They do make very interesting reading. The point that I most wanted to see was how much Lord Carlile's fees had been for his report issued in November last year.
The accounts don't have a separate heading for "Lord Carlile", but it is pretty clear under what heading his fees have been placed under. Page 35 of the report contains section 7 "Governance costs". This section contains just one item "Professional fees and charges". In 2010 these totalled £20,392, in 2011 they were a whopping £256,372, an increase of just under £236,000. The vast majority of this increase will have gone on Lord Carlile, with perhaps a modest additional fee for the school solicitors through whom he was engaged.
Of course, the total cost may be considerably higher. Lord Carlile didn't issue his final report until November 2011, so I'm sure his final bill will appear in the accounts for the current financial year, so we won't see those on the Charity Commission website for another 12 months or so.
But let's just consider the £230,000 that appears on last year's accounts. As the school has about 1000 pupils, that's the equivalent of about £230 on the fees, probably somewhat more since a proportion of the pupils are on scholarships and bursaries. Or it can be thought of as 70% of the parish collections and donations for the year, which were £341,322.
Back in September 2010, I estimated that the school wouldn't see much change out of a quarter of a million pounds.
They are spending a sum probably of the order of a quarter of a million pounds on an exercise in reassurance. As the headmasters comments at the safeguarding meeting amply showed, there is no evidence of any interest in actually improving safeguarding, but they want to give the impression that Something Is Being Done. Lord Carlile's name will of course appear on the cover page of the report in letters rather larger than the title. And of course a glossily printed copy will be sent to each parent. The aim is to provide a reassurance to parents that All Is Well Really, if with some minor tweaks to procedures.I'm gratified that my estimate of the cost was so close to the mark. Let's have a look as to my estimate of the aims of the exercise back then, that it wasn't to improve safeguarding, but rather that it was an exercise in reassurance.
A glossily printed copy of the report was of course printed and sent to all parents, and Lord Carlile's name wasn't merely larger than the title, it was the title, or most of it.
Recall that Lord Carlile made no new recommendations concerning safeguarding in the course of his report, he merely repeated recommendations which others had already made. His only new recommendation concerned governance, the proposal to split the governance of the school from that of the abbey and parish. The annual report includes just one paragraph from Carlile's report, as follows.
I believe that St Benedict’s School, Ealing, is an excellent place for boys and girls to be educated in safety today and for the future. No school is perfect, and ‘never’ is a dangerous word and a hostage to fortune. However, if those responsible for the School adopt the advice offered in this Report, and advice from the agencies referred to above, I consider that St Benedict students will be as well safeguarded as anywhere else in the country, without in any way losing the Benedictine connection and ethos.The annual report also lists "Objectives for the year". The first of these is as follows.
Over the next year the School will be responding to the two main recommendations of the Lord Carlile Report (see above). Firstly, ensuring that its Safeguarding Policy is not only a model of excellence but that implementation of the Policy is given top priority by all those working in the School. Secondly, it will be working towards setting up a new educational charity, separate from the main Trust, for the School’s operations. This will ensure that the governance of the School is separate from that of the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey, Ealing.As far as the first of these points is concerned, "ensuring that its Safeguarding Policy is not only a model of excellence but that implementation of the Policy is given top priority by all those working in the School", the wording is so vague that no tangible and measurable objective can be obtained from it. There is no sign of any progress with regard to safeguarding. I have raised continuing concerns with the school concerning its safeguarding policy, and its latest version still contains language that is far too full of holes to give confidence that safeguarding really is a priority.
Looking to make the safeguarding policy "a model of excellence" is meaningless unless there is some external yardstick against which excellence is measured. None has been provided, so there is no means of telling whether this objective will have been met by the end of the year.
Looking see that "implementation of the Policy is given top priority" is also meaningless. Priority doesn't matter at all, what matters is tangible achievements, and none are stated.
So the objectives for safeguarding are so woolly that they can be declared as having been met more or less at any time and with no actual changes having been made. It is noticeable that the school's other objectives for the next year are far more tangible. They include:
- setting up the new educational charity separate from the main trust
- continuing the improvement in exam results
- continuing to recruit girls and boys as pupils to the school
- investment in facilities, including specific named building projects
- increases in the number of bursaries available, including some 100% scholarships.
All of these are sufficiently well-defined that it is possible to look at what has happened over the year and see whether the aims have been met. Not so with safeguarding.
Anybody who wishes to see what a really good safeguarding policy ought to look like can take a look at the policy for Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College. Just compare the language between that and what St Benedict's has.
A good written policy is the foundation of effective procedures on the ground. Without a good written policy, nobody knows what ought to be done in the event of an incident, and so you have no chance of effective implementation. But a good written policy has to be backed by a determination to ensure it is effectively implemented. I have noticed the conspicuous lack of attention given to safeguarding improvements in recent Headmaster's Newsletters. For instance, when the new policy was brought out in February 2012 (just after my article in The Tablet about safeguarding in the school), there was no mention in the headmaster's newsletter as to why the new policy had been brought out and what changes had been made. All the signs are that they want the safeguarding issue to be quietly forgotten.
Well, it might have been addressed long ago - without the Abbey spending £230,000 on the subject. They could have taken some notice of my concerns about the school's child protection policy when I raised them in the autumn of 2009.
Remember that the same Abbot and the same headmaster are still in place now as then.