The IICSA Report into Residential Schools – material on specialist music schools and some initial thoughts – Part 2Posted: March 4, 2022 | |
This post continues from that which I posted earlier this week following the publication of the IICSA Report into Residential Schools, including specialist music schools. This received fairly widespread coverage in the UK media, with reports in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Manchester Evening News, and for the BBC (here and here), ITV and Sky News. A direct overview from the inquiry itself can be read here.
In the earlier post I linked to an earlier post of my own giving links to the videos and transcripts of the evidence given to the inquiry over three days in Autumn 2019. This transcript is especially key for Chetham’s, and includes my own evidence, while this transcript is particularly important in relation to the Purcell School.
I have added an extra passage at the end of the previous blog post, which I will also include here, on the role of educational guardians in residential schools, referencing a specific recent example involving Chetham’s:
14. International students whose parents are not in the UK need an educational guardian if they attend a British boarding school in order to obtain the relevant visa. Educational guardians act in place of the parents while the child is in the UK, supporting the child throughout their studies and providing a home for them during holidays or weekends. He or she may be an individual appointed by the parents, such as a family member or a friend of the family, or the parents may use the services of an agency to provide an educational guardian.
15. Educational guardians are unregulated. There is no statutory licence, compulsory registration or training required for individuals or companies wishing to provide educational guardian services. If an educational guardian is appointed by a parent, the guardian is not required to comply with any standards or to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate, and the school is not required to carry out any checks. This means that individuals who are unsuitable to work with children, or even those who have criminal convictions for child sexual abuse, can be appointed as educational guardians.
16. Currently, the NMS for boarding schools permit a member of school staff to be appointed as the educational guardian of an international student, although some schools do not permit this. As Ms Richards told us, school staff acting as educational guardians blurs boundaries, with the potential to cause problems or to prevent problems surfacing. At Chetham’s in the late 1990s, for example, violin tutor Wen Zhou Li was the educational guardian of a 16-year-old girl whom he sexually abused while she was residing with him during weekends and school holidays. In 2013, shortly after the arrest of Wen Zhou Li, ISI inspectors found that there was another staff member at the school who was acting as an educational guardian to a student.
Part E of the report deals with how allegations are responded to, and the role of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) (a role introduced in 2006 to deal with allegations of abuse against children), also referencing the 2021 report Keeping Children Safe in Education (a modification of earlier reports of the same name). Various types of allegations should be referred to the LADO by a headteacher or chair of governors if the allegations involve the former, but the decision on whether the criteria are met is for one of these individuals to determine. This latter aspect has created a grey area with some headteachers claiming they were unsure whether the threshold was met. The LADO then involves police and social care, but does not investigate themselves. If they believe that an investigation by these bodies is unnecessary, they discuss how to proceed with the ‘case manager’ (usually the headteacher), leading either to further enquiries or no further action. If the former, they negotiate with the school about the nature of the investigation and who would carry it out. If an investigation finds that an allegation is substantiated with sufficient evidence, then the case manager and the LADO should meet to determine any improvements required to prevent such things in the future.
Most ambiguity seems to surround ‘low-level concerns’, which can include the use of ‘inappropriate sexualised, intimidating or offensive language.’ (p. 83) Policies are required to clarify the procedure here, and the inquiry noted that ‘Evidence was provided by residential special schools and some residential specialist music schools which had put in place procedures for reporting low-level concerns’ (p. 84). It also notes the following example of good practice:
At Wells Cathedral School, Mrs Helen Bennett, the DSL from 2006 to 2016, encouraged all staff to report any concerns about staff behaviour to her. She kept detailed notes of these concerns in a confidential file and reviewed these regularly to identify any patterns of behaviour. Mrs Bennett was able to discuss concerns with the headteacher and deputy headteacher who could take appropriate action with the staff member concerned. When Mrs Bennett retired in 2016, Wells Cathedral School continued the system, introducing an online neutral notification form to enable recording and cross-referencing of concerns. (p. 85)
This is however in contrast to the failures of an earlier case at the same school:
However, it should be noted that a low-level concerns policy may not prevent child sexual abuse by a determined perpetrator. At Wells Cathedral School, staff reported low-level concerns about the conduct of Julien Bertrand to the safeguarding lead and the senior leadership team over a period of two years. Bertrand was spoken to on several occasions and given an informal warning and reminded of the importance of boundaries and the school rules, but this did not deter Bertrand, who continued to sexually abuse RS-A202 until the abuse was disclosed to a trusted adult in 2005. (p. 86)
