Thursday, 24 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 3

I find the next section of the report "Governance of school and abbey" is really very odd. Carlile goes straight into governance issues without even having yet described the extent, nature and duration of the abuse or the institutional failings which allowed it to go on for so long.

Paragraphs 15-19 briefly describe the current governance arrangements, paragraph 20 points out that the arrangements leave all decision-making power in the hands of the monks, paragraph 21 describes the academic staff and the (lack of) support they have from the governance structures.

Paragraphs 22-24 compare the structure with the governance structures of other English Benedictine schools.

In paragraph 25 Carlile describes the school's existing governance arrangements as "wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable".

In paragraphs 26 to 32 he makes his proposals for a new governance structure for the school.

There seems to be a good deal of jumping to conclusions here. First of all, the review was supposed to be about abuse and safeguarding against it, and Carlile hasn't even got to the point yet of providing any details about the abuse and who did it, what institutional failings allowed it to continue and how they could be prevented in future. Instead he steps straight in with recommendations about governance.

Those recommendations are basically for there to be a separate charitable trust to run the school, while the existing trust continues to run the abbey, monastery and parish. the new trust for the school will have a relatively large governing body, drawn from a wide range of experience and interests, including monks, staff, parents and pupils. There will always be a lay majority on the board and the chairman will always be a layman.

If Carlile had been requested primarily to conduct a review of governance this would have been fair enough, but he wasn't. He was asked to review the abuse and make recommendations about putting a stop to child sex abuse at the school and making sure it can't start up again

In his governance proposals, Carlile seems to be proceeding from two principles. One is that the present arrangements are outdated (which is true but irrelevant to safeguarding), and the other is described at the start of para 26.
In a school where there has been abuse, mostly (but not exclusively) as a result of the activities of members of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest or lack of independent scrutiny must be removed.
Those of you who have been thinking of me as being some sort of rabid anti-catholic may be surprised by the next bit: These shortcomings are not limited to monks. Paedophiles will be paedophiles, and the clever ones who can do the most damage will always be attracted to occupations which involve the supervision of children. That includes teaching as well as the priesthood.

In being aware that the Ealing Abbey scandal is part of the wider catholic abuse scandal, and also that in this particular case the majority of the abuses were committed by monks, Lord Carlile seems to have forgotten that abuse can and does happen in non-catholic independent schools as well. So the principles of independent scrutiny have to be applied whoever is given the job of governing the school.

If abuse is to be prevented, or where it can't be prevented, if it is to be quickly detected and stopped, then it is vital that those tasked with governing the school are aware of their responsibilities in this area, and also aware of the inherent conflict of interest involved in running an independent school.

That conflict is simply stated. The publicity of a paedophile abuse case at a school is very bad for business. Independent schools compete with each other for pupils, they are businesses, even though they are usually constituted as charities. So the short-term interests of the school demand that publicity is avoided, and this is best achieved by making sure that nobody outside the school is aware of it, and so there is a great temptation to find ways of not reporting it to the authorities. This temptation isn't unique to monks. So, whether a school is Catholic, Anglican, Muslim or secular, this conflict of interest remains and must be openly acknowledged so that effective measures to combat it can be devised, whoever is running the school.

Having a board of governors with a secular majority doesn't by itself achieve this. It's a good idea in its own right for the general welfare of the school, which quite frankly needs governors with a wider range of expertise and backgrounds. It will even help safeguarding a bit, but the effect will be minor. A school with a secular board can still fall prey to bad safeguarding practices and end up covering up abuses.

It seems to me that Carlile has been going at this as a criminal lawyer rather than as an expert on the dynamics of child abuse in institutional settings. He has of course both prosecuted and defended child abuse cases and that has no doubt been useful to him, but it is no substitute for knowledge of the institutional failings which allow abuse to flourish, and how those institutional failings are permitted to occur. In my view it has also led him to place too much emphasis on those who committed the abuses (which is what he has to concentrate on for the purpose of criminal trials) rather than on those whose job it was to prevent them.

It is a pity that Lord Carlile did not request the participation of an expert in this field as an equal partner in the conduct of the inquiry. I suspect that if he had, a rather different report would have been produced.

That the monks are being removed from control of governance is what grabbed all the headlines in the papers. An anachronistic governance structure is a nice easy target and a recommendation to reform it is obviously sensible.

But it doesn't address safeguarding.


  1. Whats going on.. I can't find St Benedict's on the Ofsted website.
    I was looking for their recent inspection report as I was concerned with all the news surrounding the school, and I had registered an interest in the school.

    Is there anyone to contact about this.

    The school is very vague when I phone the school to ask for details.

    I think my child will be going elsewhere.

  2. Whatever one thinks of this report it is hopelessly inadequate on the subject of safeguarding because as one can read, Carlile has subcontracted responsibility for this to others who depend on, and are entirely ‘guided’ by, the inadequate National Minimum Standards.

    As a result the school once again has a wholly inadequate safeguarding policy - the tragedy is that parents cannot recognise an effective policy because they have never seen one and do they understand the framework in which the policy is meant to operate. Carlile clearly came to appreciate he did not have the experience to deal with it so there is a large and unaddressed hole in his safeguarding 'lite' report.

    I know of two barristers in England who understand the safeguarding framework, but one of those has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse in independent schools which is so different to maintained schools from the point of discovery onwards. The remaining barrister has this experience but does not have social services experience which is an important ingredient to a report of this nature.

    For your information neither of these individuals is named Carlile.

  3. 07:36
    St Benedict's is inspected by the ISI, not by Ofsted. The school's details including its inspection reports can be found here