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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


H.2: Inspection

3. There are two school inspectorates in England: the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). Ofsted is a non-ministerial government department linked to, but independent of, the Department for Education[1] established in 1992 to inspect educational standards in schools. The ISI was formed in 1999,[2] and was first approved by the Secretary of State for Education under the Education Act 2002 to inspect some independent schools (see paragraph 12).[3] Ofsted inspects the majority of schools: all state-funded schools, 46 percent of independent schools and all residential special schools. The ISI inspects 54 percent of independent schools.[4]

4. The schools sector is unusual in having two inspectorates which differentiate between state-funded and private schools. For example, in the field of social care in England there is one inspectorate, which also acts as a regulator, for social care provision for adults (Care Quality Commission) and one for children (Ofsted). They inspect all types of providers of social care services: private, state-funded, voluntary or charitable. There is therefore consistency across social care inspection reports, irrespective of who is providing the service.

5. Having two inspectorates with different inspection frameworks means it is difficult to compare safeguarding judgements on independent schools, depending on whether they are inspected by Ofsted or ISI, and may make it more difficult to ensure consistency of inspections.

6. Between 2003 (when the ISI was approved by the Secretary of State to carry out inspections)[5] and the 2016/17 school year, Ofsted prepared an annual report on the quality of inspections and reports by the ISI (Section 107 of the Education and Skills Act 2008). From 2017/18, Ofsted considered that it was not in a position to quality assess ISI inspections, as it had not been commissioned to consider a sufficient number of inspections.[6] This quality control arrangement was replaced in 2019/20 by a joint working arrangement described as “collaborative working to develop and inform inspection practice across Ofsted and ISI”.[7] This collaborative working does not include any alignment of the frameworks for inspecting safeguarding in schools. Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills, said that Ofsted and the ISI had ruled out undertaking aligned inspections of the small number of schools where Ofsted inspects residential welfare and the ISI inspects educational quality on the basis that the benefits would be outweighed by the burden of a new jointly agreed framework, inspection protocols and Memorandum of Understanding.[8]

State-funded schools

7. Ofsted inspects all state-funded schools (maintained schools or academies). At the time of the Phase 2 hearings (November 2020) some state-funded schools had not been inspected for a considerable period of time. This was because between 2010 and September 2021, schools judged outstanding at an inspection were exempt from further routine inspections at the direction of the Secretary of State for Education.[9] In November 2020, there were 1,000 state-funded mainstream schools which had not been inspected for 10 years;[10] some schools had not been inspected for 13 years.[11]

8. Ofsted inspects the educational provision of state-funded schools against its education inspection framework, which was introduced in September 2019.[12] Under this framework, inspectors do not provide a separate grade for safeguarding, but they make a written judgement under ‘leadership and management’ about whether the arrangements for safeguarding learners are effective.[13]

9. From 2009, safeguarding was introduced as a limiting judgement, which meant that if safeguarding was judged to be ineffective the school would be judged to be inadequate.[14] This was one of a number of changes intended to place a greater emphasis on the importance of safeguarding, including a requirement that pupils, parents, staff, governors and other stakeholders must be given opportunities to speak with inspectors without the headteacher or staff present.[15]

10. Ofsted inspects the residential component of state boarding schools and state-funded residential special schools against its social care common inspection framework for boarding schools and residential special schools (SCCIF) and the national minimum standards (NMS) for boarding schools and residential special schools.[16] The SCCIF contains detailed safeguarding requirements, including requirements to ensure that the school has effective links with local authorities, designated officers and other important safeguarding agencies.

11. Ofsted has the power to carry out inspections without giving state-funded schools notice.[17] It may do so when there are serious concerns about one or more of the following: the breadth and balance of the curriculum; rapidly declining standards; safeguarding; a decline in standards of pupils’ behaviour and the ability of staff to maintain discipline; and standards of leadership or governance.[18]

Independent schools

12. The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspects those independent schools which are members of the associations of the Independent Schools Council (association independent schools). These schools constitute around 54 percent of all independent schools, representing approximately 80 percent of all children educated in the independent sector.[19] The ISI inspects both educational provision and residential welfare for these schools.[20]

13. The ISI has two main types of inspection: a regulatory compliance inspection and an educational quality and focussed compliance inspection.[21] An independent school will receive both inspections in a six-year cycle, with an inspection around every three years. During a regulatory compliance inspection, the ISI checks that the independent school is meeting all the Independent School Standards (ISS). An educational quality and focussed compliance inspection looks at the quality of education being provided by the school and key ISS, including the standard which focusses on safeguarding.[22]

14. When considering whether the safeguarding standard is met, ISI inspectors will review whether the school has created a “culture of safety”; arrangements for dealing with peer-on-peer allegations, safer recruitment and management of safeguarding; and the school’s safeguarding policies.[23] The ISI also inspects residential welfare for association independent schools against the NMS for boarding schools.

