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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools Investigation Report

Contents

E.3: Allegations and concerns in the schools examined

No procedures or inadequate procedures

37. In some of the schools examined, school leaders had no understanding of the need for recording and reporting concerns and allegations against staff at all, and had no systems in place. This was the case well after guidance made it clear that schools needed to be alert to signs of abuse and have systems in place to deal with concerns and allegations against staff.

38. Mr Anthony Halford was the headteacher of Headlands School, Bridlington, from April 1991 to July 2004. He said that, while he was headteacher, the school had no written procedures dealing with allegations against staff.[1] He said that he was “more concerned about false allegations against staff or harm to children from families”.[2] At the time, the Department for Education and Employment’s Circular 10/95 (Protecting Children from Abuse: The Role of the Education Service) required schools to have a procedure for dealing with allegations of abuse against staff. However, this was not incorporated into the school’s procedures and Mr Halford did not know about the guidance for headteachers contained within it.[3]

39. Dr Stephen Rogers, who was headteacher at Headlands School from 2004 to 2008, confirmed that there were no procedures for handling allegations against staff when he arrived.[4] He described allegations against staff as a “blind spot”, and said that there was a tolerance of blurred boundaries and staff/student relationships that were over-familiar or informal.[5] He described a “lack of professional common-sense amongst a group of staff at the school”.[6] This is unsurprising given that the school had no procedures for reporting allegations against staff members and that staff had received no direction from the previous headteacher on these issues.

No staff code of conduct

40. At Chetham’s School of Music, the headteacher introduced a staff code of conduct in 1995 following the resignation of the director of music, Michael Brewer, who had been conducting an abusive sexual relationship with a sixth-form pupil. Prior to Brewer’s resignation, there had been no code of conduct or other document setting out guidance and expectations regarding staff interactions with pupils.[7] The staff code of conduct drafted in 1995 was not clear or specific regarding appropriate behaviour with students.[8] Statutory guidance published in 1995 suggested that it may be “helpful” for schools to draw up a code of conduct in consultation with the local authority but it was not mandatory.[9] KCSIE 2021 now requires schools to have a staff code of conduct, so that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with children are made clear. A low-level concerns/neutral notification policy relies on the existence of a staff code of conduct to set out acceptable behaviour.

Failure to make and keep records

41. During Mr Peter Crook’s time as headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School), 2007–2011, there was poor recording of allegations against staff. In January 2009, an allegation of sexual abuse of a student by RS-F20, a staff member at the Purcell School, was referred to the LADO from outside the school. The LADO found that the allegation was unfounded and it was referred back to the school. A very similar allegation was made against RS-F20 in 2014, but no records of the 2009 allegation could be found at the school. Guidance at the time required a “clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, and a note of any action taken and decisions reached”, to be kept on the personnel file for at least 10 years or until the individual reached retirement age.[10] In October 2009, Mr Crook found a member of staff, RS-F80, alone with a pupil, RS-A192, on the school field in the dark.[11] Mr Crook arranged for RS-F80 to receive further safeguarding training but did not make a note of the incident and the action taken until RS-A192 disclosed in May 2010 that she had been sexually abused by RS-F80 on that occasion and had been in an abusive relationship with RS-F80 over several months.[12]

Staff failure to report concerns and allegations

42. At Hillside First School there was a failure to report safeguarding concerns about Nigel Leat. The serious case review in 2012 identified at least 30 incidents where individuals had a concern about Leat between 2000 and 2010.[13] Only 11 of those concerns were reported to the headteacher or deputy headteacher (both of whom held the role of DSL at points during that period).[14] There were more than 20 incidents of staff and volunteers witnessing tactile behaviour, favouritism or unusual behaviour with young female pupils which were not reported within the school. For example, there were two incidents in the 2009/10 school year – first where a teacher saw a child sitting on Leat’s lap at the piano while the rest of the class were moving about the classroom, and the second where the same teacher went into the computer room where Leat was teaching his class and saw him sitting in the corner with the same child. He “moved quickly” and “seemed flustered” when he saw the teacher and she “formed the impression that NL was doing something that he did not want her to see but she did not determine what this was”.[15]

