Thursday, 21 April 2011

Teacher A

The Statement of Grounds contains this about Teacher A.
11. [Teacher A] was employed at the School from 1st September 2007, was suspended from 7th February 2008 (at which time she was already on sick leave) and her employment ended on 31st May 2008. The suspension was imposed on the ground that [Teacher A]'s CRB disclosure contained information relating to her husband and son which she said was inaccurate and was pending an amended disclosure. The Headmistress decided that under the statutory and guidance provisions then applicable referral was not required or appropriate. After speaking to Mrs. Culligan, the Headmistress made inquiries of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and was informed that [Teacher A] was "definitely not referral material". The Headmistress subsequently informed Mrs. Culligan of this.
This is about as uninformative as the statement about Teacher B. But it isn't what the ISI criticised Mrs Gumley Mason about. During the inspection visit, the reporting inspector asked if there had been any instances of staff who had left for reasons other than retirement, promotion, relocation etc.

In response, Mrs Gumley Mason mentioned Teacher A. She said that Teacher A had originally received a good reference from her previous school, but that the retiring head of the school had subsequently phoned her to tell her that Teacher A had done a voiceover for some sexually explicit material. Mrs Gumley Mason said that Teacher A had been dismissed immediately.

The reporting inspector asked what what action Mrs Gumley Mason had taken in notifying the appropriate authorities about the circumstances under which Teacher A had left. The response was that no action had been taken.

Again, the ISI obtained a letter subsequently sent by Mrs Gumley Mason to Ealing Children's Services, and again it did not contain the complete story as reported to the inspector, specifically omitting any reference to the telephone call from the teacher's previous employer. ISI checked with the Department for Education to see whether a referral had been made to ISA. Some months after the inspection, DfE wrote back to ISI confirming that no referral had been made, either at the time or subsequently.

One the available evidence, the ISI concluded that the LADO's advice should have been sought at the time, and that a referral should have been made.

The most remarkable thing about the case of Teacher A is that if Mrs Gumley Mason had simply kept quiet about Teacher A, the chances are quite good that the ISI would never have learned anything of the case. In essence, Mrs Gumley Mason has been betrayed by her own mouth.

It would seem that Mrs Gumley Mason was genuinely ignorant of the law on safeguarding and referrals. If she knew that she should have made a referral but didn't, then she would have kept very quiet about the case of Teacher A.But what appears to have happened is that she freely told the inspector about the case, apparently under the impression that she had done nothing wrong.

Such ignorance on the part of a headteacher and designated teacher for child protection is terrifying. The safety of 500 girls is at least in part dependent on the headteacher knowing what should be done in such cases.

It isn't even as if Mrs Gumley Mason is new to the job and still learning her responsibilities. She became Headmistress of the school in 1995. If I am correct in believing her actions are down to ignorance, then this ignorance has in all probability been going on for years and years. And the resulting shortcomings in child protection have gone undetected by probably three successive OFSTED inspections.

In a way, Mrs Gumley Mason has been very unlucky. The school has recently joined an Independent Schools Council member organisation and so the ISI become responsible for inspecting the school instead of OFSTED. Also, Father Gregory Chillman had recently come to the attention of the ISI in connection with the safeguarding failures at St. Benedict's. Had OFSTED been inspecting, or had Father Gregory Chillman not been chaplain and chairman of governors, then there is every chance that little or no effort would have been made to check the quality of safeguarding at the school, and you as parents would still have had no idea what was going on.

But then again, had the safeguarding been done properly and according to the law, there would have been no need to rely on luck.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Teacher B

In the complaint against the ISI, the school said the following about Teacher B.
12. [Teacher B] was employed at the School from 1st September 2007 and was suspended on 3rd December 2008 following written complaints from two groups of sixth form pupils on 1st and 3rd December 2008. He responded to the complaints by e-mail received on 5th December 2008 and subsequently, having sought advice from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, resigned on 18th December 2008. The Headmistress decided that under the statutory and guidance provisions then applicable referral was not required or appropriate.

