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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.6: Department for Education

43. The DfE is the regulator of independent schools. Since the Education Act 2002, it has had the power to approve inspectorates, to require inspections of independent schools against the statutory standards, to serve notice on a school which is failing to meet those standards and ultimately to de-register a failing school. Further powers were given to it under the Education and Skills Act 2008.[1]

44. The DfE’s involvement with Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s was limited until significant problems were identified.

44.1. In 2007, the DfE agreed to commission an ISI inspection of St Benedict’s in 2009.[2] There is no evidence that the DfE relayed to the ISI before its 2009 inspections the fact that the Charity Commission had contacted the DfE in 2007 regarding allegations made against Pearce and RC-F41.[3]

44.2. In 2009, the ISI asked the DfE whether it should do anything in addition to that scheduled inspection, following an email from Ealing Children’s Services. That email arose from an anonymous letter which made reference to “things being hushed up”.[4] The DfE contacted the local authority designated officer (LADO) at Ealing, and was told by the LADO that the Ealing Child Protection Strategy Group wanted to flag with the DfE the comments in the letter “that indicated the school ethos was to cover up any problems”, although no other information or explanation was given in the letter.[5] The LADO said that the headmaster, Christopher Cleugh, had appeared to cooperate fully. The LADO did not relate the history of Pearce’s offending with RC-A621, nor the fact of his arrest and pending prosecution, or that RC-F41 had also been the subject of historic allegations. Ealing Council (through its LADO) should have been in a position to inform the DfE of such facts.[6]

45. It appears that it was only after concerns were raised with the ISI by Jonathan West and Michael Grant that the independent education and school governance division of the DfE became aware of the Charity Commission report of December 2009, and the scale of the problem at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s. This was despite exchanges in 2006/7 with the Charity Commission, the exchange in 2009 with the LADO and the DfE having a press cuttings service to alert it to safeguarding issues in independent schools.[7]

46. In March 2010, Penny Jones, Deputy Director of the Independent Education and School Governance Division at the DfE, expressed her concern to the Charity Commission as follows:

as regulators we are concerned about a culture that has built up in the Trust … can they really be trusted to properly implement and safeguard … child protection at the school”.[8]

47. The DfE commissioned an emergency ISI inspection and remained closely involved. The DfE attended a meeting on 29 July 2010 with Abbot Shipperlee, and repeatedly required assurance that all the ISI’s recommendations would be implemented promptly.[9] Of those recommendations, one lay outside the scope of the DfE’s statutory powers as a regulator of schools as they existed in 2010:[10] the requirement that any monks who had been the subject of allegations should not reside at Ealing Abbey. As RC-F41 remained resident at Ealing Abbey at the time, there was discussion between the DfE and the Charity Commission as to whether the Charity Commission might be able to use its powers to enforce compliance.[11] In the event, Abbot Shipperlee agreed that RC-F41 would be relocated.

48. After this point, the DfE remained involved with the ongoing monitoring of the school by the ISI. For example, in April 2015, the DfE served a notice upon St Benedict’s requiring that an Action Plan be implemented[12] after the school was found not to have met all requirements in the ISI’s 2014 inspection, including with regard to details in the safeguarding policy.[13] St Benedict’s provided such a plan;[14] the DfE approved this and instructed the ISI to monitor compliance.[15]

49. We note that the DfE considered in 2010 that it did not have the statutory power to enforce a recommendation made by the ISI that monks who had been the subject of allegations should not reside at Ealing Abbey. Penny Jones explained that this lack of jurisdiction arose in 2010 because the DfE had no means of requiring the school to change its governance and leadership.[16] With effect from January 2015, the DfE now has such power following the inclusion within the independent school standards of provision about the quality of leadership and management of schools.[17] In a statement to the Inquiry, Kate Dixon, the Director of the School Quality and Safeguarding Group, makes clear that if a similar situation now arose, the DfE has power to take enforcement action against the school.[18]


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