15. Ofsted inspects non-association independent schools (approximately 20 percent of all children educated in the independent sector attend these schools), using its education inspection framework and the ISS to inspect the educational provision and its social care common inspection framework and the NMS for boarding schools.[24] Ofsted also inspects all independent residential special schools.

16. The inspectorates do not have the power to inspect independent schools without notice.[25] They can only do so at the request of the Department for Education. The Department for Education can commission the ISI and Ofsted to carry out an emergency inspection of an independent school for any reason, such as a complaint or other intelligence which raises a concern about safeguarding. All emergency inspections are carried out with no notice.[26]

The limitations of inspection

17. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills, Ms Amanda Spielman, described inspection as a “limited tool” which is “designed and works well as an assessment of competence.[27] This reflects the fact that it is the role of each school itself to ensure that its safeguarding is effective. In some of the schools examined, school leaders were overly reliant on the inspectorates to assess their safeguarding and failed to take responsibility for undertaking their own regular evaluations of the effectiveness of the school’s safeguarding arrangements.

18. Even taking account of some of the inherent limitations of inspection, some inspections at the schools examined were poorly conducted. In its Stanbridge Earls School Review Report, Ofsted acknowledged that four inspections of the school between January 2011 and January 2013 had “failed to get underneath concerns at the school” and that each had been problematic in some respect.[28] This included the concern that inspectors had not used “information as a trigger for further inquiry”.[29]

19. Ofsted was able to carry out a thorough review of the quality of the Stanbridge Earls inspections and to expose their flaws because it still had access to the evidence bases used by the inspectors to make their judgements. That was not the case for the majority of the inspection reports of the schools examined by the Inquiry.

20. In 2009, Ofsted retained its evidence bases for three months after inspection and by 2011 the retention period was six months after inspection for most settings (subject to a complaint being lodged).[30] Since 2015, most inspection activity has been recorded electronically and held for six years.[31]

21. In some of the schools examined, Ofsted had judged safeguarding to be good or outstanding at a time when there was evidence of deficiencies in the safeguarding arrangements of the school. The retention policy in place at the time meant that in most cases it was not possible for the Inquiry to examine the evidence used for the inspection judgements. This was the case for Headlands School (reports in 2004 and 2008), Hillside First School (reports in 2006 and 2009) and Stony Dean School (2002 inspection).[32] In all these cases, Ofsted stated that it was not in a position to identify any failings in the inspections as the evidence base was not available.[33]

22. There was also a similar issue in respect of schools inspected by the ISI. At Clifton College, the different ISI judgements in 2013 and 2015 were difficult to assess in detail because the documentary evidence base from the 2013 inspection no longer existed.[34]

Inspection as a snapshot

23. Both the ISI and Ofsted said that inspection makes an assessment of competence and compliance at a school at a moment in time.[35] Inspectors do, however, ask a school to inform them of any safeguarding concerns that have arisen since the last inspection.[36] Inspection reports do not set out the limitations of or any caveats to the safeguarding judgements.

24. The limited remit of inspections is not always made sufficiently clear to parents and carers. This is not surprising when Ofsted reports and ISI educational quality reports make a qualitative judgement on the effectiveness of arrangements for safeguarding pupils in the school.[37] Inspectorates have a responsibility to ensure reports are clear, unambiguous and easily understood.

25. RS-A299, who was abused by Nigel Leat at Hillside First School when she was under nine years old, expressed her disappointment in the inspection process (there were two Ofsted inspections of the school in 2006 and 2009 during the time Leat was sexually abusing young girls including RS-A299):

You put your trust and your faith in that these sort of organisations are made for that purpose, to ensure that everything within a school and within a teaching environment is made and fit for purpose. So it is unbelievable that they have managed to go into a school and give it an Ofsted and teaching – like, to give it a report that it’s excellent, when you almost wonder how you can come to that conclusion, or where they were or what they were actually reporting on, if not the children”.[38]

26. Safeguarding issues at Hillside First School were not uncovered during inspections in 2006 and 2009. In June of the 2005/06 school year, Ofsted carried out a two-day inspection.[39] Care, guidance and support were judged to be ‘outstanding’. Procedures for ensuring child protection and pupils’ health and safety were found to be well established and effective. The inspection found that pupils felt very safe and knew that adults would “always sort out their problems”.[40] In January of the 2008/09 school year, Ofsted conducted a one-day inspection at the school.[41] This inspection found that the procedures for safeguarding met current government requirements. The report also included the following judgement:

pupils feel exceptionally safe and secure because they know that staff have their well-being at heart and are always prepared to listen, help and take action”.[42]