43. These incidents[16] went unreported despite there being detailed and specific guidance in place by 2005[17] setting out signs and conduct which suggested that an individual might be unsuitable to work with children (safer working practice guidance).[18] The guidance included the following as potentially problematic: teachers having favourites and giving children gifts;[19] physical contact which occurs regularly with an individual child;[20] transporting young people outside of their normal duties;[21] and taking photographs and videos of children.[22]

44. Following Leat’s arrest in 2010, at least nine staff members told the police that it was common knowledge, and had been for some time, that Leat had favourites who were always girls.[23] It also emerged that the safer working practice guidance had not been disseminated to staff at Hillside First School when it was re-issued in 2009 and sent by the local authority to the school.[24] Mr Christopher Hood, the school’s headteacher between 2002 and 2011, was unable to recall whether staff had been told about the guidance from 2005.[25]

45. Mr Hood said that it was only after he had left Hillside First School (in 2011) that a series of high-profile cases made people more aware of the possibility that adults in schools could abuse children.[26] He said that:

there was an unfortunate cultural feeling in Hillside where people felt, you know, this isn’t – they didn’t know. They weren’t seeing somebody who was being evil.”[27]

46. In May 2010, at the Purcell School, RS-A187, a sixth-form pupil aged under 18, disclosed to a non-teaching member of staff that she had been in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of staff for several months. RS-A187 spoke to several other members of staff and telephoned Childline before the headteacher and DSL were made aware two days later, when the school notified the LADO of the allegation.[28] Statutory guidance required allegations to be reported straight away to the headteacher, in order for the headteacher to make a referral to the LADO.[29]

School leaders failing to refer allegations

47. In 2008, five different individuals at Hillside First School reported to Ms Michelle Bamford, the deputy headteacher who was the DSL at the time, that they were concerned about how Leat treated RS-A320. One of the people who voiced concerns was a college tutor of a trainee teacher who said that the relationship between Leat and RS-A320 was “a bit close for comfort”.[30] There were concerns about the physical contact between Leat and RS-A320 which made the trainee teacher feel “uneasy”.[31] Another teacher reported that RS-A320 was always with Leat and given special jobs, including marking other children’s external exam papers.[32] Neither Ms Bamford nor Mr Hood reported this to the LADO.

48. Ms Bamford said that she was unaware that she could refer directly to the local authority, and that it was “very much the culture of the school” that all allegations and concerns were reported to Mr Hood.[33] In 2008, the annex to Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education (2007) set out that it would have been the responsibility of the DSL (Ms Bamford) to refer allegations that met the threshold to the LADO, but the main body of the guidance stated that allegations should be reported to the headteacher.[34] From 2007, it was clear that concerns about a teacher’s suitability to work with children should be referred to the LADO. Ms Sheila Smith, director of people and communities at North Somerset Council, told the Inquiry:

if you refer back to the Safeguarding Children’s Safer Recruitment, 2007, back in that, they say even allegations that appear less serious should be seen to be followed up. The local authority or designated officer should be informed of all allegations. And that was about people where it’s about, ‘may be unsuitable to work with children’. That document set out a level, a bar, that was quite low, in my view, in my professional view. I think – ‘who may be unsuitable to work with children’ is not the same as ‘who may harm children’ … Depressingly, that was around from 2007, and yet that didn’t percolate.”[35]

49. It was the responsibility of local authorities (in this case North Somerset Council) to ensure that the guidance did “percolate” in maintained schools. The statutory guidance made clear that it was the responsibility of the local authority to monitor the compliance of maintained schools with the guidance, including the training of staff and the DSL. This responsibility extended to bringing any deficiencies in safeguarding to the attention of the governing body, and advising on remedial action.[36]

50. Mr Hood did not feel that North Somerset Council had made the role of the LADO clear to him. He described the LADO as:

an inaccessible sort of person. We never saw the LADO or any of these officers in our schools. We only ever saw social workers and – in support of children who had been abused at home.”[37]

