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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Safeguarding children from sexual abuse in residential schools


The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (‘the Inquiry’) was set up in March 2015 and aims to consider the extent to which some state and non-state institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to make meaningful recommendations for change.

The Inquiry’s investigations look at how different institutions have responded to child sexual abuse. The residential schools investigation’s remit is to investigate the institutional response to allegations of child sexual abuse in residential schools. There are two broad types of residential schools:

  • mainstream residential schools, which include independent or private schools (typically fee-paying) and state boarding schools (where the educational element is funded by the state and the boarding element is paid for privately); and
  • schools that provide for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)[1]

Throughout the report the term ‘mainstream’ school is used to refer to the independent and state boarding schools and ‘special’ schools to refer to schools that are exclusively attended by children with SEND.

Residential schools vary in size and nature. At the time of writing there were:

  • 502 mainstream residential schools in England, of which 40 were state boarding schools (GOV.UK, 2019);
  • 269 residential special schools in England (GOV.UK, 2019); and
  • 22 residential schools overall in Wales (StatsWales, 2019).

Most are not exclusively residential but have a mix of day and residential students. Many students ‘flexi board’, staying some time at school but also at home. Twelve mainstream boarding schools have boarding only and no day students (Stevens et al., 2019).



  1. Most of these students will have an education, health and care (EHC) plan from their local authority in which the school is named. This means that it has been determined that their learning needs would be best met in a specialist setting, where their wider health and/or social care needs can also be met.
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