After speaking to Mrs. Culligan, the Headmistress made inquiries of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and was informed that it was "up to her" whether or not she made a referral in respect of [Teacher B]. The Headmistress decided in all the circumstances to do so. The Headmistress subsequently informed Mrs. Culligan of these matters.
This is a masterpiece of obscurity. You have to admire the work of whoever drafted this document. We aren't told what the complaints were, and we aren't told whether the complaints were justified. We also aren't told whether Teacher B's email response contested the allegations. All that is stated is that the teacher subsequently resigned. On the basis of the information provided, we are in no position to make any judgement as to whether a referral to the Independent Safeguarding Authority was appropriate.

However, the ISI is aware of the nature of several allegations against teacher B. These include derogatory comments about women, refusing to allow a girl to go to the toilet, blocking her way and then presenting her with nappies and a dummy, saying he could have fathered lots of children, blocking and locking the door so girls had to reach round him, inappropriate remarks about his Nigerian girlfriend (who would do anything he
wanted), saying he would rather have AIDS than children, and other inappropriate comments including that he was looking for a girlfriend.

By any reasonable standard this is abusive and unprofessional behaviour for a teacher to display towards pupils, and offers a clear case for considering whether he is unfit to work with children and so should be placed on List 99. Such allegations should have been reported immediately to the LADO on coming to the school's notice, and should have been reported to the ISA within a month of the teacher's resignation. It would then be the job of the ISA to decide what action was needed.

However, the ISI established that a letter sent to Ealing Children's Services on 24th March 2010 (i.e. the second day of the first ISI visit, and over 2 years after the alleged incidents occurred) about Teacher B did not contain the complete story about the various allegations, and that a referral to the ISA was not made until after the ISI had visited. The ISI concluded that, contrary to what the school stated in its complaint, there was sufficient evidence to indicate that a referral should have been made.

It is a legal obligation for the school to make referrals within a month to the ISA concerning teachers who leave or are sacked when the school considers that they may be unfit to work with children. This is vitally necessary, so that if the teacher subsequently applies for a job elsewhere, CRB and List 99 checks will highlight the problem. Mrs Gumley Mason didn't do this.

So, we have here allegations of abuse by a member of staff towards pupils. It was not reported to the LADO at the time. An incomplete report was made to Children's Services after the matter was uncovered by the ISI, and a referral made to the ISA again only after the matter was uncovered by the ISI.

If the ISI had not uncovered this case during their inspection, there is no reason to think that any reports would have been made to anybody, no matter what the law requires.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Safeguarding Audit at St. Augustine's

Mrs. Gumley Mason included the following in her letter to parents on 1st April.
Tom Galvin, the Safeguarding lead in Ealing Children's Services will do an audit of the School's safeguarding policies and procedures next Thursday, 7th April. His findings will be communicated to you and any recommendations implemented.
I don't know about you, but reading that, I would be thinking in terms of an "audit" being a fairly detailed and comprehensive review. Audits are performed to ascertain the validity and reliability of information; also to provide an assessment of a system's internal control. The goal of an audit is to express an opinion on the person / organization / system (etc.) in question. So, an audit would consist of more than looking to see what the school's written procedures contain, but would also look into whether the written procedures have been and are being followed properly.

At the least it would take a full day to conduct. Given the failings already identified by the ISI, I would expect a properly conducted audit of safeguarding at the school to take a good bit more than one day for one person.

I am reliably informed that on 7th April, Mr. Galvin arrived at the school at 3pm. So he can't possibly have spent anything even vaguely approaching a full day on this. Maybe a couple of hours or so. That isn't time to do anything approaching a thorough audit of safeguarding policies and procedures. So this is not an audit.

But you can be sure that if he hasn't found anything untoward (which is probable, because he won't have had time to find much of anything at all), then this will loudly be trumpeted by Mrs Gumley Mason as an endorsement of the school and a vote of confidence in its policies.

I wonder if Mr. Galvin realises he is being used?

