Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools investigation report


C.5: National minimum standards

23. Despite the additional risks to children at boarding schools as set out above, there are no additional safeguarding requirements or advice for boarding schools set out in the statutory guidance (Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) in England and Keeping Learners Safe in Wales). There are specific school standards which apply to boarding schools (the NMS), against which Ofsted, Estyn and the ISI inspect. There is detailed consideration of the inspection regime in Part H.

24. The NMS in Wales were introduced in 2003 and have not been revised or amended since their inception. These standards are considered in more detail in Part J.

25. The NMS for boarding schools in England were introduced in 2002 “to safeguard and promote the welfare of children” accommodated at boarding schools[1] and have been amended in 2011, 2013 and 2015. They have been reduced from a 60-page document with significant detail to a 20-page document with broad standards and little detail as to how they should be met.[2] The current standards are described as having a focus upon “the extent to which the school promotes and safeguards the welfare of all boarders, rather than its compliance with structures and systems”.[3] Judgements are made as to the adequacy and suitability of the provision.[4]

26. NMS 11 concerns child protection. It is broad rather than specific, requiring that:

  • arrangements are made to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils at the school; and
  • such arrangements have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”[5]

This means that the safeguarding policies and practice must comply with KCSIE and other safeguarding guidance. KCSIE states that boarding schools “have additional factors to consider with regard to safeguarding”, but there is no further detail within KCSIE or the NMS regarding these additional factors, or how boarding schools should approach safeguarding in the light of the additional challenges which can arise in the residential sector.[6]

27. In respect of staffing, there is a requirement for boarders to be under the responsibility of “an identified member of staff who is suitably qualified and experienced”, but the NMS do not specify any qualification or training requirements for staff who live on-site or who have responsibilities for boarders at a mainstream boarding school.[7] There is a requirement that access to staff accommodation is properly supervised and does not involve inappropriate favouritism or one-to-one contact between staff and boarders.[8]

28. The NMS require that the governing body or proprietor monitor the effectiveness of the leadership, management and delivery of boarding provision, and that the leadership of the school demonstrate “good skills and knowledge appropriate to their role”.[9] There is no requirement in the NMS for staff or governors to have specific safeguarding training appropriate for their roles. The NMS stipulate that staff with management responsibilities should have an adequate level of experience and training in the management and practice of boarding to ensure that children’s welfare is safeguarded.[10] There is a requirement for induction training in boarding and “opportunities” for training for all staff members working in a boarding setting but there is no standardised qualification or syllabus for such training.[11]

29. There is a requirement in the NMS for both boarding and residential special schools to have an ‘independent listener’, a person who is not a parent or a member of staff or part of the leadership and governance of the school, who boarders may contact directly about personal problems or concerns at school. The NMS do not set out any further detail or qualifications for this role. The Inquiry heard evidence that the independent listener service is not much used by pupils. Witnesses from both Ofsted and the ISI stated that, at some schools, the children are not aware of the independent listener.[12]

30. Ms Kate Dixon, director of school quality and safeguarding at the Department for Education, said that the NMS were the subject of a consultation because neither the very detailed and prescriptive standards nor the very brief and broad standards were “quite right”.[13] The consultation ran from December 2020 and closed on 23 February 2021. As of January 2022, the Department for Education had not published the outcome of the consultation.

Back to top