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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.4: Governance

31. KCSIE 2021 stipulates that governors and proprietors should:

  • ensure that they take strategic responsibility for safeguarding and that the school has a “whole school” approach to safeguarding;[1]
  • have a senior board level (or equivalent) lead to take leadership responsibility for the school’s safeguarding arrangements;[2]
  • ensure that safeguarding policies, procedures and training in their schools are effective and comply with the law at all times;[3]
  • adopt robust recruitment procedures that deter and prevent people who are unsuitable to work with children from applying for or securing employment, or volunteering opportunities in schools and colleges;[4] and
  • recognise that children with special educational needs and disabilities can face additional safeguarding challenges and ensure that child protection policies reflect the additional barriers which may exist when dealing with safeguarding concerns.[5]

32. Governors should have relevant knowledge and skills to enable them to identify safeguarding risks and how to manage them. Governors must understand their responsibility to put the child first, before the institution.

33. Prior to the introduction of a specific standard on leadership and management in the 2014 ISS, the ISI inspected this area on a non-statutory basis.[6] From 2013 onwards, when schools have demonstrated inadequate safeguarding arrangements, school inspectors have held governors or proprietors responsible for failing to exercise effective oversight of safeguarding at the school.[7]

34. Governors or proprietors set the strategic vision for a school. Where safeguarding is part of the stated aims and objectives of the school, this helps to create a positive culture in which the welfare of children is prioritised throughout the school, from the governors and leaders to the staff and volunteers. Ms Laird considered that the hallmarks of a good safeguarding culture are where safeguarding is integral to every part of the setting, which follows safer recruitment, and has good training; where everyone from cleaners to governors has good safeguarding awareness and understands the policies, and how to report allegations; and governors have safeguarding knowledge and can hold the head to account. She also considered that safeguarding must be regularly reviewed because it is constantly evolving.[8]

35. Governance should provide an additional layer of assurance by scrutinising safeguarding arrangements in a school and holding school leaders accountable for their effectiveness. Governors or proprietors must have some safeguarding knowledge, and must also be provided with sufficient information about safeguarding issues which arise, so that they can monitor whether policies are being implemented and whether those policies are effective.

36. The ISI considered that the relationship between leadership and governors was a “cornerstone” because “It sets the tone for effective leadership, mutual respect and recognition of shared values, while recognising their different roles and lines of accountability”.[9]

37. Evidence from the schools examined showed that far from encouraging challenge from governors, some headteachers were resistant to scrutiny, while some governing bodies lacked the ability to challenge school leaders. In some cases, such as at Clifton College and at the Purcell School, governors simply ‘rubber-stamped’ the decisions of the headteacher or failed to address shortcomings in the safeguarding practice of the school, even when these issues had been identified by external safeguarding professionals.[10]

38. At Clifton College, the LADO and the governing body had a number of concerns regarding headteacher Mark Moore’s handling of safeguarding issues relating to the housemaster Jonathan Thomson-Glover, but Clifton College did not conduct any disciplinary proceedings in relation to Mr Moore’s leadership of safeguarding. The College Council, as Mr Moore’s employer, had a duty to consider whether to refer him to the National Council for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) when he resigned as headteacher at the end of 2015 but the referral did not take place until August 2017, following the receipt of advice sought from several external advisors.[11]

39. Ofsted suggested that the ISS should contain specific requirements for governance, based on three accessible principles: “openness to external scrutiny; honesty and transparency within the governance arrangements; and the ability of those governing to have difficult conversations both internally and with those providing external scrutiny”.[12] This would allow the Department for Education to intervene when governance arrangements did not comply with those principles.

Schools without a governance structure

40. The closed residential schools account submitted by Counsel to the Inquiry set out the events leading to the disqualification of the sole proprietor and headteacher of an independent school, Sherborne Preparatory School. Robin Lindsay was disqualified in 1998 from being a school proprietor or a teacher on the grounds that he was “not a fit person to own or run a school”. There was no governing body or any form of oversight board to hold the headteacher to account. Concerns about the conduct of Lindsay were raised in 1974, 1982, 1985, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 before the Independent School Tribunal in 1998 found that he was a “fixated paedophile” who posed a “serious risk to children” and made an order of disqualification.[13] The tribunal hearing predated the introduction of the ISS.

41. The Department for Education said that when child protection concerns arose in sole proprietor schools, especially when the concern related to the proprietor, this could be difficult for agencies to deal with.[14] The proprietor has no employer and to remove the person from their role the Department for Education is reliant upon taking a combination of regulatory and enforcement action, which is time-consuming.[15] These, however, are problems that the Department for Education could itself address, were it minded to do so.