UPDATE: By the way, the way this is going seems to bear a remarkable resemblance to the travesty of an "independent review" that Abbot Martin Shipperlee commissioned at St. Benedict's. Philip Wright, the safeguarding officer of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton was used in just the same way.

Eventually, the pressure mounted to the extent that the Abbot decided he needed to commission Lord Carlile to conduct a somewhat more detailed inquiry. We have yet to learn the outcome of that one.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

CRB and other checks at St. Augustine's

I've now learned how bad were the failings at St. Augustine's concerning the CRB and other checks on staff that the school was legally obliged to carry out. When the ISI visited, they discovered the following regulatory failures:
  • No evidence of references for 2 members of staff
  • References received after appointment for 2 members of staff
  • Qualifications, employment history and references dated five years before appointment
    for 1 member of staff
  • No evidence of employment history or references for 4 members of staff
  • No evidence for qualifications being checked for 2 members of staff
  • No date of CRB/List 99 check recorded for 5 members of staff
  • No date recorded for the CRB check for 2 members of staff
  • No date recorded for the separate List 99 check required when the CRB check is not received until after the employee has started work, for 3 members of staff
  • No date or name of checker recorded for overseas checks undertaken for 1 member of staff
  • CRB received after appointment, no record of separate List 99 check or appropriate
    supervision for 10 members of staff.
In that last case, the longest period a staff member was allowed to supervise children without proper checks having been carried out was 2 years.

There have been multiple failures to check some members of staff, but in total the ISI found shortcomings in the checks and records for 18 different members of staff.

CRB checks, List 99 checks, and checking of employment history and references is really basic stuff. This is the first line of defence against abusers getting onto the staff. If somebody has been recorded to be unfit to supervise children, then these checks, properly carried out, will prevent a potential abuser from being employed in the first place.

According to latest calendar there are 54 teaching and 24 non-teaching staff at St. Augustine's, 18 is quite a significant proportion of that total, nearly a quarter of all the staff. Quite enough for the ISI to amply justify its conclusion that this is more than a minor administrative slipup but is instead a persistent weakness in the school's processes, and therefore to state in the report that the school's "procedures for making and recording appointments have not been sufficiently rigorous".

In addition, the seven Trustees of the charitable company which owns the school are legally the proprietors of the school, and should therefore also have been included on the Central Register of Appointments and been subject to CRB checks. They were not.

The register still hadn't been brought fully up to date by the time the ISI made its second visit. And the school complained about the ISI's conclusions, and took court action to suppress the report and keep the extent of the failings from the parents.

Of course, all abusers abuse for the first time somewhere, and CRB checks won't catch somebody who hasn't been found out before, which is why there has to be a second line of defence in the form of good safeguarding procedures and proper reporting mechanisms. But the process designed to keep known abusers away, the first line of defence for the school, basically leaked like a sieve.

If the issue had been that all the proper checks had been made but the dates and other details not fully recorded on the central register of appointments, this might have been regarded as more of an administrative matter. But it seems that 10 staff were permitted to supervise children when neither their CRB nor their List 99 checks had been received, and that situation persisted in one case for 2 years. This is outrageous. It is also illegal, and it persisted for years with nobody among the governors or trustees noticing.

As headteacher and designated teacher for safeguarding, carrying out these checks is the personal responsibility of Mrs Gumley Mason.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Another visit from the police

I had a second visit from the police last Sunday. It appears that there had been a further complaint about harassment from Mrs Gumley Mason.

