It is quite a long document: 58 pages including a new revision of the school's child protection policy. A document of that length deserves a bit of time spent considering it. I shall be reviewing and analysing it over the coming days. But for the moment I want to concentrate on the events of the press conference itself.
It was held at 9am this morning, and journalists had an opportunity to arrive at 8am in order to read the document before the press conference started. There were 40-50 journalists present.
Present to answer questions were Lord Carlile himself, the school's headmaster Mr. Christopher Cleugh, and the schools deputy headteacher and Designated Teacher for safeguarding, Mr, Stephen Oliver.
Both Carlile and Cleugh opened with apologies to the victims who had suffered from abuse. Carlile said that the physical severity of the abuse (whether physical or sexual) does not neatly map onto the extent of the damage to the victims. He stated that, for instance, repeated sexually motivated beatings can be just as psychologically damaging as outright sexual assaults. So, whatever might be severity of this or that form of abuse in criminal terms, in the sense of the sentence that an offender might receive, he was treating all categories of abuse together
Carlile described the delays to the report that had been caused by the recent trial of Pearce and Maestri, how he didn't want to prejudice either the prosecution or defence. He also commented about Father Laurence Soper, and urged himself to return to answer police questions and go though the justice system if necessary, just like anybody else would have to.
Carlile then went on to describe his recommendations. Chief among them are his proposals for the governance of the school. At present, there is a single charitable trust that administers the abbey, the monastery, the school and the parish. Only monks can be trustees and the chairman of trustees is the Abbot.
Carlile (quite correctly in my view) regards this as an unhealthy situation. In essence the problem is that while the charity has a number of different categories of beneficiary (e.g. monks, parishioners, pupils), the governance is wholly in the hands of just one of those categories, the monks. It can lead to distortions in priorities, and the Abbot has apparently acknowledged that it is opaque to outsiders.
Instead, he proposes that two separate trusts be set up, one to administer the Abbey, monastery and parish, and which owns the property, and another educational trust which administers the running of the school. He proposes the following composition for the governing body.
I suggest that it should consist of not less than 13 and not more than 24 members. This governing body should include the Abbot for the time being, the Headmaster/Headmistress of the Senior School, the Deputy Head and (if a different person) the designated senior member of staff responsible for safeguarding. There should be at least two parent representatives (I would suggest one elected and the other appointed by the Chair of the Governors with approval of the body), at least one elected staff representative, a senior student representative over the age of 16, at least two alumni, and up to fourteen independent governors. There should always be a lay (non-Monastic) majority. The student representative should serve for one year only. Teacher and non-teacher governors (apart from those serving ex-officio) should serve for four year terms, renewable no more than twice. The Chair should be elected by the governing body, but should be neither the Abbot nor any other member of the monastic Community. The detailed constitution should reflect contemporary forms of governance of independent schools.One might quibble over the details, but the general principle is clear. There is a need for the governing body to be able to draw on a wider range of experience than is available to the monastic community alone, the chairman of governors needs to be a layman, and there should always be a lay majoity in the board. By this means, he hopes to avoid the school falling into the trap of placing the perceived interests of the monastic community above those of the pupils and the school as a whole.
Carlile acknowledged that he isn't an expert in trust law, and when the trust is set up it might differ in some details, but his position is that the school needs governance arrangements appropriate to the needs of an independent school in the 21st century, while retaining its Catholic and specifically Benedictine character.
Carlile went on to acknowledge that a good structure of governance by itself is "no guarantor of good practice". As the report says, "To state the obvious, effective practice depends upon a strong set of written procedures, the management to enforce them, and the commitment to effective enforcement."
I'll write about the journalists' questions later