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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


F.2: Key roles

Headteachers and designated safeguarding leads

2. The headteacher and the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) have leadership responsibilities for the safeguarding arrangements in a school. In some schools, the headteacher may also serve as the DSL but usually these roles are separate.

3. The headteacher is a focal point for staff and students, acting as a role model to embody the values and ethos of the school. Headteachers need to have a thorough understanding and awareness of the importance of safeguarding in order to ensure that it is prioritised within the school. The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) believed that school leadership style made a significant difference to effective safeguarding: “If the leadership style of the head is not effective, it is more likely that child protection will not be fully effective”. The ISI considered that the damaging effect on the safeguarding culture of a school of poor leadership by the headteacher could not necessarily be compensated by a committed and effective DSL.[1] The ISI stated that the key was for leaders to be authoritative but not authoritarian, “open, approachable and collaborative in style”, and to act as positive role models in relation to child protection and safeguarding.[2]

4. The DSL has lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection. The headteacher supports the DSL and any deputy DSLs by ensuring that they have the authority, time and resources to carry out their roles effectively.

Governors and proprietors

5. State-funded schools which are maintained by the local authority must have a governing body, which has an oversight function to ensure the school complies with its legal obligations, including safeguarding, and to hold the headteacher to account for the running of the school.

6. Independent schools and academies are not required to have governing bodies.[3] These types of schools have proprietors. The governance of independent schools is for proprietors to decide. They are not legally obliged to adopt any particular form of governance, or indeed to have any governing body at all.[4]

7. In academies, the proprietor is the academy trust, which is founded by members who have a duty to exercise their powers in line with the trust’s charitable purpose. A trust board is the decision-making body of the trust, and has functions and responsibilities similar to a governing body.

8. All independent schools must have a registered proprietor. The proprietor may be a company or an unincorporated group of individuals, a charitable trust, a board of governors, directors or trustees, or a combination of these, such as a company which is also a charity.[5] In these cases there is often a group which resembles a governing body.

9. Some independent schools have a sole proprietor (an individual rather than a proprietor body) and have no oversight from any kind of board. The sole proprietor may also be the headteacher and the DSL. It is “recognised good practice to have at least an advisory board” in such schools[6] but this is not required either by the Independent School Standards (ISS) against which independent schools are inspected or by statutory guidance.

10. Many independent schools are also charities and so have charity trustees. These trustees may set up a governing body to oversee the school. Those trustees must comply with charity law and may be the subject of regulatory action by the Charity Commission if they fail to discharge their duty of strategic oversight and management of safeguarding.[7] The Charity Commission publishes guidance concerning safeguarding[8] and would consider a failure by trustees to comply with this guidance and that set out by the Department for Education to be a potential breach of their duty as trustees.[9]

11. Proprietors and governors must undergo ‘suitability checks’ which require ‘enhanced’ criminal record checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS; these checks are discussed further in Part I) and checks as to whether the individual is prohibited from managing a school under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 (or previous legislation). There are no DBS barred list checks for proprietors or governors because the roles are not deemed to be in ‘regulated activity’. Inclusion on the children’s barred list remains a bar to becoming a governor of a maintained school[10] but it is unclear how a school would become aware of this information as governors are not eligible for barred list checks.

12. Ms Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Skills and Children’s Services, said that the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) does not believe enhanced DBS checks alone are sufficient to assess suitability of proprietors, and that full checks should be carried out even where proprietors are not undertaking regulated activity because proprietors are responsible for pupils’ safety.[11] The ISI considered that there was scope to develop the regulatory framework to ensure proprietor-run schools met the safeguarding requirements.[12]


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