Friday, 25 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 5

The next section, including paragraphs 35 and 36 is titled "Creating necessary safeguards".

Paragraph 35 quotes the text of a solicitor's letter to the school in respect of a civil claim, which alleges a wide range of failings in the school's duty of care towards pupils.

Let me quote paragraph 36 in full.
Allowing for the customary tautology in the content of legal pleadings, the allegations set out in the previous paragraph are a formidable menu of complaints. All have been repeated by correspondents to my Inquiry. Many would be avoided or at least made far less likely by a form of governance that removed conflicts of interest, and separated sometimes irreconcilable functions.
And that's it. That's all Carlile has to say in terms of creating necessary safeguards. Get the governance right and everything drops into place with no apparent additional effort.

As far as can be judged from the content of the report, Carlile seems to have entirely failed to notice that the "irreconcilable functions" of protecting the children from harm from paedophile abuse and protecting the school's reputation in the event of a paedophile abuse case are permanently irreconcilable, no matter who the governors are.

Because the two duties are permanently irreconcilable, a decision has to be made to give one duty priority over the other.

It is obvious that the duty of protecting the children from harm must come first, but this requires that governors and staff to some degree act against their own interests and the interest of the school. There is a terrible temptation to find some way of squaring this circle, and the way often found by independent schools is to handle any allegations internally. This can involve any one or more of the following approaches.
  • Believing that the allegation is probably unfounded or mistaken, so there is no danger to the child and therefore no need to report anything.
  • Believing that the child's best interests are served not by having lots of strangers (i.e. police or social services) compound an already bad experience for the child by asking him or her lots of questions about it. As a result, it is decided that a report to the authorities is not in the best interests of the child.
  • Believing that a staff member, if he abused, is unlikely to do so again now that the first incident is known.
  • Believing that the problem is specific to that particular combination of child and staff member, and that the problem will not recur if they are separated. The separation can be achieved by ensuring the staff member doesn't teach that particular pupil's class, moving the staff member to non-teaching duties, asking the staff member to leave or asking the parents to move the child.
These aren't hypothetical, all these approaches have been used and justified in other (non-catholic) independent schools. And all these approaches have the extremely convenient effect of not needing any kind of report to the authorities, and so they don't risk any kind of bad publicity for the school. The first time an abuse case happens, the headteacher might genuinely believe he is acting for the best. But in fact he is grossly deluding himself, persuading himself that what is in the interest of himself and the school is also in the interest of the pupils. It isn't.

Then another case occurs, and having not reported the first one, the management find it necessary not to report the second. And so by slow degrees a culture of denial and non-reporting gradually builds up until you have a disaster on the scale of St Benedict's in the 70s and 80s, where there were multiple abusers all active at the same time,  quite probably covering for each other, and all taking advantage of the opportunities available from the knowledge that they wouldn't be reported. I shudder to think how many children in total were abused at the school over the years.

By the time of Pearce's conviction, the St Benedict's safeguarding policy was 11 pages of excuses never to have to report anything. This is not specifically a catholic school problem, even though St. Benedict's happens to be a catholic school. This can happen at any independent school, because the temptations exist for all independent schools. It may be that catholic schools are more prone to this than others, because they feel they have the reputation of the catholic church as a whole to protect and not merely the reputation of the school, but it seems to me this is a difference of degree rather than of principle.

This is why I think Carlile's magic bullet of a change in governance is profoundly wrong-headed. It simply doesn't address the institutional and psychological factors that cause a culture of non-reporting to come into existence and to develop. It is not all about the monks. The change in governance is a good idea, but for reasons quite unrelated to safeguarding.

The only way to be sure of preventing abuse from building up is to make a firm decision from the outset to automatically report everything, withstanding all temptations to the contrary. Everything means everything, even if it seems trivial at the time, and even if publicity will result in short-term damage to the school's reputation. All allegations and incidents. No exceptions.


  1. I think this analysis is right.Lay as well as monks can perpetrate child abuse, and,at St B's, have done. The separation of the abbey and school governance structures, as proposed by Carlisle, is an inadequate and, for that matter, not justified solution. I don't agree quite so readily with the earlier first part of Jonathan's analysis about potential conflict of interest arising from David Pierce's solicitor having instructed Carlisle, and how this may stink - I do accept, however, that Carlisle has a criminal lawyer's approach focused on past cases.
    What worries me most, and this is the real point of the post - and it worried me before the Carlisle report was published, is that this whole exercise, even if I am right in thinking it is independent, is clearly inadequate (as I knew it would be) and is being used by St B's as a shield behind which it can push on, without amending its child protection policy, and other schools too can hide behind this shield. I have no faith in the Vatican's probe. This predictably inadequate report of Carlisle, giving enough criticism to avoid accusations of whitewash but every appearance of trying to come up with a "let's make everyone happy and move on" solution, has enough official clout to deflect criticism from those involved, such as St B's and the Abbey, who may choose to say, "We are following Carlisle and are deeply sorry and so that's the end to it." It is akin to Bob Diamond, head of Barclays', saying after the banks caused the financial crisis, when huge bonuses payable post-crisis were criticised, saying, enough is enough, time to move on, as he did. If Jim Miller, ex-St B's, has a comment on this, it would be most welcome as he does understand the situation.

  2. The Carlile report misses its mark, principally because he is unfamiliar with education, the safeguarding framework as applied to independent schools or maintained schools and the difference between the two which is so particularly important to this report. But none of this is contained within his document.

    And I am looking forward to Mr West's comments on Paragraph 54.

    It is clear Carlile was the wrong man for the job as more analysis of his pathetic effort will continue to reveal. Had he been asked to provide a report on the Chernobyl disaster would we have placed any credence in it? So why was he suited to undertake a review of child abuse at St Benedict's without, please note, someone experienced in the complex subject of child abuse in education including independent schools working alongside him?

    It's a mystery!

  3. Confront child sex abuse is an article from the Baltimore Sun about the scandal of abuse at Penn State Football team perpetrated by former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky.

    You will experience deja vu when reading the article.

  4. anonymous above wrote:
    >>If Jim Miller, ex-St B's, has a comment on this, it would be most welcome as he does understand the situation.<<
    I've been a bit busy burying my mum (at The Visitation, Greenford, last Monday, a beautiful & peaceful requiem mass)but, yeah, I am now very up for helping Jonathan West in any way I can.
    I think his considered and intelligent approach to this is spot on.
    I hope - humbly - to be able to help this worthwhile campaign any way I can.