upon a time.. long , long ago.. one might , just might, appoint some staff because they were "known already". So, for example,instead of being a paedophile/serial killer, there might be local staff who had already been CRB checked by a local school. This information, together with the fact that the teachers might be known ( and loved or hated by local parents) might be enough to appoint them, without the repeated regulation checks.
    Seriously now- allegations need serious evidence, not speculation.

  14. 22:28
    However, let me ask this question. Is it not the case that no kind of child abuse has been alleged at St A's?

    Quite simply, we're not in a position to know in any kind of detail, unless and until somebody comes forward with a public allegation.

    We do know that at least two teachers in the last five years have left in circumstances such that they should have been reported to the ISA as being unsuitable to supervise children. What they did to deserve being reported we haven't been told.

    So there is definitely some degree of problem there, though on the evidence available I have no reason to think that it is or ever was on the scale of what has happened at St. Benedict's.

    But it seems to me that has been more a matter of luck rather than good management, because the recruitment procedures could not ensure that known paedophiles would be screened out before arriving, and the safeguarding procedures could not be relied on to ensure that allegations were thoroughly investigated and effectively acted on.

  15. I have been reading this blog with some interest as I have daughters at St Augustine's. I find it unfortunate that we (St A's parents) haven't been given much information about the background of the ISI report, and the school has not addressed the negative aspects of the report in any real way to us, leaving us to whisper and conjecture and consult forums such as this one.

    HOWEVER, I also find it unfortunate that this blog consistently offers innuendo where there is, in fact, nothing to be concerned about.

    Mr West, you say, "So there is definitely some degree of problem there, though on the evidence available I have no reason to think that it is or ever was on the scale of what has happened at St. Benedict's."

    This would lead readers to believe that children have been harmed in some way similar to that which happened at St. Benedict's. And you also insinuate that we can't know details of child abuse at St. Augustine's until allegations have been made. How long are we meant to wait? A rather long time, I think, because I don't believe it has happened.

    Has the school broken the law by failing to report teachers who left under dubious circumstances? Apparently. Should St. Augustine's have been more up-front with parents as to what was going on with the report? I think so. Is there a communication problem in general? Yes. But that does not point to any child abuse happening. It would be good to know why the school failed to report to the authorities two instances of teachers leaving under negative circumstances, but I do not believe it was to cover up child abuse.

    And, of course, let's not forget that much of the ISI report was glowing regarding the curriculum and the girls themselves.

  16. 10:49
    If I knew for certain that there was child abuse going on at St. A, then I wouldn't be describing it on the blog, I would be talking to the police.

    But there is reasonable grounds for thinking that there may have been some harm done, in that at least two members of staff have been required to leave in circumstances where they should have been reported to the ISA.

    The point about the failings of the procedures is that we are in the bad position where we don't know whether there has been abuse going on undetected - because the procedures to detect it haven't existed.

    Even the very best procedures can't prevent all cases from arising. But the point of good procedures is that they ensure as far as possible that people known to be a danger to children don't get recruited in the first place, and that any case of abuse is detected early so that any harm done is minimised.

    Bad or nonexistent procedures mean that abuse could go on for a long period without being detected.

  17. The comment at 22.53 is an example of safeguarding illiteracy. CRB's are not portable, we hope the present government will assist portability, but the challenges are significant.

    "Seriously now - allegations need serious evidence, not speculation.

    And the definition of "serious evidence is.....?"

    The crime of child abuse is complex and the vast majority of child abusers are never convicted but nonetheless they remain a potential danger to children. The risk / reward of abusing a child is so stacked in favour of the perpetrator that abuse continues on an epidemic scale in the UK. This is why the "soft box" on CRB checks is so important. Without this many schools and other settings would be hiring people who should not be working with children. So an important and easy step in safeguarding children is to ‘guard the employment door’ by following the guidance in 'Safeguarding Children Safer Recruitment in Education.'

    As the ISI report makes clear, St Augustine’s could not even manage this simple task even when training is readily available from the CWDC. This should prompt parents to ask many searching questions about the report which clearly demonstrates the scale of incompetance which has endangered children.

    And the two Notifications? Well parents are not entitled to know about them, but the school can and should provide a clear and verifiable explanation because there is nothing to stop them doing this. Also, why did the school knowingly fail to return these statutory tools? Failure to return Notifications permits an individual who is a known risk to children to continue in teaching at another setting unimpeded? This is termed a “concealed departure” usually undertaken to ensure bad news is kept out of the sight of parents.

  18. I wonder if Chillman is proud his achievements as Chairman of the board of governors?