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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.3: Leadership

13. Keeping Children Safe in Education 2021, statutory guidance issued by the Department for Education, places a duty on headteachers to ensure that safeguarding policies and procedures adopted by local authorities, governing bodies or proprietors are followed by all staff.[1]

14. A positive culture of safeguarding can deter potential “opportunistic sex offenders[2] by reducing the opportunities for abuse and increasing the likelihood of detection and reporting. Headteachers are responsible for creating the culture of the school and ensuring that safeguarding is understood and prioritised across the school. In some of the 12 schools examined in this investigation, there were examples of well-trained safeguarding staff, supported by a committed headteacher, contributing to a positive culture of safeguarding across the whole school. There was also evidence of shortcomings in the leadership of safeguarding which led to poor practice, missed opportunities to prevent abuse and inadequate protection of pupils.

15. At most of the schools examined, at the time when the sexual abuse occurred the school had a poor organisational culture in which safeguarding was not prioritised or seen as a core responsibility of all staff. Issues included:

  • deficient or inadequately implemented policies and procedures;
  • unclear or non-existent staff codes of conduct;
  • inadequate staff training in safeguarding (see Part G);
  • a lack of awareness by leaders of the risks in their schools and a lack of awareness of the signs of abuse in children or of inappropriate behaviours between staff and students;
  • insular and inward-looking schools, lacking both internal and external accountability;
  • responses by schools to allegations against staff as a reputation management issue rather than a child protection concern;
  • school leaders discrediting children who complained of sexual abuse by staff and undermining their credibility in discussions with police and children’s social care;
  • some staff considering sexual activity with students to be acceptable and lacking awareness that such activity amounted to a criminal offence; and
  • a culture that discouraged complaints by parents, children and staff members, and where the voice of the child was not heard.

16. Statutory guidance requires that in order to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities, headteachers must understand the safeguarding framework and their role within it, prioritise safeguarding within the school and be aware of the risks within the school as well as outside it – this means acknowledging the position of power that staff members are in and the scope for that power and trust to be abused. Headteachers must also recognise the additional risk factors that may arise in particular settings, such as boarding or one-to-one tuition.

17. In this investigation, there were examples of headteachers who found it inconceivable that staff might abuse their position of authority to abuse children. Mr John Vallins, headteacher of Chetham’s School of Music (Chetham’s) between 1970 and 1992, assumed the instrumental teachers were “admirable people with absolutely right relationships with their pupils” and that extra tuition outside of school hours was a “splendid aspiration”.[3] There was a failure to recognise that such occasions were potential opportunities for abuse and therefore no safeguards were put in place to minimise such risks and to protect pupils. Mr Anthony Halford, headteacher of Headlands School from 1991 to 2004, said that there was a naive trust that the teachers were doing the right job, and perhaps not enough consideration given to the voice of young people”.[4]

18. Some former headteachers, such as Mr Christopher Hood of Hillside First School[5] and Mr Halford of Headlands School,[6] stated that, despite the detailed statutory guidance in existence at the time, they were unaware of safeguarding procedures or did not understand their role in dealing with allegations against staff. This is not acceptable.[7] It is the responsibility of headteachers to ensure that they are up to date with guidance and good practice. It is also the role of governors to ensure that school leaders understand and carry out their safeguarding roles effectively. It is clear from statutory guidance that these responsibilities cannot be delegated.

19. The Inquiry also saw evidence of headteachers who regarded the primary function of safeguarding as protecting staff from false allegations and who did not accord value or credibility to pupils’ complaints of abuse. Mr Halford said that there were no policies for dealing with allegations of abuse by staff and that “we were more concerned about false allegations against staff”.[8] He viewed a teacher who was in fact grooming some teenage girls for sexual abuse as being “victimised” and when informed of an incident of the teacher kissing a pupil dismissed it as “a figment of her imagination” and “harassment” of the teacher.[9]

20. Mr Peter Crook, headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School) from 2007 to 2011, drafted a document on safer working practice in 2009 which he presented as being designed to protect staff from allegations which could be made by pupils “of unsound mind”.[10] In the document, Mr Crook described adolescents as sometimes unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality and informed staff that pupils therefore may “present a danger, even to the most careful of teachers”.[11] Although the document was described as a draft for discussion, it may have given rise to the inference that pupils were inherently unreliable and not worthy of belief, and that allegations against staff were likely to be false. Mr Crook subsequently told police investigating a staff member, RS-F80, for sexual offences against a pupil that he did not believe the girl and that her allegation was based on fantasy and exaggeration.[12] It was wrong for Mr Crook to seek to undermine the credibility of his pupil in this way.

