Monday, 14 November 2011

The Thunderer

The Thunderer column in the Times carries a piece today (behind paywall) arguing that the St. Benedict's abuse scandal could happen elsewhere because of weaknesses in the law.
There ought to be a legal obligation to report every allegation of abuse to child protection officials in the local authority. The statutory guidance does not at present insist that abuse allegations be brought to the attention of the local authority-designated officer for safeguarding; merely that this “should” be done.

There is simply too much temptation for private schools, which have reputations and fee levels to protect, to attempt to deal with damaging allegations in-house and on the quiet, as St Benedict’s did. This allows perpetrators to operate with impunity or to be discreetly moved on, potentially to offend elsewhere.
The Thunderer goes on not only to criticise shortcomings in the law, but also the failings of the inspectors who visited St. Benedict's School.
Nor does Lord Carlile convincingly tackle the failings of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which praised the “high quality” of welfare at St Benedict’s in November 2009. Just a few months later, after revelations in The Times about the conviction of a monk who had lived at the school, the inspectors were forced to return. Only then did they discover that a “commitment to trust within the community and to St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears on occasion to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare”. After years of widespread abuse, this is a dramatic understatement.
The column wraps up by pointing out that the law is about to change to allow the ISI to perform welfare inspections of independent boarding schools, and suggests that far from doing this, the DfE ought to be looking to see if ISI is going its present job properly.

I think the Times has a good point. The pupils of boarding schools are even more vulnerable to their setting than the pupils of independent day schools. Of all schoolchildren, the pupils of boarding schools need an effective safeguarding regime, properly inspected. On the evidence of St. Benedict's, there is no reason to think that the ISI is capable of this.


  1. An excellent article by Joanna Sugden. What a pity this journalist, who has such a clear understanding of some of the issues, is now the 'former education reporter' because conflict of interest she highlights is not going to improve anytime soon.

  2. This is probably not the best place to post this comment so please feel free to move it to another section. I am surprised that no one has mentioned that during the 60s and 70s many boys were selected by local councils and supplied with free places at St Benedicts. Many of these boys were the ones from poor homes who people have pointed out were vulnerable to abuse because their parents were reluctant to stand up to authority as they felt their children were getting an education that they would not easily get elsewhere. Moreover as far as the school was probably concerned these children were probably 'expendable' because, if they were taken, away the school wouldn't lose any income. Has any one attempted a trawl through the records of Middlesex County Council and the other education authorities to see if any complaints of abuse were received by them and if so what, if anything, was done about them?

  3. No, this is an excellent place to raise this important ancillary issue!
    I was one of the "free places" pupils.
    Immediately upon entering the Middle School I was made perfectly aware, aggressively, by Chillman that I should be humbly grateful that someone like me was receiving the benefit of a public school education for free. My parents were not poor but they were working class and this seemed to be an issue with Chillman.
    In the upper school the discrimination was not so bad but one would encounter it every now and again, a sense from monks and staff that "free places" boys should be grateful for what they were getting.
    Let's examine this.
    The reason I was given this free place was because St Benedicts identified that, at the age of 11, I was academically gifted & could therefore potentially provide them with future academic success (which I did: 1977 their finest A Level results 1978 their only entrant to Oxford).
    For seven years I was told by St Benedict's that I was lucky to be there (those who remember me will know how bolshie I am & how little that mattered to me, but other working class kids felt bullied by this attitude).
    Now, in hindsight, it is clear that it was St Benedict's who were lucky to have ME.
    They gave me a "free place" at the age of 11 for NO OTHER REASON than to exploit my exam-passing talents to help sell the school to wealthy potential parents/investors.
    My personal memory of St Benedict's is that is was a machine for making money out of education & I happened to be one of the clever working class boys exploited for financial ends & nowt else.
    Is it time to start a discussion on whether the commodification of education via fee-paying contributes to the possibility of child abuse because the child has been commodified?

  4. As Jim attests,the A stream where the scholarship boys were seemed to us C stream boys a frightening other planet with pupils of dazzling abilities.We in the C stream, thick as we were regarded and felt,saw the A stream boys as dazzling,and to be admired, but we had no perception that all or some, of them were "poor". The school message to us paying boys was that we ought to be grateful we were born to parents who paid. We felt bad we were born so academically poor, Jim felt bad he was born monetarily poor. Perhaps his guilt for not being rich was balanced by our guilt for not passing the 11 plus.Certainly we were made to feel bad for not being Oxford material.I can remember one Edmund Flood finding it impossible to get his head round it.But then I have since learnt that it was all quite meaningless as the C stream pupils were often quite as successful in life and I have met a large number of Oxbridge losers.
    You take the cards you are dealt in life and get on with it.There is no justice in birth and you cannot expect it later. Its down to you.And that, I feel, is the necessary attitude to this whole abuse matter we lived through.No amount of factual relaundering and accusations of cover ups by campaigners today makes one iota of difference to those who were at st Benedicts 50 years ago. It was unfair, it was unjust, it was cruel. It was also good and inspiring. Bit like the real world?