51. In 2002 or 2003, Mr Halford, the headteacher of Headlands School, received an allegation from the parents of a pupil that a teacher had kissed their daughter. He sought to resolve the issue by arranging a meeting between the teacher and the parents.[38] He did not place any notes of the allegation or the meeting on the teacher’s file. He did not notify the local authority, in breach of the statutory guidance, which required the headteacher to establish contact with the local authority in the event of an allegation.[39] Dr Rogers, who took over as headteacher in 2004, stated that he understood that allegations against staff should be recorded and referred immediately, and he was aware of who to speak to at the local authority should he have “any concerns”.[40] However, he failed to report an allegation against Mr Ian Blott in 2004, when a friend of RS-A303 disclosed that RS-A303 was in an abusive sexual relationship with Blott. Dr Rogers stated that it was not presented to him as an allegation in 2004 but his notes record “no action then. No disclosure from [RS-A303]. Denial”.[41] He accepted that, with “hindsight”, he should have referred the allegation to the local authority.[42]

52. In February 2015, the headteacher of Clifton College, Mr Mark Moore, allowed a member of staff, RS-F82, to resign after a disciplinary hearing found that he had been making improper use of the school internet. An internet search log showed that RS-F82 had been using search terms including “cute young teen boys”, “pederast” and “erotica”.[43] Mr Moore’s note of the investigation concluded that the searches:

for concern in a school context … occurred only on one occasion, lasted for less than a minute and were not repeated. We concluded that this level of activity was not a cause for concern.”[44]

In October 2015, Mrs Jo Newman, the new DSL for the school, undertook a review of files, including the disciplinary files relating to RS-F82. She said that she was “horrified” to read Mr Moore’s note and considered that the search terms indicated RS-F82 may have tried to access indecent images of children.[45] Mrs Newman considered that the information available to Mr Moore revealed “really serious” concerns, as RS-F82 had been a member of support staff with access to children in the school.[46] Mrs Newman immediately referred RS-F82’s case to the LADO and also completed a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service, as required by KCSIE. This action should have been taken in February 2015 by Mr Moore.

Whistleblowing

53. In some cases, staff may not feel able to use the usual procedure for reporting allegations and concerns about colleagues. For example, staff may be concerned that school leaders may not refer allegations to the appropriate authorities or that staff may suffer negative consequences for reporting concerns or allegations about a staff member or school leader.

54. Guidance from 2007, Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education, set out that schools should have appropriate whistleblowing procedures in place.[47]

55. In 2009 to 2010, staff at the Purcell School reported concerns to the chair of governors that the headteacher, Peter Crook, used sexually explicit and inappropriate language with children at the school. The concerns included a meeting that Mr Crook conducted with the Year 9 boys who boarded, held at his private residence on a Sunday evening, which he later suggested was a personal, social and health education (PSHE) class in response to an incident of sexualised bullying in a boarding house. Ms Margaret Moore, a teacher, reported her concerns about the ‘PSHE class’ anonymously to the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, because she had “a genuine fear of reprisal by the headmaster”.[48] Twenty-five members of staff then sent an anonymous letter as the “Staff Association” to Mr Smallbone stating that this incident “is only one of a number of disturbing interactions between the Headmaster and Purcell students on the subject of human sexuality” and concluding that it was an issue which concerned “children at risk”.[49] The letter was sent anonymously for fear of reprisal by the school.[50] Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that he did not take any action because the whistleblowers wished to remain anonymous.[51] Mr Smallbone discussed the complaints with Mr Crook[52] but did not refer any complaints to the LADO,[53] despite guidance in place at the time requiring a referral to be made to the local authority without discussing the allegation with the person concerned.[54]

