Thursday, 4 April 2013

St Augustine's Priory School

Last month I wrote to the new headteacher at St Augustine's Priory School, Mrs Raffray. I asked if I could meet her to discuss safeguarding at the school. She replied promptly and invited me to visit the school to meet her.

The school does seem to have recovered considerably from the car crash of an inspection they suffered when the ISI visited in 2010. They had another inspection at the end of 2012, and the report was much better, and found that the school does now meet all its statutory obligations.

I don't normally put a great deal of weight on ISI reports. I have seen too many cases where the ISI have missed serious safeguarding shortcomings, but I had alreasdy warned the ISI I was looking carefully at them for their next inspection of St Augustine's, so I felt it likely that they would be looking carefully at both safeguarding and governance this time round, especially since these areas had been the subject of such adverse comment last time.

In addition, I have been impressed with the new safeguarding policy that has been put in place since she arrived. I have recently done a bit of research for a BBC radio programme, conducting a survey of the safeguarding policies of 60 randomly chosen secondary schools, checking them against 10 basic safeguarding criteria. It so happened that St Augustine's had been one of the schools in the random sample, and was one of just two schools in the sample which had scored a perfect 10 against the set of criteria I checked the policies against. In reading through the policy, I was impressed with the the fact that it was obviously not written with the intention of keeping "wriggle-room" available to allow for excuses not to report allegations of abuse.

So, I wanted to meet Mrs Raffray and see what I could learn about how she was going about implementing safeguarding at the school. It is one thing to have a well-written policy, but quite another to be implementing it effectively. We met last week and chatted for about an hour. I was impressed by what she told me. She regards having passed the ISI inspection as simply a milestone on the journey towards implementing top-quality safeguarding.

We talked through various aspects of safeguarding. For instance, we discussed the issue of instrumental music lessons, in the light of the recent scandal at Chetham's School. Peripatetic music teachers usually teach at several schools, so they have different safeguarding arrangements to work with in the different schools they teach at. In addition, instrumental music lessons are one-on-one and music is an emotional subject and so the scope for and risks of abuse are greater.

I asked what was being done to address this point. I was told that the peripatetic teachers have been required to have and use a school email address for all electronic communications with St Augustine's pupils, that they have been required to ensure that they meet the St Augustine's safeguarding policy and teachers' code of conduct when they are teaching at the school, whatever requirements they meet elsewhere. In addition, the rooms they use for teaching have windows in the doors and that people do look through the windows from time to time just to check that all is well.

This seems to me to be a sensible set of arrangements. The primary aim is of course to protect the children, but it also helps ensure that the staff are not put into unsafe situations.

One of the areas of criticism in the ISI report concerned the current arrangements for governance. I wanted to know whether the governance issues - the separate boards of trustees and governors had in any way slowed down Mrs Raffray in implementing effective safeguarding. I was assured that they had not. She told me that everybody had recognised that following the bad ISI report and the article about the school in The Times, things had to change. Until the governance reform is carried through, there remains in principle the scope for deadlock between the trustees and governors, but she has had nothing of that sort in dealing with safeguarding. As I understand it, there has been no deadlock on any subject since she arrived at the school.

I asked Mrs Raffray what was going to be her next step in improving safeguarding. She said that the current policy meets regulatory requirements but she regards it is being less than ideal in terms of ease of use. She wants to make it easier to use so that safeguarding becomes automatically part of all the decision-making of the school.

We talked about the overall philosophy of safeguarding, how to ensure that attitudes are such that children are effectively protected. She talked of the need for well-written procedires, but also for treating the dignity of the child as paramount, that you can usually get to the truth of any situation by listening to the children.

I was very heartened by the discussion. Mrs Raffray struck me as being extremely dedicated to ensuring the safety of the pupils in her care. She seems determined to drive up standards in all aspects of the operations of the school, not just safeguarding.

This of course was a discussion, not an inspection. I'm not qualified to carry out an inspection, and to carry out an inspection would have required access to confidential records that it would have been entirely improper for Mrs Raffray to show me. I didn't ask for that access and she did not volunteer it.

But as far as I can ascertain, St Augustine's is now a safe school where safeguarding and child protection is given the priority it deserves. I am extremely happy both with the changes that have occurred so far and with Mrs Raffray's determination to improve things further.

I hope that parents and governors continue to take an active interest in safeguarding at the school. Lots of people keeping an eye on things is the best defence against any drop in standards in the future. You never finally win the war against abuse. It requires perpetual vigilance.

On the same day that I wrote to Mrs Raffray, I also wrote to Mr Patrick Murphy O'Connor, the new chair of governors at St Benedict's school. I have not yet received any reply from him.


  1. I am very pleased to hear the good news from St Augustine's.

    It is however very disappointing that Patrick Murphy O'Connor, the Chairman of Governors at St Benedict's has so far failed to respond to Mr West's request for a meeting. It makes me wonder if anything much has changed at the school as a result of the Carlile Report. The headmaster and abbot are still in place in spite of all that has happened, and the new Chairman of Governors is apparently insufficiently interested in safeguarding to spare an hour to discuss the subject.