27. At the time of the January 2009 inspection, RS-A299 was in Leat’s class at Hillside First School. She said that she tried to tell the headteacher, Mr Christopher Hood, that “something had happened” between Leat and RS-A346, but that he did not ask any questions.[43] The only adult at school she and RS-A346 considered talking to was a teaching assistant who left the school before they were able to disclose anything.[44] The evidence from Mr Hood and the deputy headteacher and designated safeguarding lead (DSL), Ms Bamford, about their response to the five members of staff reporting in May 2008 concerns about Leat’s favouritism with RS-A320[45] suggests that they had no understanding of the clear safeguarding guidance in place at the time, or else were unwilling to implement it. This fundamental misunderstanding of the basic principles of safeguarding was not identified by Ofsted.[46]

28. Mr John Kennedy, assistant regional director at Ofsted, said that inspectors only being in the school for one day in the 2008/09 school year, part of the “Reduced Tariff Inspection” policy of the Department for Education,[47] would have meant that they were highly reliant on the school’s own self-evaluation. In that context, the lack of understanding of safeguarding policies and procedures or meaningful oversight by the governing body would have been less apparent.[48] This suggests that the individual management review of the school carried out for the subsequent serious case review in relation to Leat’s abuse was correct when it concluded in 2011 that:

The current external inspection and regulation arrangements for schools are insufficiently intrusive and robust, particularly in relation to safeguarding arrangements and practice. The agencies responsible for conducting this activity do not have the capacity or remit to undertake in depth intrusive scrutiny unless issues have already been identified.”[49]

Reliance on honesty and integrity

29. In a number of cases, inspections at the schools examined were hampered by senior staff or governors withholding relevant safeguarding information.

30. Ms Elizabeth Coley, retired reporting inspector for the ISI, stated that the inspectorates were reliant “on people telling us the truth and for documents not to be falsified” and said that “children have been coached not to tell inspectors what’s really going on”.[50] Ms Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills, also referred to the difficulties in inspection where leaders are not honest about safeguarding concerns:

firstly, that where there is deliberate concealment, especially by senior leaders, it is extraordinarily difficult to get into it until you know that there is something there, And secondly, when people know what they should do and deliberately withhold or deliberately omit, it is much, much harder to spot omissions than it is to spot errors and misstatements.”[51]

31. During the 2013 inspection of Chetham’s School of Music, the headteacher, Ms Claire Moreland, initially failed to declare that a member of staff, Wen Zhou Li, had been arrested for non-recent sexual offences against a pupil only two or three weeks before the inspection.[52] The ISI had been given this information by the local authority which was conducting an inspection at the same time and therefore knew to press the headteacher on this point.[53] This illustrates both the extent to which the inspectorates are reliant on headteachers being candid from the outset and the importance of information-sharing.

32. In 2009, at The Purcell School for Young Musicians, there was a concerted effort by the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, to manage and downplay the safeguarding concerns that had been raised in respect of the headteacher to Ofsted, despite an allegation against the headteacher being found to be substantiated by the local authority. The inspector recorded that, after meeting with the chair of governors, she “felt very confident that the issues are being addressed appropriately and effectively by the governing body”.[54] The Ofsted report did not address the fact that the local authority had been notified of concerns by whistleblowers on the school staff who had no confidence in the safeguarding regime at the school. The report stated that “There has been a small but effective element within the staff team which has actively undermined the headteacher and the school”.[55] This was not a fair or accurate representation of the actions of whistleblowers on the school staff. The inspectors were too ready to accept the assertions of the chair of governors.[56]

33. The ISI considered that Mr Mark Moore, headteacher at Clifton College, had been less than candid about issues at the school. After an inspection visit in December 2013, the ISI was made aware by a parent of the existence of a complaint which the inspector had not had sight of during the visit.[57] Following the arrest of Jonathan Thomson-Glover, Mr Moore wrote to the ISI in January 2015 claiming that there had never been any concerns about the behaviour of Thomson-Glover at the school. The ISI then conducted an inspection of the school in July 2015. In a letter written to the Department for Education to support the ISI’s conclusion that there had been breaches of both the ISS and NMS, the ISI also noted that “documentary evidence seen at the college does not support” Mr Moore’s assertion that there had been no parental complaints or concerns about Thomson-Glover’s conduct at the school.[58]

34. Ofsted also considered that its boarding welfare inspection of Clifton College in 2009 was hampered by the leadership at the school. The inspection toolkit recorded the inspector as saying, “wherever I went in the school, staff asked my background and qualifications and made it clear that they felt I shouldn’t be there. It was the most hostile environment I have ever encountered as an inspector”.[59]