In the following section of Part E of the report, the Michael Brewer case (specifically that which led to his departure from the school) is referenced as an example of the problems inherent in the lack of a staff code of conduct, even after Brewer had left:
At Chetham’s School of Music, the headteacher introduced a staff code of conduct in 1995 following the resignation of the director of music, Michael Brewer, who had been conducting an abusive sexual relationship with a sixth-form pupil. Prior to Brewer’s resignation, there had been no code of conduct or other document setting out guidance and expectations regarding staff interactions with pupils. The staff code of conduct drafted in 1995 was not clear or specific regarding appropriate behaviour with students. Statutory guidance published in 1995 suggested that it may be “helpful” for schools to draw up a code of conduct in consultation with the local authority but it was not mandatory. KCSIE 2021 now requires schools to have a staff code of conduct, so that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with children are made clear. A low-level concerns/neutral notification policy relies on the existence of a staff code of conduct to set out acceptable behaviour. (pp. 87-88)
In the case of the Purcell School, a major problem was the lack of proper recording of allegations against staff:
During Mr Peter Crook’s time as headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School), 2007–2011, there was poor recording of allegations against staff. In January 2009, an allegation of sexual abuse of a student by RS-F20, a staff member at the Purcell School, was referred to the LADO from outside the school. The LADO found that the allegation was unfounded and it was referred back to the school. A very similar allegation was made against RS-F20 in 2014, but no records of the 2009 allegation could be found at the school. Guidance at the time required a “clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, and a note of any action taken and decisions reached”, to be kept on the personnel file for at least 10 years or until the individual reached retirement age. In October 2009, Mr Crook found a member of staff, RS-F80, alone with a pupil, RS-A192, on the school field in the dark. Mr Crook arranged for RS-F80 to receive further safeguarding training but did not make a note of the incident and the action taken until RS-A192 disclosed in May 2010 that she had been sexually abused by RS-F80 on that occasion and had been in an abusive relationship with RS-F80 over several months. (p. 88)
However, some better practice appears to have been followed in 2010:
In May 2010, at the Purcell School, RS-A187, a sixth-form pupil aged under 18, disclosed to a non-teaching member of staff that she had been in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of staff for several months. RS-A187 spoke to several other members of staff and telephoned Childline before the headteacher and DSL were made aware two days later, when the school notified the LADO of the allegation. Statutory guidance required allegations to be reported straight away to the headteacher, in order for the headteacher to make a referral to the LADO. (p. 89)
Nonetheless, the case involving the headteacher himself, Peter Crook, laid bare the failings of a system to protect whistleblowing, a subject to which I will return in my conclusion. Those reporting abuse, sexual harassment, sexist or racist behaviours, or other comparable things will often find that those above them wish to make them into the issue.
55. In 2009 to 2010, staff at the Purcell School reported concerns to the chair of governors that the headteacher, Peter Crook, used sexually explicit and inappropriate language with children at the school. The concerns included a meeting that Mr Crook conducted with the Year 9 boys who boarded, held at his private residence on a Sunday evening, which he later suggested was a personal, social and health education (PSHE) class in response to an incident of sexualised bullying in a boarding house. Ms Margaret Moore, a teacher, reported her concerns about the ‘PSHE class’ anonymously to the chair of governors, Mr Graham Smallbone, because she had “a genuine fear of reprisal by the headmaster”. Twenty-five members of staff then sent an anonymous letter as the “Staff Association” to Mr Smallbone stating that this incident “is only one of a number of disturbing interactions between the Headmaster and Purcell students on the subject of human sexuality” and concluding that it was an issue which concerned “children at risk”. The letter was sent anonymously for fear of reprisal by the school. Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that he did not take any action because the whistleblowers wished to remain anonymous. Mr Smallbone discussed the complaints with Mr Crook but did not refer any complaints to the LADO, despite guidance in place at the time requiring a referral to be made to the local authority without discussing the allegation with the person concerned.
56. Following Mr Smallbone’s failure to refer the allegations to the LADO, staff members reported a number of incidents anonymously to Ofsted and the local authority. The local authority found one allegation substantiated in July 2009 and advised that the headteacher should face disciplinary action. The local authority also advised that the ‘PSHE class’ was not an appropriate or sufficient response to bullying and that Mr Crook had breached “appropriate boundaries between staff and students” but concluded that there had been no intent to harm children and therefore that allegation was “unfounded”. The local authority did not appear to have considered whether the incident indicated that the headteacher may have been unsuitable to work with children, although this was a criteria for referral in the statutory guidance at the time but it did advise that the language used was inappropriate and should be dealt with through internal disciplinary procedures.