I discussed a few points with the detective constable who visited:
  • I pointed out that I have not been asked by anybody, not the school, not Mrs Gumley Mason, not even the police on their previous visit, to delete any comments that had already been published at the time of the first police visit.
  • I asked whether he was requiring me to take down any existing comments, or was indicating that I would be committing an offence if I did not. He made it clear that he was not saying that leaving the old comments up was an offence.
  • I pointed out that there had been no attempt by Mrs Gumley Mason, the school, the trustees, governors or their solicitors to contact me to complain about any aspect of the blog. Their first action had been to go to the police.
  • I asked if the police had asked Mrs Gumley Mason whether she had made any attempt to contact me to ask me to stop whatever was supposedly concerning her. It appears that the police had not asked that question.
  • At least some of the comments specifically mentioned in the prevention of harassment letter are points which have been supported by a finding of the Independent Schools Inspectorate, and as such are entirely justifiable as fair comment on matters of fact.
  • Mrs Gumley Mason is a headteacher. The comments about which she was complaining are no worse than one might hear in any playground in the country. For her to feel harassed by them is not credible.
  • Before she became a headteacher, she was a senior journalist and broadcaster, two professions notorious behind the scenes for for the use of language far worse than anything she is complaining of. Moreover in her present and previous careers she is a public figure. For her to be alarmed or distressed about the comments on the blog is not credible.
  • There is strong evidence that Mrs Gumley Mason has made anonymous comments to the blog. She is hardly in a position to complain of harassment from a blog to which she herself has contributed.
  • I have already written a letter to the chairman of Trustees (and he has received it by recorded delivery) in which I have stated that I will not publish any more name-calling comments, and that if Mrs Gumley Mason or the school is concerned about any other comments, they are requested to contact me without delay. I said that I would unhesitatingly remove any new comment that was genuinely abusive.
  • In the light of all this, there is reason to think that both the original complaint and its repetition are motivated by Mrs Gumley Mason's private agenda, and that in essence the police are being used by her to try and intimidate me.

I provided a copy of my letter to Mr. Murphy as evidence of my position. By the time the policeman left, he seemed almost apologetic at having called. He said that he had no wish for the police to get involved in a private dispute between Mrs Gumley Mason and me, and he promised that the police would have a further word with her on the subject.

The fact is that the offence of harassment only exists when the alleged perpetrator engages in a course of action which he either knows or should reasonably have known would cause alarm and distress.

Until the police visited the first time, I could not reasonably have known, since there was no reason to think the comments could plausibly have caused alarm and distress, and after the first police visit I wrote to the chairman of trustees stating that no further name-calling comments would be published and inviting Mrs Gumley Mason or the school to contact me if they have any further concerns. Since it is the name-calling specifically which was the subject of the complaint, and not any other aspect of the blog, there is no justification for any further complaint.

I also mentioned in passing that I had made a formal written complaint to the Metropolitan Police about one of the officers who had visited the first time. She had refused to identify herself when I requested her name and number, saying instead that her name was on the Prevention of Harassment letter. However, when I took a detailed look at the letter after she had gone, her name and rank were an illegible scrawl, and her warrant number, home station and contact telephone number were absent, even though the letter clearly indicated that all should be stated. The policeman made no comment.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Letter to the Chairman of Trustees

I have sent a letter to Mr. David Murphy, Chairman of Trustees of St. Augustine's Priory School Limited. It was sent by recorded delivery on Thursday 7th April. The Royal Mail Tracking Service indicates that he signed for receipt of it on Saturday 9th April. The text of the letter is given below, with minor deletions indicated using square brackets. Although I gave both my telephone number and my email address in the letter, I have not yet received any reply.

Dear Mr. Murphy,

Safeguarding at St. Augustine’s Priory School

On 5th April, I received a visit from the police, concerning a complaint of harassment that had been made against me by Mrs Gumley Mason, specifically concerning name-calling in some of the postings by contributors to the blog.

There was no need for such a complaint. If either the school or Mrs Gumley Mason is concerned about such comments on the blog, my contact details are freely available, you need only telephone me or email me. You may be assured that no further name-calling comments will be published. If at any point you are concerned about any new comments published, then I request that you firstly contact me to discuss them. I will be entirely amenable to requests to delete any new comment which is genuinely abusive. I do not expect the situation to arise, but if a comment is published in error or where you feel that I have made an incorrect decision in a marginal case, then I request that you contact me about it without delay.

The police made a clear distinction between name-calling and the overall subject matter of the blog, i.e. concerns about safeguarding at St. Benedict’s and St. Augustine’s Schools. They are not in any way concerned about the safeguarding content, and have made no suggestion that the body of the articles is in any way objectionable. There is of course a strong public interest justification in continuing a public discussion of this, and I intend to do so.

