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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


G.3: Training for school governors and proprietors

34. Governors or proprietors have responsibilities under KCSIE to ensure that all the policies, procedures and training in their schools are effective and properly implemented.[1] KCSIE requires that governing bodies and proprietors should have a senior board-level (or equivalent) lead to take responsibility for their school’s safeguarding arrangements.[2] The Independent School Standards have an express requirement of adequate leadership and governance, including governance of safeguarding.[3]

35. Despite these responsibilities, there is no mandatory safeguarding training for governors, trustees, proprietors or boards of management of state-funded or independent schools at present. Nor is there a standardised national safeguarding course for governors and proprietors.

36. As identified in Part F, there are several instances in this investigation where the lack of suitable training and relevant experience hampered a school’s governing body or trustees in their oversight of safeguarding. In some cases, governors lacked the necessary knowledge and understanding of safeguarding, while in other cases it appeared that governors felt unable to challenge or hold the headteacher to account.

37. The Inquiry heard evidence from the LADO for Bristol City Council, Ms Nicola Laird, that it would be helpful to have guidelines for training and a “benchmark” of the necessary safeguarding expertise for both the senior leadership team and also the governing body.[4] She noted that some governing bodies lacked the expertise to hold the headteacher to account and considered that training should be compulsory for at least the chair of governors and the safeguarding governor.[5]

38. Mr Nick Tolchard, chair of the College Council (the governing body) at Clifton College, considered that safeguarding training for governors was “essential”.[6] He told the Inquiry that when he first became chair of the College Council’s safeguarding and welfare committee, he realised how much he did not know. Mr Tolchard said that he would like to see training for governors which is like “continual professional development[7] and considered that it would “make sense” for governors to have such training.[8] When asked whether undertaking such training is too onerous, given the voluntary nature of the role, Mr Tolchard disagreed:

we have a personal responsibility on council for the well-being of the children in the school. So, to a certain extent, whatever it takes”.[9]

39. Ofsted’s Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges identified that there were gaps in governors’ knowledge of online safety issues in particular. It concluded that Ofsted’s visits to 32 schools “indicate that governors could receive better training and be more involved in tackling harmful sexual behaviours”.[10]

40. The National Governance Association, representing governors and trustees of state-funded schools, told the Inquiry that there is no statutory requirement to train governors in holding executive leaders to account and no compulsory safeguarding training. The Governance Handbook, non-statutory advice for governors of state-funded schools, sets out that it is good practice if every member of the board has undertaken safeguarding training.[11]

41. The Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS) stated that most of its member schools expect governors to undertake at least the same level of training as their staff and AGBIS makes it clear that regular governor training in safeguarding is good practice. AGBIS is in favour of “standardised minimum content and expectations of governors” across both independent and state sectors, mandated and supported by the Department for Education.[12]

42. The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) supports consistent minimum levels of training for governors and proprietors, supplemented as appropriate, according to the circumstances and needs of the school.[13] Ofsted advocates the lead governor or trustee dealing with safeguarding should have training, which needs to be focussed on the specific role of the governing body in safeguarding.[14]

43. The NSPCC, which runs a consultancy and training service for schools, considered that all governors should have safeguarding training to ensure that “safeguarding is embedded in the school from the top and the leadership in safeguarding is taken seriously”. The NSPCC was also in favour of governors receiving training in how to hold leadership to account.[15]

44. The teaching unions also considered that there should be training for governors, at least for those exercising oversight of safeguarding.[16] Dr Roach of the NASUWT said:

it is essential that training is provided for governing boards. They may very well be volunteers, but they carry a weight of public responsibility as a result of the office that they assume, and that responsibility has got to be taken seriously … it’s vitally important … that they’re equipped to undertake that role, discharge that role, effectively, whether they are volunteers or not.[17]

45. The Ofsted Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges indicated that governors had “some sort of safeguarding training” (which did not necessarily include training on harmful sexual behaviour) in only approximately one-quarter of the 32 schools visited.[18] It appears that, in too many schools, governors do not receive any safeguarding training. The Department for Education is not currently proposing the introduction of mandatory training for governors or proprietors. Baroness Elizabeth Berridge said that the view of the government is that “schools know their duty to provide appropriate training”.[19]

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