Governors or proprietors: oversight role in safeguarding

42. The Inquiry heard that at many of the schools examined governors did not monitor the effective implementation of safeguarding arrangements through the scrutiny of safeguarding incidents which arose at the school. This was the case at Chetham’s prior to 2013 and at the Purcell School during the tenure of Mr Graham Smallbone as chair of governors from 1998 to 2010.[16]

43. The local authority’s inspection report on Chetham’s in 2013 found there was little evidence that the governing body had held the school to account to ensure that safeguarding arrangements were “implemented, applied robustly, monitored appropriately, or evaluated effectively”.[17] The ISI also inspected Chetham’s in 2013 and found that there was inadequate oversight of the safeguarding arrangements at the school.[18] The governing body had no means of monitoring the implementation or effectiveness of safeguarding policies and procedures, for example by sampling cases which occurred at the school. In response to the ISI’s findings, the school endeavoured to improve transparency and accountability by creating new formal structures for the oversight of safeguarding. A dedicated safeguarding committee was established within the school’s governing body.[19] It received anonymised reports of all safeguarding incidents which arose at the school, to ensure the school’s policies and procedures were complied with in practice and to enable assessment of the effectiveness of the school’s safeguarding processes.[20]

44. The ISI inspection of Clifton College in 2015 found that the governing body had not monitored the leadership, management and effectiveness of the welfare provision of the school. Clifton College had not taken appropriate action to safeguard pupil welfare because the governors had relied on school staff but had not monitored their implementation of safeguarding procedures.[21] An independent review of safeguarding at Clifton College noted that, prior to 2013, the governing body (called the College Council) did not appear to be aware of its duty to oversee safeguarding at the school. There was no evidence of any:

substantive, minuted discussion of the Council’s duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, their duties as charity trustees to safeguard ‘vulnerable beneficiaries’, or the safeguarding expectations of school inspectors.”[22]

Although the College Council agreed the child protection policy every year, “there was no evidence of challenge or questioning” by the Council.[23]

45. Mr Anthony Marsh, the LADO for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said that at the time of the major enquiry into sexual abuse at Headlands School, published in 2008, governors of maintained schools were “very much hands-off and a bit distant”, and the role of designated safeguarding governor was then much more distant than we would expect it to be now”.[24] The designated safeguarding governor at Headlands School was not informed about specific safeguarding cases or allegations against staff, so was not able to scrutinise whether school policies and procedures were being properly implemented.[25] Mr Marsh stated that this was not unusual for governing bodies at the time because “there’s obviously difficulties in terms of governors in how involved they can get in the details of child protection issues and allegations because of their disciplinary role”.[26]

Governors or proprietors: information about safeguarding concerns

46. At Hillside First School, governors were aware that they had a role in scrutinising safeguarding at the school but were not made aware of safeguarding concerns regarding Nigel Leat. Mr Paul Redding, the former chair of governors, understood that safeguarding concerns were noted in a book which was kept in the headteacher’s office and checked regularly by the safeguarding governor. Mr Redding considered that there were safeguarding records about Leat’s conduct in 2004 and 2008 which should have been brought to the attention of the governing body, which would have wished to refer the matters to the local authority.[27]

Governors or proprietors: relevant knowledge and experience

47. In some schools, it appeared that inadequate scrutiny was the result of governors lacking the necessary safeguarding training, experience or knowledge, meaning that policies and procedures were simply rubber-stamped rather than being rigorously reviewed. At Clifton College, members of the College Council (the governing body) were often former pupils of the school and the governing body lacked professional experience in education or safeguarding children. The LADO in 2015 drew attention to the lack of safeguarding expertise within the newly created Safeguarding and Welfare Committee of the governing body and questioned its ability to provide meaningful challenge on safeguarding issues. The chair of the College Council said that the lack of existing expertise meant that the Safeguarding and Welfare Committee relied heavily on the help and support of the LADO and the school’s DSL to train governors to ensure they gained the appropriate level of knowledge and understanding of safeguarding. The governing body also co-opted external expertise from a police officer with child protection experience to advise the Safeguarding and Welfare Committee.[28]

48. A governing body with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience is likely to strengthen the governance of any school. There is a particular concern in independent schools where there are no regulations as to the composition of any governing body. In maintained schools, regulations as to the constitution of the governing body require a board of at least seven members, including the headteacher, one staff member, at least two parents and a member nominated by the local authority.[29]

49. Mr Bambrough, headteacher of the Purcell School, considered that the board of governors of the school would be enhanced if it included a staff member and a parent.[30]

50. The governors of Stony Dean School, a maintained special school, appeared to lack understanding of their duty to safeguard children. In 1998, the chair of governors together with two representatives of Buckinghamshire County Council visited the head of care, Malcolm Stride, when he was remanded in custody awaiting trial for sexual offences against children at a different school.[31] They sought to persuade Stride to resign with a compromise agreement, which would have prevented a disciplinary process from investigating whether Stride had harmed children at Stony Dean School, and prevented a referral to the relevant bodies to consider whether Stride should be prohibited from working with children.[32] Mr Richard Nash, service director for children’s social care at Buckinghamshire County Council, stated that it was “wholly inappropriate” for the governors and representatives of the local authority to make such a proposal, and that the governors did “not appear to have considered the potential implications of such a compromise agreement in relation to the future protection of children”.[33]