It has come to my attention that Mrs Gumley Mason may not have been quite as upset about the comments on the blog as she suggested to the police. The following anonymous comment was made to the blog at 21.56 the same evening, stating the following.

“I find these comments extremely disturbing, i feel the police should be informed about this anonymous at 4 april 2011 21.02 poster”

The coincidence of there being a comment about calling the police the day the police had been called is a bit too much to accept, especially as there have been no previous comments to that effect. The obvious inference is that the comment was placed by Mrs Gumley Mason herself.

There have been two additional comments, clearly by the same poster,

“i don't understand why my last comment which was CALL THE POLICE! wasn't posted? There are mad men on this blog, I understand Mr West that the police called at your abode today. Please would you cofirm.” (6 April 2011 23:39)

“please could you report tnis to the police this looks like the a mad man” (7 April 2011 00:03)

In addition, there were three comments posted close together on the evening of 5th April. From their timing all three appear to have been made by the same poster, and it is possible that they were deliberately planted in order to provoke me into publishing some or all of them and so justify a further complaint. The comments are as follows.

[Comment deleted]” (5 April 2011 18:42)

[Comment deleted]” (5 April 2011 18:44)

[Comment deleted]” (5 April 2011 18:52)

Of course, none of these comments have been published. If they are not plants, then you might consider the possibility that they reflect genuinely held feelings by people about Mrs Gumley Mason and the school.

In the light of all this, if I receive a further visit from the police, I shall raise with them the possibility that the school and/or Mrs Gumley Mason should be investigated for wasting police time, and for harassment of me. I shall provide this letter indicating my willingness to receive concerns about comments on the blog, and I shall provide independent datestamped copies of all relevant comments, both published and unpublished. Mrs Gumley Mason can hardly claim harassment from a blog to which she is herself contributing. I guess that the police would take an extremely dim view of being used to further somebody’s private agenda in this way.

As I am sure you are aware, it is the trustees in their role as directors of the Charitable Company who are the proprietors of the school and therefore responsible for ensuring that the school meets all its legal obligations. While tasks can be delegated to the headmistress or governors, the legal responsibility remains with you, and so you are obliged to ensure that the delegated tasks have been properly completed. I was therefore particularly concerned that Mr Fitzgerald’s reply of 24th March to my letter of 22nd March stated “I consider that, even if I were able to do so, it would be inappropriate for me to attend the parent’s meeting”. That suggests to me that the Trustees may have become dangerously detached from the running of the school and may have been unaware of legal shortcomings in the manner in which its business has been conducted. If this is the case, then I would urge you to remedy the situation without delay.

St. Augustine’s School only came to my attention through its connection with St. Benedict’s and Ealing Abbey via Father Gregory Chillman. I know that the ISI is in possession of details of misconduct at St. Augustine’s by Father Gregory which is far more serious than the “inappropriate remark” mentioned in the Statement of Grounds. I am also aware that the allegations against [Teacher A] and [Teacher B] are far more substantial than were disclosed in the Statement of Grounds, and that these more substantial allegations formed part of the evidence on which the ISI based its judgements. The fact that only a partial and misleading story has been disclosed by the school is of great concern.

My sole interest in St. Augustine’s School is to ensure that its safeguarding is brought up to standard, both in its written policies and in actual practice. As soon as I am satisfied that documentation and implementation are adequate, then I will willingly say so in public and my interest in the school will end. If you wish to bring forward that event, then I would be happy to meet with you to discuss my concerns in more detail and discuss the remedial actions that may be appropriate. You may wish to note that in my latest article I have made a positive reference to the flowchart in Appendix 5 of the safeguarding policy.

I accept that it is of course impossible for any school to guarantee non occurrence of abuse. However, once a sound policy has been effectively implemented, then it is almost certain that any future incident of abuse will be detected quickly and brought to an immediate end. In such circumstances this is a very positive message to parents, it is an indication that the staff are well trained and alert and that the school’s safeguarding procedures work. The current evasiveness by management about the handling of recent incidents is sending precisely the opposite message to parents.

