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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


D.1: Introduction

1. In this Part the term ‘residential special schools’ is used to describe settings where children both live and are educated. Some of the schools looked at were independent schools associated with children’s homes.

2. Special schools provide care and education for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Children with SEND require “Special educational provision”.[1] The majority of pupils with SEND are not educated in residential special schools – they attend mainstream schools often with additional provision or special day schools.[2]

3. Pupils at residential special schools fall broadly into four groups:

  • children with severe learning disabilities, autism and challenging behaviour;
  • children with social, emotional and mental health problems and challenging behaviour;
  • children with profound and multiple learning disabilities and multiple health needs; and
  • children with sensory impairments or specific learning difficulties.[3]

4. Pupils live on-site, so that education and care are both provided over a 24-hour period. Where pupils are resident at school for up to 295 days of the year, the school is a residential special school for the purposes of registration and inspection. If pupils are resident for more than 295 days of the year, the school is required to register as a children’s home in England or a care home in Wales.[4] As at August 2020, there were 67 residential special schools in England that had voluntarily registered with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) as children’s homes.[5] There is no voluntary registration process in place in Wales.[6]

5. The sector has reduced in size over time. In 2010, there were 7,600 pupils boarding in residential special schools in England – in 2019, there were fewer than 4,000 pupils.[7] The decrease in number is largely because more children are having their needs met in local provision. The small number of children now accessing residential special schools represent children with extremely complex needs – whether physical, cognitive, social or emotional – who live away from home because their needs cannot be met in local provision.

6. The investigation examined five residential special schools: Appletree School, Cumbria; the Royal School Manchester; Southlands School, Hampshire; Stony Dean School, Buckinghamshire; and Stanbridge Earls School, Hampshire.[8] These schools educate and care for pupils with a range of special educational needs and disabilities. The issues explored in these schools included harmful sexual behaviour between pupils;[9] child sexual abuse by a member of care staff against pupils;[10] the inspection of residential special schools;[11] and non-recent decisions of the Department for Education about whether to prohibit individuals from working with children in educational settings.[12]

7. The closed residential schools account considered three schools which would now be described as residential special schools for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.[13] These were Sheringham Court School in Norfolk, which became Thurlby Manor School in Lincolnshire, and Feversham School in Newcastle upon Tyne, which were independent but funded, inspected and registered by local authorities. Local authorities from all over the country placed children at these schools.[14] Abuse occurred between the 1970s and the 1990s.[15]

7.1. At Sheringham Court and Thurlby Manor, Bryan Greenhalgh and Ken Wells sexually abused a large number of pupils between 1975 and 1983. In 2014, they were convicted of a large number of offences against pupils at the schools.[16]

7.2. At Feversham School, Ken Brown and John Leslie Duncan systematically and repeatedly sexually abused the pupils.[17] Formal reports of abuse, including sexual abuse, were made to the school in 1978, 1987, 1988 and 1991, as well as informal reports in 1976.[18] A “deeply flawed” independent investigation in 1988 led to no action being taken.[19] At trials in 2011 and 2014, Brown was convicted of sexual offences against 10 pupils.[20] Duncan was convicted of sexual offences against two pupils in 2002. In 2014, he was convicted of sexual offences against a further seven pupils.[21]

8. In addition to providing information about non-recent incidents, the residential special schools also gave evidence about the continuing challenges of keeping children safe, their safeguarding structures and training, as well as their views concerning the adequacy of current statutory guidance for children with SEND and training for staff.


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