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.


  1. The report of any inspection or audit body that gets it wrong can be misused in this way. A recent example was reported in the Sunday Times this weekend when quite Sir David Omand omitted from his report the alleged sexual activity between Jon Venabls with a female member of staff at a secure unit in Merseyside.

    Sir David clearly knew of the incident but said he had not referred to it in his report becasue it fell outside his terms of reference.

  2. Was this sexual abuse because Venables was in an insitution, he is under the age of 18, and the sex was with someone who was in a position of responsibility, and who had influence over him.

    In these circumstances, should not the female officer have been charged?