Yours sincerely
Jonathan West

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The safeguarding meeting at St Augustine's

I've now had a some accounts of the meeting, and can describe it to you. Apparently about 50 parents attended.

The chairman of the Governors, Professor Anne Hemingway, opened the meeting with a 10 minute talk with details of and how they were instituting their new safeguarding policy which is on their website. She apologised for the failings in safeguarding and assured the room that the school would do better. To this end the safeguarding policy had been redrafted and had been checked against the Ealing yellow book, which parents could view online. She said that this policy had been passed by the school's safeguarding committee and copies had gone to all members of staff who had signed to say they had read it. Mrs Gumley Mason spoke about CRBs and the central register of appointments, but a blank proforma showing what details were recorded was not provided to parents, and there was no initial explanation of what the central register of appointments is, why it exists and what it does.

Parents were then given the opportunity to ask questions.

A parent asked about the article in the Gazette and expressed concern about Father Gregory. Mrs Gumley Mason said that his term of office as chair of governors had come to an end and that he had decided to retire because he was 80 and not in good health. She denied that the school had any concerns about his suitability to work with children. She was asked if there was a requirement to report him and she said something to the effect that he was not an employee of the school, but of the diocese and so no.

Another parent asked about CRB checks and was assured by Professor Hemingway that these had all now been completed. Mrs Gumley Mason said that the problem had been that the school had applied Ofsted  requirements but that ISI requirements were more stringent.

There were questions on the subject of the ISI report and concerns about the safeguarding issues and why the school and Mrs Gumley-Mason had not been open with parents about the problems. Several paraents were irritated that it appeared that there appeared to be an attempt to hush up the report, and that the school had taken the ISI to court to prevent publication. Mrs Gumley Mason explained that the school had used the ISI complaints procedure because there had been 'factual inaccuracies' in the report, and they had then decided to take out an injunction so that they would not be forced to publish an inaccurate report. They were not trying to hush up the report but wanted to deal with areas they were not happy with before it was issued. She did not explain what these inaccuracies were.

Another parent commented, to the general agreement of the floor, that they would have liked to have been informed what was going on, and went on to say that they felt that communication was a big concern. Things happened and they were not told. A more general discussion about poor communication ensued and another parent said that she found the letters the head wrote to parents confusing and hard to understand and felt that, in particular the covering letter sent out with the report was lacking in clarity and did not apologise for the failings but in some ways trivialised them. Mrs Gumley Mason listened and nodded, but made no justification

Some parents wanted Teacher A and Teacher B identified – Mrs Gumley Mason said she would enquire with the ISI as to whether she was allowed to do this and come back with a response.

About costs, Mrs Gumley Mason said that the school had legal insurance. it. She did not, however, state how much the total cost had been or whether the legal insurance had covered the full cost.

Another parent then said it was good to hear from a governor and asked if there were any parent governors. Mrs Gumley Mason said there were two: Professor Hemingway and Mrs Grewal, although Mrs Grewal would soon cease to be a parent governor as her daughters would soon leave the school, although she would continue to be a governor. So, Mrs Gumley Mason was looking round for another governor, maybe someone with expertise in law. A parent then said she was concerned about this approach to recruiting a governor and said she felt it should be a more open process, maybe with an election. Another parent added that she agreed with this and had children in three different schools and that she felt elected parent governors were the right way forward. Professor Hemingway wrote this down and Mrs Gumley Mason nodded and added that 'this would be a matter for the governors'.

A parent suggested that regular parent forums would be a good way forward as they had welcomed the chance to ask questions. Professor Hemingway said it was a good suggestion and wrote it down.

A parent then asked about this blog, which most of those in attendance were aware of. She asked if it would do permanent damage to the school. A member of staff said he thought not. Mrs Gumley Mason agreed.

