Sunday, 4 September 2011

Safeguarding and School Inspections

At 12:29, a commenter on the Interregnum thread asked the following
Will you be looking at all Schools child protection or just fee paying schools?
If you have a child at a paying school you can just get up and change schools,(although I do not think your readers do) but at state schools you have no choice, or is it your view that child protection problems only happen in fee paying schools?
That's a very good and intelligent question, and deserves a fuller and more prominent answer than can be fitted into a comment.

I'm well aware that child protection problems can occur in any variety of school, for instance at Dormers Wells High School in Ealing there have been two recent cases, one concerning a former caretaker and  another concerning a learning mentor. I don't doubt that there were shortcomings in the child protection measures there, which were missed by the inspectorates.

But there is a particular problem with private schools, which you describe when you say "you can just get up and change schools".

In fact, it's not quite as easy to change schools as you might think, especially if lots of other parents are trying to make the same change at the same time. Just imagine for a moment how many places are available mid-year or at the start of a year that isn't a normal intake year at the other private schools in this area. I've heard that some of the other local private schools have been inundated with enquiries from St A and St B parents, far more than they could possibly accommodate.

That means if you are sufficiently dissatisfied with your child's private school, your choice may be limited to keeping him or her there or moving into the state system, were the authorities are legally obliged to make a place available. So once you are in a private school, you are essentially stuck in the event of a serious problem there, unless you decide that the state system isn't all that bad a choice after all.

The issue of the relative merits of the state and private systems could be the subject of a long debate, which I don't have space to address here. All I would say is that the psychological effects of child sex abuse can be long-term and devastating to the victim. Your child's life chances are probably much better following a state education not involving abuse than a private education where your child is abused. Therefore, whatever your opinion of the state system in general, if you have reason to think that your child is at risk of being abused in his or her current private school, I would strongly recommend a move.

But even given the difficulties of moving schools once a pupil is established, a paedophile case can be terribly bad for business at a private school. We have had comments on this blog from parents who were thinking of sending their daughters to St Augustine's, and who thought better of it as a result of reading the ISI report and the comments here.

So there is a tremendous temptation for private schools to look after their own short-term business interests by keeping incidents or allegations of abuse quiet and not reporting them to the authorities, and so avoiding the attendant publicity. In doing so, I've heard of cases where the school has pressured the parents not to make their own independent reports to the police or social services, on the grounds that there is no need to further add to the distress of the child by subjecting them to interrogation by social services.

And so the parents are robbed of precisely the support and advice that they need in order to look after the welfare and best interests of their child. If this sort of thing is not going to be common within private schools, it is an absolute necessity that the chance that the school will be found out is high, and the penalty for this kind of deception is prohibitive. At a minimum, failure to take proper child protection measures in response to an allegation of sex abuse should cost the people responsible their careers in teaching. If headteachers of private schools realise that they aren't going to to keep their £100k jobs very long if they try to hide abuse, then reporting will become much better.

Don't think of this issue as being limited to Catholic schools. Certainly there has been abuse at some Catholic schools, but it is by no means unique to them. Intelligent paedophiles seek out jobs involving care of children,and so all schools need to be on their guard about this. The documentary Chosen describes in harrowing detail the abuses perpetrated on boys at Caldicot School, a secular private boarding school. If you want to understand the dynamics of abuse in a private school, how the children are groomed, how the teachers' position of authority over both the children and their parents is used to suppress reporting, and the devastating effect of abuse on the subsequent lives of the victims, then I cannot recommend strongly enough that you view that documentary. The whole programme can be viewed online at the link I have provided. When I looked it the programme, I found that there were very strong parallels between the abuse and grooming techniques described there, and the techniques used by Father David Pearce, as described in the prosecution's statement at his sentencing hearing in October 2009.

You need to understand how it works if you are to recognise warning signs that it might be happening at your children's school. And you need also to have some idea what to do about it if the warning signs are there.