35. Ms Helen Humphreys, a specialist advisor for residential care, made clear that an inspector relies on the integrity and honesty of the senior leaders in a school to follow their own policies and practice, and to put the welfare of their pupils first. She stated that an inspector’s ability to carry out their work effectively is limited if a school is not open to inspection or sets out to deceive inspectors.[60]

Poor information-sharing

36. Ms Spielman said that “There are many weaknesses at the moment in the sharing of information around the system”.[61] She described an “enormous web of information” which Ofsted was not able to access easily, which would improve the quality of its inspections.[62] She considered that there should be:

a policy priority for good information sharing between all the bodies, a recognition that we are all parts of a larger system of assurance and that, if we don’t – unless we share the information we have, we are handicapping others in doing their job”.[63]

For example, Ms Spielman did not consider that the Department for Education was consistently sharing all relevant information with Ofsted.[64] In her view:

it is often the case that we are expected to inspect blind, when others do hold information but, for various reasons, don’t share it with us, perhaps because their investigations have not reached the point of final determination.”[65]

37. The ISI agreed that the quality of inspections would be improved by getting information in a timely way from other institutions in the safeguarding framework, including:

  • local authorities, particularly the local authority designated officer (LADO);
  • schools;
  • the Disclosure and Barring Service;
  • the Teaching Regulation Agency;
  • the Charity Commission;
  • the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the Standards and Testing Agency; and
  • the Department for Education.[66]

38. Mr Kennedy explained that a teacher might have been prohibited from teaching due to safeguarding issues, but Ofsted would not know because “routinely, we are not given that information”.[67]

39. Both inspectorates said that the response from LADOs to their requests for information prior to inspections was variable.[68] The ISI had around a 40 percent response rate (spring 2019 figures) to their routine emails to LADOs asking for information about a school prior to an inspection. There was a wide degree of variation between local authorities, with around 50 percent of LADOs never responding to contact and the other half responding with varying degrees of regularity.[69] The ISI took steps to improve its relationship with LADOs, changed the way data were requested and gave LADOs longer to respond but by spring 2020 this had only led to a response rate of 45 percent.[70]

40. Ofsted is in favour of requiring residential special schools and boarding schools to send serious incident reports to the inspectorates. This requirement was in place between 2003 and 2012 for residential special schools.[71] Ofsted considers that this would “allow the inspectorate to monitor the effectiveness of any action the school has taken and consider whether any information should be shared with other agencies. Inspectorates will be able to build up a body of knowledge about the effectiveness of leaders and managers to manage significant incidents and develop appropriate key lines of enquiry for inspection”.[72] The Department for Education has recently consulted on the introduction of a requirement for residential schools to notify the Department for Education and the inspectorates of serious incidents through the National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools and Residential Special Schools. The Inquiry understands that the Department for Education intends to publish the government’s response to the consultation in the early part of 2022, and that the response will include details of the Department’s intentions in relation to the notification proposal in the consultation.

Safeguarding consequences of financial constraints

41. Ms Spielman stated that there has been a 52 percent cut in real terms since 2000 to Ofsted’s funding for school inspections.[73] She noted that, over the last 20 years, “Successive governments … have made reducing the perceived burden of regulation on schools a policy priority and so have reduced the scale of school inspection and its funding very substantially”.[74] As a result, inspectors have spent less time in schools and schools have been inspected less frequently. Being in a school for only one or two days makes identifying safeguarding problems more difficult. Ms Spielman told us:

There’s also simply being in a school for longer gives you a greater ability to recognise the kinds of anomaly and inconsistency I talked about. So on behaviour, for example, as one of my colleagues who is an experienced secondary inspector once put it, people can hide a great deal over one day, it gets harder on two, and for behaviour it’s almost impossible to conceal serious behaviour problems by the third day.”[75]

42. Ms Kate Richards, chief inspector of the ISI until 2020, said that cuts to the inspection budget of Ofsted and the Department for Education led association schools to challenge the ISI to “follow suit”.[76] This led to the creation of less burdensome inspections which just inspect schools against the ISS (regulatory compliance inspections).

43. A school inspected by the ISI currently has two inspections in a six-year cycle, one of which is two days long and the other is three days long.[77] Ms Rhiannon Williams, current deputy chief inspector of the ISI, considered that the ISI was “sufficiently well funded for what we need to do and we have sufficient time on inspection”.[78]

44. The current government made a manifesto pledge to increase Ofsted inspections from two days to three days. Nick Gibb MP, then Minister for School Standards, said that “a lot of these things were put on hold due to the pandemic” but that the government “want to fulfil our manifesto commitment”.[79]


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