Throughout the meeting Professor Hemingway seems to have been firmly in control and Mrs Gumley Mason appeared flustered and not always coherent. There were other questions about ICT which are not relevant to this blog. There were no other governors present (at least not who identified themselves) and there were no Trustees present.

The above account is a synthesis of various accounts that have been provided to me. I wasn't there, and so I have no means of knowing for certain how accurate all this is. But the various accounts did agree substantially on points of fact, so I'm fairly confident about this.

Assuming that the accounts are accurate, I have concerns I have with some of the answers given, which seem not to be correct.

ISI requirements for CRB checks are more stringent than OFSTED's.
If this is really what Mrs Gumley Mason said, then it is complete balderdash. Both organisations operate according to the same legal framework, and apply the letter of the law in this respect, as supplemented by guidance produced by the DfE. It is entirely possible that OFSTED, in its 2006 inspection, neglected to make a proper review of the Central Register of Appointments, but to suggest that OFSTED and the ISI apply different requirements is completely false.

It isn't known whether the school can disclose the names of Teacher A and Teacher B
Of course they can., They already have. Their names are in the Statement of Grounds and so are now out in the public domain. Any parent who wishes to find out the names need only email me, and I will send you a scanned copy of the Statement of Grounds, complete with the names. I assure you that the fact that you have asked me will remain confidential. Alternatively, you can write to the High Court and ask them to post or fax it to you. They might charge you a modest fee of a few pounds.

Father Gregory doesn't need to be reported to the ISA because he wasn't an employee of the school
Complete rubbish. He was chairman of governors. The rules apply to governors just as much as they do to staff. Moreover, the rules on referrals to the Independent Safeguarding Authority when somebody leaves the establishment are equally applicable to all those working with children in any capacity. If at the time of his resignation either as chaplain or as chair of governors, there were issues concerning his suitability to work with children, then by law the school is obliged to make a referral to the ISA.

I'm still seriously concerned about the state of the school, but in fairness I must report one positive aspect. The parents were provided with a copy of the new version of the safeguarding policy, and three appendices, each in the form of a flowchart which summarises the procedures. They have been forwarded to me. Appendix 5 addresses the procedure to be followed in the event of an allegation of abuse against somebody at the school. I'm pleased to say that it clearly states that the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection) is always contacted in such cases. That's the good news, and I'm very pleased about it. It is most definitely a step in the right direction. But the main text of the policy does not align with the flow chart, and there is no indication as to whether the text or the flowchart is authoritative in the event of a discrepancy between them. This is not so good. But let us celebrate such positive steps as have been taken. With regard to this aspect of the policy, all that is now needed is for the text to align with the flow chart, without the weasel words currently present.

Friday, 1 April 2011

From a reader of this blog

The following is from a regular reader of this blog who has no connection with either St. Augustine's or St. Benedict's, except in as far as he knows parents of pupils at both schools. He has asked that he not be named.

13.34 in the ‘final thought’ strand provided a very interesting post. It is fascinating he used Madoff and the SEC’s failure to regulate Madoff and others. I have been discussing precisely this with a friend who is experienced in a number of areas of safeguarding. The book “No one would listen” by Harry Markopolos casts light onto the failure of the SEC, the inspectorate responsible for compliance of the sector. The Madoff scam is an object lesson in the failure of an inspectorate to fulfil its function.

There are striking similarities between the SEC’s failures and those of the UK schools inspectorates to inspect the safety critical and important matter of safeguarding for which they are all so ill equipped. To display their muscles the SEC occasionally knocked the doors off the hinges of the odd small firm, but would not touch the big concerns such as Madoff or Lehman, despite shrewd sector operators pointing fingers in their direction and screaming ‘foul.’ The SEC just seemed unable or unwilling to listen to what people were saying about the ‘big players.’ It seemed only able to see what it wanted to see, and as a result produced consistently ‘glowing’ reports for transgressors which were then held aloft by the firms to threaten their critics into silence.