56. Following Mr Smallbone’s failure to refer the allegations to the LADO, staff members reported a number of incidents anonymously to Ofsted and the local authority. The local authority found one allegation substantiated in July 2009 and advised that the headteacher should face disciplinary action.[55] The local authority also advised that the ‘PSHE class’ was not an appropriate or sufficient response to bullying[56] and that Mr Crook had breached “appropriate boundaries between staff and students” but concluded that there had been no intent to harm children and therefore that allegation was “unfounded”.[57] The local authority did not appear to have considered whether the incident indicated that the headteacher may have been unsuitable to work with children, although this was a criteria for referral in the statutory guidance at the time[58] but it did advise that the language used was inappropriate and should be dealt with through internal disciplinary procedures.[59]

57. Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that the staff members who reported the concerns about the headteacher were whistleblowers but that he nevertheless considered that “it would have been totally wrong to discipline the headmaster and not the members of staff”.[60] The LADO advised Mr Smallbone that disciplining the whistleblowers would be disproportionate and reminded him that staff must be able to challenge poor practice.[61]

58. Although staff were attempting to follow procedures and raise safeguarding concerns about the headteacher with the chair of governors, their concerns were not dealt with properly, despite the fact that the 2007 statutory guidance required schools to have appropriate whistleblowing procedures in place.[62] There was an attempt to stifle the reporting of concerns internally and to characterise them to external bodies as malicious attempts to undermine the headteacher, who was making changes to the school which were unpopular with some staff.[63] Suspected whistleblowers were required to attend an “intimidating” meeting with governors.[64]

Failure to take internal action

59. Schools have not always carried out disciplinary investigations or taken appropriate disciplinary action when a LADO refers a case back to them. Mr Crook was never made the subject of any internal disciplinary sanction for incidents of inappropriate conversation with children at the school. During the same period, in 2009, an allegation of a staff member engaging in sexual activity with a student was referred to the LADO from outside the Purcell School.[65] The student would not support a prosecution. The allegation was considered by the strategy meeting to be “unfounded” (“this indicated that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw . For an allegation to be classified as unfounded it will be necessary to have evidence to disprove the allegation[66]) and referred back to the school as an internal matter to address “unsafe practice”.[67] The staff member had admitted to police that his relationship with the student was “too close” and that he had hugged and kissed the student on the cheek after rehearsals at his house.[68] Although the original allegation was considered unfounded, the school had information that a teacher had acted inappropriately, which should have given rise to a disciplinary investigation.

60. The current headteacher at the Purcell School, Mr Paul Bambrough, noted that in such circumstances it would be helpful to have further guidance from the LADO on how to proceed following an allegation being handed back to the school.[69] This is another area where schools are reliant on the LADO. Currently there is considerable variation between LADOs in terms of the time dedicated to helping schools once allegations are referred back to them.

Responding to incidents of harmful sexual behaviour between pupils

61. A number of the residential special schools considered by the Inquiry provided evidence about how they recorded and responded to concerns about pupils displaying sexualised behaviour. Appletree School, Southlands School and the Royal School Manchester all had systems in place where such behaviour was recorded, discussed internally and then frequently referred to children’s social care for further consideration.

62. Appletree School provides care and education for children of primary school age, often children who have been subjected to neglect and abuse (including sexual abuse) before they are placed at the school.[70] This can lead to an increased frequency of sexualised behaviour from pupils whose past experiences had not taught them that such behaviour is inappropriate. In consequence, any incidents which could be deemed to be concerns about sexually harmful behaviour were discussed with the local authority.[71]

63. However, there was an incident in 2006 at Appletree when a staff member overheard a pupil accusing a pupil of “fucking” another child. The matter was not immediately referred to children’s social care; staff at Appletree School interviewed the children the following day and a referral was made a day later.[72] As set out in Part B, the fact that staff had interviewed the children was considered problematic by the local authority and the police.[73]

64. Triangle, an independent organisation that provides specialist services for children and young people with complex communication needs, was critical of guidance about what to do when a child makes a disclosure of abuse of any kind, describing it as “part of the problem”.[74] Triangle set out that much of the available guidance is largely prohibitive, telling staff what they should not do (investigate, ask leading questions, extend the child’s account) but not helping them to help the child without contaminating the evidence.[75]

References

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