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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church (EBC) Case Study: Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School Investigation Report

F.5: Independent Schools Inspectorate

35. Since 2003, one of the ways by which the DfE has regulated independent schools has been through inspections which are undertaken against standards set out in law.[1] These standards include provisions in respect of welfare, health and safety of pupils, including the requirement to have a written policy on safeguarding which is implemented effectively.[2] Since January 2015, these standards also include provisions on the quality of leadership and management of the school.[3]

36. The ISI has statutory approval as an inspectorate from the DfE under section 106 of the Education and Skills Act 2008.[4] The ISI first inspected St Benedict’s senior school in January 2004. It found that the school complied with child protection standards and noted that it had a detailed child protection policy.[5]

37. The next inspections, of both junior and senior schools, were in November 2009. In reports published in February 2010, the ISI found that the school met the regulatory standards for welfare, health and safety of pupils[6] (which by that point required the child protection policy to comply with the guidance Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education). The senior school report further commented, in respect of leadership and management:

The trustees and advisors are fully aware of, and diligent in discharging their responsibilities for the welfare, health and safety of pupils, including taking proper steps to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their child protection policies and procedures. A serious incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimise risk. The advice received from the independent experts has been fully implemented.[7]

38. On 11 February 2010, shortly after the publication of its reports, Mr Jonathan West contacted the ISI expressing concerns. He did not think that the independent review had yet happened, as the Charity Commission had reported that it had been promised but not received in December 2009.[8] The next day another member of the public, Michael Grant, contacted the ISI because he was “appalled by the report with regards to the issue of child protection”.[9] He referred to the fact that David Pearce was the former head of the junior school and had lost a civil action as well as being “jailed for eight years after thirty-five years of systematic abuse”.[10]

39. As a result, and after further investigation, on 1 April 2010 the ISI withdrew the 2009 inspection reports from its website “whilst enquiries are made to ensure that the report is accurate in relation to independent reviews and subsequent actions”.[11] The DfE then, on 16 April 2010, commissioned the ISI to carry out a further unannounced non-routine follow-up inspection.[12] That inspection was undertaken in April and May 2010 and determined (among other things) that the very same child protection policy as was deemed compliant in the 2009 inspection was not so. The subsequent report, published in August 2010, was critical.

The 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, as in the case of [Pearce].[13]

It made a number of recommendations, including further improving the safeguarding policy and ensuring that staff or monks subject to allegations of misconduct live away from the school.[14]

40. The 2009 inspections were flawed in a number of ways.

40.1. The inspectors did not obtain a full picture of child protection concerns in respect of St Benedict’s, including the extent of the offences for which Pearce was convicted and the fact of the Charity Commission inquiry. Whilst the deficiencies in the level of disclosure given by the school and Abbot Shipperlee as chair of governors was a contributory factor, this does not provide a sufficient excuse. The ISI itself should have undertaken further steps to obtain and check relevant information both prior to and during their inspection, especially when the inspectors discovered that David Pearce had recently been convicted of sexually abusing a pupil.[15] As explained by Kate Richards, Chief Inspector since 2017, the ISI now makes specific inquiries of both the local authority and the school itself about allegations and safeguarding incidents, as well as searching for relevant information in the public domain.[16]

40.2. The ISI found, wrongly, that the school’s child protection policy was compliant, despite obvious defects, in particular with regard to external reporting. These were picked up in the 2010 inspection but should have been identified earlier. The failure is the more striking given the fact that the reporting inspector noted in his pre-inspection commentary:

We shall need to be particularly alert and meticulous in checking all policies and procedures concerned with child protection.[17]

40.3. The 2009 ISI reports confused the independent review into Pearce’s offending (which was undertaken by Mr Nixson and Mr Wright) and what the inspector was told about advice provided by the Diocesan child protection officer and another safeguarding professional in respect of RC-F41’s restrictions.[18] The senior school report stated:

A serious incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimise risk.[19]

This plainly related to the review into Pearce’s re-offending,[20] but it went on to state that the advice of that independent review had been implemented, which was an error. The advice of Mr Wright and Mr Nixson arising out of their review had not even been given at the time of the ISI inspection, still less implemented.

41. The ISI in conjunction with the DfE subjected St Benedict’s to ongoing scrutiny after 2010. In 2012, a team of 12 inspectors visited for four days, and found the school to meet all the statutory requirements. In November 2014, a non-routine emergency inspection was undertaken following an anonymous letter of complaint about safeguarding and governance, and a further regulatory compliance inspection was undertaken in December 2015.[21] This inspection was followed up in January 2016 to consider issues arising from the arrest of Peter Allott, the deputy headmaster. In 2017, the ISI judged St Benedict’s to meet the standards required by regulatory compliance and educational quality inspections.[22]

42. However, had it not been for the intervention of members of the public, the ISI might not have re-appraised the safeguarding arrangements at St Benedict’s in 2010 and thereafter. Its approach to the inspection of St Benedict’s in 2009 fell far short of what should be expected of an independent inspectorate.

References

Footnotes

  1. Initially the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003.
  2. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003. This was subsequently amended in 2004 so as to require compliance with DfES guidance Safeguarding Children in Education, and in 2008 so as to require compliance with later DfES guidance Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education.
  3. Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014, Schedule part 8.
  4. Before this, it was approved under section 163 of the Education Act 2002 (ISI001293_005 para 19 Richards).
  5. ISI000016_25 para 6.16. We do not consider Ofsted in this investigation because it had no involvement in St Benedict’s School.
  6. ISI000021_012-013 paras 3.5, 3.8
  7. ISI000021_015 para 4.4
  8. ISI000082
  9. ISI000078
  10. ISI000078
  11. ISI000095
  12. ISI000102
  13. ISI000019_004
  14. ISI000019_004
  15. As specifically referred to in pre-inspection commentary prepared by the reporting inspector; see ISI000555_025
  16. ISI001293_047-048
  17. ISI000555_26 para 3.1
  18. ISI000088_002
  19. ISI000021_015 para 4.4; ISI000020_014 para 4.5
  20. ISI000555_025: “a member of the monastic community [ie Pearce] was recently found guilty of abusing a pupil … Following the recent case, the Abbot has asked the diocese child protection team to conduct an independent investigation into what has happened and whether the steps taken to minimize the risk are sufficient … we need sight of the investigation’s outcome by the time of the inspection.
  21. ISI001293_034-037
  22. ISI000700; ISI000698
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