    It sounds like "business as usual" at St Benedict's.

  2. "Child abuse is rarely contained within childhood. The events bleed into every aspect of adult choices, relationships, employment and health. Victims suffer from alcoholism, mental-health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is not uncommon for male victims to end up in prison. Cameron Fyfe is a Scottish lawyer who has dealt with more than 1,000 Scottish cases of abuse by the Catholic church. "Not one person has come out unharmed," he says. "Every one has had their life smashed."

    From today's Observer

  3. Its reassuring that the Governors at St Augustine's have employed a credible Headmistress to secure the Schools future and they have procedures in place to protect the children that the School is responsible for.

    It has taken Mrs Raffray just 6 months to do this.

    It appears that St Benedict's are still avoiding the issue and offering no assurance that they have taken child protection issues on board.

    Yes, the Trust is now is separate from the Governance of the school - but its the same old inbreeds who are more concerned about their jobs and status than the welfare of the children they are supposed to protect.

    Soper is still missing and David Pearce is due for release.

    How confident are parents that the there would never be another incident at St Benedict's? - If there were an incident, how well would it be dealt with and by whom?

  4. Mr West, have you had a reply from Mr Murphy O'Connor yet?

  5. @ 22:00

    I am afraid that Father David isn't due for release, he was in fact released about a year ago.

    His original sentence of eight years was reduced to five years on appeal. He was required to serve half of this in custody and the other half was suspended, he will however remain on the sex offenders register for life.

  6. Last weeks ealing gazette (April 12th)by Maxine Black had a large piece under community news - It was reviewing how the abbey were trying repair the damage of 50 years of abuse by changing the names on the school buildings. Reference was given to Fr Lawrence Soper and Fr Kevin Horsey buildings which have now been renamed.

    It also mentions that David Pearce had now been released, and if he wanted to make contact with the monks at ealing abbey then it had to be at an agreed location. He had also been defrocked -unlike the others.

  7. I see from the Ealing Gazette article that the Horsey Building has been renamed the Hall Wing and the Soper Pavilion has been renamed the Centenary Pavilion.

    I suppose they couldn't really take the risk of renaming them after Ealing Abbey monks for fear of what might be revealed in the future.

    1. @ 16:20

      ...but Rupert Hall WAS a monk.

      And, interestingly enough, his name is not entirely in the clear. It was he who likely turned a blind eye to Horsey's shenanigans, having been abbott at the time.

    2. My understanding is that "Hall Wing" is not named after Fr Rupert Hall, but for the fact that the building is an annex of the Orchard Hall.

      Of course, the Orchard Hall is named after Fr Bernard Orchard, a former headmaster and monk who died in 2006 on the same day as Fr Kevin Horsey.

      But I am not aware of any complaints about Fr Bernard Orchard, so I expect that name will be kept.

    3. Ah, I see.

      Indeed, there's nothing against Bernard Orchard, a great man whom I had the honour to meet a couple of times.

      He struck me as one of the few positively inspirational aspects of the whole rotten mess of St Benedict's, and indeed the school to this day relies on the goodwill that his two headmasterships built up in the 50s and 60s.

  8. If they still want to commemorate the life of Father Kevin Horsey then maybe they should name the latrines after him.

  9. No formal statement has been issued by the school on any of the above, you always have to read it in the newspapers first !

  10. i was a parent with two children at the school up to july '12 and i found it an excellent school, the teachers are excellent,the only thing that was a bit strange was the security at both school,a large friendly russian on the junior school gate and almost impossible to attend the sporting dept building in the early evening to collect my children a bit too security conscious.

  11. Concerning the possibility of despatching Chillman to another monastery without an attached school in England. Would it have been wise for any ecclesiastical superior to accept Chillman at their abbey? The consequences for any abbey who took charge of Chillman if he failed to abide by any of the stipulations he was to abide by would be serious for the receiving monastery. But that has not stopped monasteries doing precisely that.

    In the academic year 1984-1985 Nicholas White a monk of Downside Abbey was dispatched by that abbey to a one year study course at Heythrop College ,London. Under what circusmtances was he sent to study at that college? Where did White reside while a student during the academic year '84-'85? Was It Ealing Abbey? If so what access did he have to the school and parish there? As we are aware White has been comvicted and jailed for sex crimes against children. This is not just a polite inquiry I am making. It is a matter of the greatest urgency that we know where White stayed for that year in question. The protection and safety of children is paramount.

    The answer of course lies with Shipperlee at Ealing. His record of transparency is less than encouraging to say the least. Why Ealing still believes it can continue to function as a monastery and house of prayer is one of the more perplexing and baffling aspects to this entire issue. Answers?

  12. Russian security? try Polish and I think every parent will agree he is the friendliest gate person you could have,and if it keeps adults of the school site then we are in favor.