Governors or proprietors: unwillingness to challenge leaders

51. Governors at Stony Dean School failed to hold the headteacher, Mr Graham Newsholme, to account for the safeguarding arrangements at the school. The governing body did not identify a number of failures in the recruitment process for the head of care, Anthony Bulley, who went on to abuse children at the school. A serious case review found that governors were unwilling or unable to challenge the headteacher for his poor practice over several years.[34]

52. Mr Nash stated that current local authority mechanisms ensure the effectiveness of governing bodies in holding maintained school leaders to account for poor safeguarding practice. He explained that Buckinghamshire County Council now had much closer relationships with the governing bodies of maintained schools and that these relationships were more interactive, with audits to ensure that governors undertake safeguarding training and implement what they have learnt. The local authority had also created a safeguarding advisory service for school governors, which gave advice and could support maintained school governors to improve safeguarding where shortcomings had been identified.[35] Local authorities do not have the same role in relation to independent schools and academies.

53. The Inquiry heard detailed evidence about governance issues at the Purcell School, where the chair of governors did not deal appropriately with concerns reported by staff about the headteacher, failed to hold the headteacher to account for his inappropriate behaviour, failed to refer matters of concern to the LADO and did not engage transparently with external bodies.

54. In the 2009/10 school year, the chair of governors, Mr Smallbone, was made aware of a number of complaints and concerns regarding the conduct of the headteacher, Mr Crook, in relation to inappropriate conversations with pupils. Mr Smallbone discussed the complaints with Mr Crook but did not refer any complaints to the LADO. Several direct referrals were made by whistleblowers on the school staff and in July 2009 the local authority found one allegation against the headteacher to be substantiated. It was referred back to the school so that the board of governors could take disciplinary action against Mr Crook but in September 2009 Mr Smallbone asked the LADO to reconsider the outcome of the case.[36] It was inappropriate of him to question the outcome or ask the LADO to reconsider it. Mr Crook said that he was never informed by the chair of governors or anyone else that an allegation against him had been substantiated.[37]

55. Mr Smallbone also heard a recording of Mr Crook speaking to Year 9 boys using language which Mr Smallbone described to the Inquiry as “absolutely unacceptable”,[38] although he had previously told the governing body it was “very good with only very minor exceptions”.[39] An independent review commissioned by the governing body in 2009 considered that Mr Crook had used inappropriate language with pupils and recommended that Mr Crook be given a formal final warning and placed on probation. The local authority had also recommended that disciplinary action be taken.[40] Mr Smallbone declined to follow these recommendations to take disciplinary measures against Mr Crook but assured the local authority that disciplinary action had been taken.[41] An independent review commissioned by the current headteacher of the Purcell School concluded in 2019 that the failure to discipline Mr Crook was a misjudgement on the part of the chair of governors and that he failed to properly hold the headteacher to account for inappropriate conduct.[42]

56. Staff at the Purcell School at the time perceived that governors lacked accountability for their failure to hold the headteacher to account. Ms Margaret Moore, a whistleblower at the school during the headship of Mr Crook, told the Inquiry: the governors ultimately, in that independent school, were in control, and they could do and say what they wanted to.[43]

57. Ms Laird said that she was concerned in 2015 that the governing body was not scrutinising and challenging the decisions of the headteacher of Clifton College, Mr Moore.[44] The current chair of the governing body, Mr Nick Tolchard, told the Inquiry that a weakness in governance at that time was that there was no formal appraisal of the headteacher by the College Council.[45] Governors may find it difficult to challenge leaders if there are no formal mechanisms for doing so, particularly where the headteacher is autocratic and resistant to authority. The former chair of governors, Mr Timothy Ross, noted that Mr Moore “found it difficult to accept or understand that ultimate control of (and responsibility for) the College lay with the Council, not the Headmaster”.[46]

58. Clifton College was not unusual among independent schools in having many former pupils on the board of governors. The ISI said that where members of the proprietor body had attended the school themselves, “this can inculcate a high level of loyalty to the institution which can impair their ability to hold the leadership to account objectively”.[47]

59. Independent school governors are not accountable to the local authority or to the Department for Education in how they exercise their oversight role. Such schools may choose to create an additional oversight mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the governing body. After Chetham’s failed to meet safeguarding standards in 2013, in addition to creating a sub-committee of the governing body to monitor safeguarding at the school, an Independent Safeguarding Commission was established by the school, composed of individuals who were independent of the school and its governing body. The Independent Safeguarding Commission’s role was to have independent oversight of the safeguarding arrangements at the schools and to scrutinise the safeguarding committee of the governing body. It could request reports from the safeguarding committee and could also invite staff with safeguarding roles to present reports and answer questions regarding safeguarding at the school.[48]


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