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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


A.2: Scope of the investigation

5. As set out in the investigation’s definition of scope, this investigation examined the nature and extent of incidents of child sexual abuse in residential schools, and the responses to those allegations by the schools and other organisations.[1] The themes considered included governance and management of schools, inspection and monitoring, training and recruitment of staff, whistleblowing and reporting, school culture, and good safeguarding practice.[2]

6. In the course of reviewing material provided to the Inquiry, a number of themes and issues were identified which applied equally to day schools (schools with no residential facilities for pupils, who return to their homes at the end of each school day). As a result, the investigation was widened to consider institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse in some day schools.

7. The investigation was divided into two phases, both of which are dealt with in this report:

  • Phase 1 (hearings: September/October 2019) considered two types of residential school: residential specialist music schools and residential special schools (for children with special educational needs). These schools were selected because pupils faced heightened risks of child sexual abuse in these settings. Allegations of child sexual abuse have been made at all four specialist music schools in England, and five former members of staff have been convicted or cautioned for sexual offences at three of the schools. The Inquiry also heard evidence about safeguarding concerns or allegations of child sexual abuse at five residential special schools. The barriers for children with special educational needs and disabilities reporting sexual abuse are such that there are few convictions within this sector. For this reason, the five special schools were selected in order to provide a geographical spread and a range of special educational needs and disabilities. The Inquiry also sought evidence from these special schools of good practice in safeguarding children with special educational needs and disabilities.
  • Phase 2 (hearings: November 2020) considered three mainstream schools (explained below) where staff have been convicted of sexual abuse of pupils – one state school for children aged 4 to 8, one state secondary school for children aged 11 to 18, and one independent boarding school (a mainstream school where all or some of the pupils reside overnight during term time) for children aged 2 to 19. Schools were selected in order to enable the investigation to consider both state and independent schools, primary education, secondary education and boarding. Evidence was also considered relating to a boarding school in Wales, where safeguarding issues arose in 2019 which led to the dismissal of the headteacher in February 2020. While the school was not the subject of a full examination by the Inquiry, the issues raised were used to explore the responses of the institutions in Wales to safeguarding concerns.[3]

8. The allegations of child sexual abuse and safeguarding concerns considered in both Phases 1 and 2 were largely reported and investigated or responded to between 1990 and 2017, and related to incidents alleged to have taken place from the 1960s to 2014.

9. The Inquiry also gathered information relating to sexual abuse which took place between the 1950s and the early 1990s within eight schools which have closed or are under new management. The information was brought together and presented by Counsel in their document Non-Recent Sexual Abuse in Residential Schools: An account submitted by Counsel to the Inquiry concerning eight closed residential schools (the closed residential schools account submitted by Counsel).[4] Four of these schools were fee-paying preparatory schools (Ashdown House, Sherborne Preparatory School and St George’s School, which became Dalesdown School), three were schools for children described as “unruly” or “maladjusted” (Sheringham Court School, which became Thurlby Manor School, and Feversham School), and one was an ‘approved school’ and later a ‘community home with education’ (St William’s School). From 1933 to 1969, approved schools were a type of residential institution to which children could be sent by a court, usually for having committed a criminal offence, but also if they were deemed to be beyond parental control.[5] A number of schools referred to the Inquiry had ceased to operate and from these, Counsel focussed on eight schools which provided a snapshot of non-recent child sexual abuse in residential schools which were no longer open or are under new management. It is not suggested that the closed residential schools account submitted by Counsel is truly comprehensive or representative of all such schools.[6]

10. The Inquiry was not able to obtain detailed information about the institutional responses to the child sexual abuse which took place in these schools for a number of reasons, including a lack of documentation resulting from the passage of time and the closure of the schools. Information and extracts from Counsel’s closed residential schools account are referred to in relevant sections of this report. The complaints of sexual abuse recounted in Counsel’s account took place when most of the current system for safeguarding children in schools did not exist.

11. Despite numerous changes and improvements to safeguarding since the complaints of child sexual abuse referenced in the closed residential schools account, children continue to face sexual abuse and sexual harassment in schools. The Inquiry heard evidence about ineffective safeguarding in schools during the past 20 years and the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website demonstrate that currently, for children in some schools, sexual abuse and harassment between peers remain endemic.

12. The purpose of this investigation was to explore institutional responses to child sexual abuse in schools and to examine the current safeguarding framework to identify weaknesses or inadequacies, in order to make recommendations to improve the system for safeguarding children in schools.

13. The Inquiry has previously considered educational settings in a number of its other investigations, including schools run by the English Benedictine Congregation linked to its abbeys at Ampleforth, Downside and Ealing, and unregistered schools in the Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings investigation.[7]

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