St. Benedict's and St. Augustine's are absolutely perfect case studies for this. We have a great deal of documentation, sufficient to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt how abjectly the inspectorates have failed the pupils of those two schools. I'm in regular touch with Tom Perry of Questions4Schools, one of the participants in Chosen. He is campaigning to have these failings addressed at a national level, and I'm very happy to help him in any way possible. The FOI information mentioned in the comments may help this process on, and I would be very grateful if the person who obtained it would contact me on a private and confidential basis.


  1. You seem to imply that sexual abuse of children is more prevalent in private schools than in state schools. Is there evidence for this? If so, can you kindly point me to it?

  2. No, I'm not suggesting that. I'm suggesting that there are business considerations which might tempt those running private schools not to report abuses that occur.

  3. 15.14 has chosen to misinterpret Mr West’s post.

    Data regarding the abuse of children in education has never been collected in an effective way by the inefficient Department for Education, and now the Independent Safeguarding Authority, in a form that can be extrapolated for any meaningful purpose.

    Nowhere in Mr West’s comments has he implied what you mischievously assert, although this might be perfectly possible when measured by a per pupil basis. Until the DfE decides to collect the data efficiently and make effective use of it in a way that will improve the child protection, it remains happy to leave the public in the dark about the facts. My personal opinion is that the department has such a low opinion of the general public that it believes news of the scale of abuse in education in this country would cause parents to get very edgy because in reality parents have little or no choice of school (this is termed the educational ecology). If parents were to realise the scale of abuse in school settings, the department speculates the public would ‘kick off’ so it is the departments interest to keep all such matters out of sight and the general public unquestioning. Graham Stewart, the chairman of the education select committee tried to debunk the NSPCC child maltreatment prevalence statistics recently when he suggested the numbers were ‘unbelievable’ and he said the charity was ‘shroud waving.’ He received no support for this opinion from the expert witness he was questioning. The NSPCC research is here but will take a few moments to download but it is worth saving and reading. Maltreatment is defined as all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

    So inefficient has the Government and its agencies been in collecting raw data on child abuse that it cannot even extrapolate the number of children who each year are the subject of referrals either by sex or by school type, by allegation, by age of child, by sex of alleged perpetrator, by abuse type. There is no ability to see clustering which would provide trends - indeed there is almost nothing the ISA or the DfE can provide. Until very recently Notifications, as referrals were termed prior to the introduction in 2009 of the SVGA 2006, were kept on card indexes the DfE, quite possibly in a shoe boxes.

    Apparently the ISA continues to struggle with the government's IT contractor which it is forced to use despite the ISA being an “independent” quango. The answer to this of course, just in case the contractor or a member of the DfE / ISA is reading this blog, lies at PC world and a couple of networked PC’s with MS Access which would do the job with ease.

    What Mr West has suggested 15:14, is that the dynamics of abuse in independent and maintained schools is entirely different for the reasons he stated. However a very important trend that can be seen by Director's of Children's Services is the degree of under reporting of both allegations and incidents. I have only ever had cause to speak with two DCS’s and both informed me they strongly suspected that independent schools in their respective authorities were under reporting. How often might this be repeated across the country? One only has to look at St Benedict's and St Augustine's to understand the possible scale of the problem.

    Both schools not only failed to report allegations to the LA, but both actually broke primary legislation and failed to return notifications / referrals? This latter issue is the sign of a dishonest administration which is prepared to risk the welfare of children in other settings so long as their school’s reputation is protected.

  4. I know someone who applied to several other schools but GM gave her bad references and so she has been forced to stay at St Augustine's. GM didn't want to lose her to another school because she is a straight 'A' student! So much for her caring for children and their happiness!!

  5. I think at long last parents are realising Mrs GM doesn't give an iota about the children, it is a well known fact amongst the schools in Ealing about her pettiness, they don't bother asking for references, and if any child is absent from school when other schools have entrance exams the pupils have to get a medical note to confirm they were genuinely ill, otherwise they loose their place at St. Augustine's and have to reapply by sitting an entrance exam.
    She is the laughing stock in many local schools.