21. On occasion, when allegations of child sexual abuse arose, headteachers moved to protect the reputation of the school rather than the welfare of victims and other children at the school. In 1994, Michael Brewer, the director of music at Chetham’s, resigned after his inappropriate relationship with a sixth-form student was discovered by the headteacher, Mr Peter Hullah. The headteacher suggested that it would be publicly announced that Brewer had taken early retirement on the grounds of ill health, in order to preserve the reputation of the school and its director of music.[13] Brewer went on to work with young people in the National Youth Choir.[14] No external agencies were notified of the circumstances of Brewer’s departure. Similarly, when Mr Mark Moore (headteacher of Clifton College) became aware in 2007 of the impending criminal trial of a former member of staff for the sexual abuse of a pupil at the school, he engaged a public relations firm to issue press releases and manage any risks of reputational damage to the school but did not undertake any review of safeguarding practices to ensure current pupils were adequately protected.[15]

22. The Charity Commission told the Inquiry that some independent schools see their reputation as being of paramount importance and that this has unduly influenced the handling of safeguarding matters by some charity trustees.[16]

23. As the leader of the school, the headteacher has to be a role model to staff and students, and must embody the values of the school. The headteacher must demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding and adhere to the same rules and boundaries as other staff. An independent review of safeguarding practice at the Purcell School in 2019 found that Mr Crook, headteacher from 2007 to 2011, “did not provide a good role model”. The review concluded that, under the leadership of Mr Crook, the school “did not have a culture of safeguarding”, “safeguarding was not well understood and “the attitude of senior leaders was complacent”.[17] Mr Paul Bambrough took over as headteacher of the Purcell School in 2018. He said that the high turnover of staff in the headteacher role over the previous 10 years meant the school had no clear identity or idea of its function. Mr Bambrough sought to develop the safeguarding culture and ethos of the school by ensuring that everyone in the school was aware that the “overriding priority is to ensure that all students in the school are safe, happy and healthy”. He considered that consistency in messaging from the headteacher was of central importance in facilitating a safeguarding culture.[18]

24. When Dr Stephen Rogers became headteacher at Headlands School, Bridlington, in 2004, he observed a culture in which some staff did not observe appropriate boundaries with students and did not recognise sexual relationships between staff and students as unacceptable.[19] He said that trying to change this culture was “a bit like turning an oil tanker”.[20] When a sixth-form pupil, RS-A303, disclosed in October 2005 that she had been sexually abused by the head of art, Mr Ian Blott, several staff members were openly supportive of Blott and sought to denigrate and discredit his victim. In March 2006, Dr Rogers gave a teacher a formal warning for pretending to spit on RS-A303’s A-level course work in front of other students.[21]

25. Openness and transparency are key to a protective environment. Schools with a strong safeguarding culture responded promptly and appropriately to allegations and concerns, including complaints about non-recent incidents. Wells Cathedral School said that in the aftermath of allegations or safeguarding concerns, it cooperated with external agencies and reflected on opportunities to learn from mistakes in order to improve safeguarding arrangements in the school.[22]

26. At the time of the police investigation into Jonathan Thomson-Glover, the headteacher of Clifton College, Mr Moore, was not open and transparent with police and the local authority. Concerns were raised about Mr Moore’s openness and honesty when he failed to disclose that Thomson-Glover had taken groups of boys away to his holiday home every summer for many years.[23] Mr Moore also repeatedly denied during strategy meetings that there had been any complaints or concerns about Thomson-Glover prior to his arrest. This was not accurate and a subsequent investigation commissioned by the school concluded on the balance of probabilities that Mr Moore knowingly provided inaccurate and misleading information to the local authority designated officer (LADO).[24]

27. A victim of abuse at Clifton College, RS-A345, spoke about the differences in students’ perceptions of the culture of the school when there was a change of headteacher in 2015. RS-A345 said that there was a “paradigm culture shift”,[25] with a “campaign of ‘Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility’, where it was written up all over the walls everywhere, and there was far more talking about safeguarding”.[26]

28. RS-A7, a victim of abuse at Stony Dean School, also described a completely changed culture in the school when a new headteacher was appointed. This led to him feeling able to disclose to the new headteacher that he had been abused by Anthony Bulley.[27]

29. Bristol City Council’s LADO, Ms Nicola Laird, considered that it was important in all settings that challenge was acknowledged and encouraged by leaders and management.[28] Staff and parents must feel able to raise concerns or complaints about the behaviour of school staff, and have confidence that this will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately. Some former headteachers at Clifton College[29] and Hillside First School[30] were considered unapproachable with an autocratic leadership style which affected the ability of parents or staff members to complain or report concerns about staff behaviour.

30. In order to enable meaningful oversight, leaders must ensure that governors have access to information about safeguarding in the school. This means the headteacher and DSL providing governors or proprietors with written policies and procedures, current guidance and advice on good practice, as well as suitably anonymised information about safeguarding cases in the school, in order that governors can monitor adherence to procedures and their effectiveness.

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