This shares great deal in common with safeguarding inspections of schools by all the inspectorates. Let us be absolutely clear that the inspection of St Augustine’s by the ISI cannot be relied upon to any great extent. The ISI found ‘bad,’ but just how far does the bad extend and did the ISI get it all? This inspection is one of the very rare exceptions that resulted with the inspectorate itself discovering safeguarding transgressions. To see their normal standard of ‘safety critical’ welfare inspection, one need only to look at the St Benedict’s report of November 09. It was positively glowing on safeguarding, the management was great, the trustees were brill, the board of advisers’ ticketyboo, indeed everything was pretty spot on; ......err except it was not as we were to discover after a member of the public brought matters to the attention of the ISI, the keystone cops of safeguarding inspection, via the Director of Safeguarding at the DfE.

Such failure is commonplace, despite the ISI (and the others) all having service agreements with the DfE, which the DfE does not make a great deal of noise about because it claims “they’re independent” whilst at the same time the ISI report to the DfE. Ofsted meanwhile reports (in public and brace yourselves) to the Education Select Committee who know zero about safeguarding! Not one MP on the committee has a background in social welfare. Despite the serial failings of the inspectorates, the DfE does nothing despite the existence of liaison officer in the Department – god knows what he does but he fails to improve the abysmal performance of any of them.

Safeguarding incompetence pervades all the school inspectorates. Does the ISI report of St Augustine’s include all the failings? Well in truth the answer is that we do not know and cannot know, but we can absolutely not place a great deal of reliance that the ISI has discovered everything, not least because of the ‘limit’ of their inspection framework. Just read this document to get the full extent of its safeguarding limitations and think about what is not included. Do you see the way in which the framework is written? It is almost like a template report telling inspectors what to say – not what to ask. Let us also remember, this is an inspectorate that is not independent of the settings they inspect despite the misleading name because the inspectors all wear the same member tie – this is ‘peer review’ inspection.

An example of failure which became the subject of a published ‘inquiry’ was the Gatehouse School in Milton Keynes. Rumours swirled about this school and the LA repeatedly requested Ofsted inspections which resulted in reports lauding the setting and the head. From memory there were 3 inspections in 4 years and each time the Head held the report aloft as ‘proof’ that she was doing a great job. The LA quailed until they summoned the courage to call Ofsted for a further inspection. There was even the suicide of a pupil for reasons that were far from clear. Unease about the school continued but the LA felt powerless to do anything because of repeated positive reports. Eventually a member of staff managed to find his/her voice, and the horror of events at the school became clear.

The inquiry revealed that the Head should never have been hired because her references were unchecked. She charismatically managed to bluff her way through everything. The regime she instilled at the school was to restrain children as a ‘default.’ Children were locked into rooms, and treated in an intimidatory and bullying fashion. Staff lived in fear of intimidation from the head. CRB checks had not been undertaken for other staff which had still further impact on the welfare of children. The setting was run as a fiefdom by the head, objectors could not voice their opinions with any confidence, and none of this was ever noticed by Ofsted which unbelievably is responsible for ‘quality assuring’ ISI inspections.

All of this was included in the published report along with significant criticism of Ofsted who somehow managed to not see the key CRB failures and lack of references which would have brought this whole matter out into the open.

When inspectorates get it so wrong, these invalid reports are often used by school administrations to prove they are ‘doing a great job.’ No matter what anyone around the edges says, inspectorates will not change their reports even when they are spectacularly wrong.

The only person that can appeal an ISI inspection is the school. No teacher at the school can, no external individual, but in the case of the non-independent ISI another ISC school can make an appeal.

St Augustine’s is an example of the ISI for once not getting it wrong – but did they get it right? Stung by the 100% failure of their inspection of St Benedict’s where a naked pole dancer in the middle of the campus would have gone unnoticed, I speculate the ISI team at St A’s were on their mettle as a result of Chillman who resigned as chairman of governors so shortly before the ISI inspection. The ISI had their heads up – so unfortunately for the St Augustine’s the institution, but for once fortunately for the pupils the ISI did its job, but to what extent we sadly cannot be sure.