Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Recommendations for St. Benedict's

Since Lord Carlile won't be publishing his report into St Benedict's at least until after the trial of Pearce and Maestri next month, I'm going to carry on with publishing the recommendations I suggested he should include in his report. My first recommendation concerned the need to rewrite the current child protection policy from scratch, so that it implements best practice.

My next recommendation is based on the observation that the school seems not to have a culture of good safeguarding. Following the ISI supplementary inspections, the school made three attempts at updating its child protection policy, once in May 2010, and twice in September 2010. None of them was the kind of root-and-branch review that should have been implemented in the light of the terrible stories of past abuse that have come to light.

Changing an organisation's culture is very hard work. It takes sustained and determined effort. I doubt that the present management knows how to go about making those changes, because they are part of the culture. Therefore outside help is needed. So here is my second recommendation.
The Trust shall obtain consulting services from an outside organisation with expertise in safeguarding law and good safeguarding practice specifically in the context of independent schools.

The consulting services should include the following activities:
  1. Refining the Child Protection Policy for the school so that it is an example of excellence in safeguarding.
  2. Training all staff, particularly those staff who have specific safeguarding responsibilities, to ensure that they fully understand those responsibilities and the best way of fulfilling them.
  3. Ensuring that sexual abuse and other forms of abuse are addressed in an age-appropriate way in the PSHCE curriculum at all levels within the school.
  4. For a period of two years, provide a regular review of safeguarding actions to ensure that staff are properly implementing the new child protection policy. This should include (at the discretion of the consulting organisation) announced and/or unannounced inspections of the records of the safeguarding activities at the school.
  5. For the same period, publish a report twice a year describing progress in safeguarding at the school and any action items which have been given to the school to implement. These reports shall  be placed in their entirely on the school website and copies shall be provided to all parents.
  6. For the same period, provide a mentoring service to staff with regard to their safeguarding responsibilities, and to provide training as required for new staff or refresher and/or supplementary training for existing staff who have been given additional safeguarding responsibilities.
  7. For a further five years, conduct an annual inspection of safeguarding activities, and  publish a report which will similarly be placed on the school website and distributed to parents.
The aim here is first of all to make use of the expertise of an outside agency, and second, to ensure that there is no backsliding from the needed improvements. Changes to the written procedures are necessary but not sufficient. The written procedures are worthless if they aren't followed. So staff training to instil new and better habits is also needed. That deals with items 1 and 2 on the list.

Awareness on the part of children and parents is also needed, so the issue has to become part of the curriculum as described in point 3. Abuse must not be a taboo subject which isn't spoken about. Abusers depend on that kind of climate of silence.

The arrangements I've described for regular checking and reporting in points 4 and 5 are part of rebuilding of trust with the parents. Let me draw a parallel here with the world of science. Science achieves its results in part because scientists know they have to be honest, because their experimental results are checked by others, and mistakes or fraud will be found out eventually. Science as a whole is largely trustworthy because there is an institutionalised and mutually accepted mistrust of individual scientists. So my proposal for reporting is designed to echo this principle of accepted mistrust, by giving the parents the confidence that somebody from outside the school is keeping an eye on things and would say if old habits were recurring. By accepting that management alone cannot be trusted for the time being and is willing to subject itself to ongoing outside scrutiny, they would in essence be saying that parents can trust the outside scrutiny until the internal procedures have shown their worth.

The mentoring in point 6 is there to provide support to staff, to help them ensure that they are able to withstand any residual pressures to return to old bad habits.

Once new habits have been instilled, the checking and reporting can go on at a lower level of intensity, just as a guard against backsliding. Point 7 is designed to provide that lower level of ongoing review for a few years.

As for who that outside organisation should be, the most obvious name that comes to mind is the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. But there may be other organisations also able to help. I'm not particular about which organisation is used, so long as they have the relevant expertise to help the school into good safeguarding habits and rebuild trust with parents.

The cultural inertia of an organisation takes a lot of shifting. The problem of abuse at St. Benedict's has been going on and been swept under the carpet for decades. It will take more than a few platitudes to change things, it will take sustained effort over years from all involved at the school, and will need outside help.

The real work is only just beginning.


  1. am confused about this thought there safeguarding policy was all briliant and held up as a flagship for all now?

  2. If Fr Gregory Chillman's restrictive covenant bans him from contact with children, why is he allowed to continue to reside at Ealing Abbey where he has access to the children at St Benedict's School?

  3. Mr West, the number one item on your list of recommendations for St Benedict's should be the replacement of the current headmaster with someone who takes safeguarding seriously.

  4. 14.19 Is there any evidence that the current headmaster does not take safeguarding seriously?


    Is there evidence that faced with a safeguarding incident he is influenced by others and as a result fails to follow guidelines?

  5. How many of the monks at Ealing Abbey are under restrictive covenants?

  6. 14.42 - is your remark directed at my comment of 14.37 or just a question to the blog as a whole?