57. Mr Smallbone told the Inquiry that the staff members who reported the concerns about the headteacher were whistleblowers but that he nevertheless considered that “it would have been totally wrong to discipline the headmaster and not the members of staff”. The LADO advised Mr Smallbone that disciplining the whistleblowers would be disproportionate and reminded him that staff must be able to challenge poor practice.
58. Although staff were attempting to follow procedures and raise safeguarding concerns about the headteacher with the chair of governors, their concerns were not dealt with properly, despite the fact that the 2007 statutory guidance required schools to have appropriate whistleblowing procedures in place. There was an attempt to stifle the reporting of concerns internally and to characterise them to external bodies as malicious attempts to undermine the headteacher, who was making changes to the school which were unpopular with some staff. Suspected whistleblowers were required to attend an “intimidating” meeting with governors.
The failures here and lack of action are then summarised as follows:
59. Schools have not always carried out disciplinary investigations or taken appropriate disciplinary action when a LADO refers a case back to them. Mr Crook was never made the subject of any internal disciplinary sanction for incidents of inappropriate conversation with children at the school. During the same period, in 2009, an allegation of a staff member engaging in sexual activity with a student was referred to the LADO from outside the Purcell School. The student would not support a prosecution. The allegation was considered by the strategy meeting to be “unfounded” (“this indicated that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw …. For an allegation to be classified as unfounded it will be necessary to have evidence to disprove the allegation”) and referred back to the school as an internal matter to address “unsafe practice”. The staff member had admitted to police that his relationship with the student was “too close” and that he had hugged and kissed the student on the cheek after rehearsals at his house. Although the original allegation was considered unfounded, the school had information that a teacher had acted inappropriately, which should have given rise to a disciplinary investigation.
60. The current headteacher at the Purcell School, Mr Paul Bambrough, noted that in such circumstances it would be helpful to have further guidance from the LADO on how to proceed following an allegation being handed back to the school. This is another area where schools are reliant on the LADO. Currently there is considerable variation between LADOs in terms of the time dedicated to helping schools once allegations are referred back to them.
Part F considers the nature of leadership and governance in schools in England (Wales is dealt with in a separate section, which is not strictly relevant to this post, as none of the specialist music schools are located there). The report focuses on the role of the headteacher and the designated safeguarding lead as holding primary responsibilities. In the case of specialist music schools, the report might have also noted the key position of the Director of Music, which in some cases can be almost as powerful as the headteacher, and usually has a more intimate and regular relationship with the music teachers (as the headteacher has often not been a musician themselves). But this role and its relationship to the headteacher has come under some question in recent times: for a period from 2013 the Purcell School abolished the role of Director of Music (though it was recreated again in 2018), while in 2020, following the retirement of former headteacher Alun Jones, Chetham’s created a joint headship shared between the existing Director of Music and Deputy Head.
The report notes the lack of any statutory governance requirements (such as a board of governors) for independent schools, with some overseen by a sole proprietor. While proprietors and governors are themselves required to undergo checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), Her Majest’s Chief Inspector for Education, Skills and Children’s Services, Ms Amanda Spielman, believes these are insufficient. It would be interesting to consider, had any equivalent to the DBS (or its predecessor, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), working together with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), from 2002) been in place, in the 1980s, whether this would have prevented Robert Waddington, former Dean of Manchester Cathedral, against whom many allegations of abuse have been made (in which context IICSA in an earlier report were sharply critical of a lack of action on the part of the Church of England), becoming a governor of Chetham’s from 1984 to 1993, including during the time of disclosures of abuse in 1990 against Chris Ling, who left the country. Unfortunately the IICSA report makes no reference to Waddington, and a governing body containing someone for whom all evidence points to his being an abuser himself, but this subject is mention in Fiona Gardiner’s book Sex, Power, Control: Responding to Abuse in the Institutional Church
The report emphasises the role of headteachers in creating a positive culture of safeguarding, but also how this was lacking in most of the schools examined, through poor policies and procedures, inadequate implementation of these, lack of clear staff codes of conduct, inadequate safeguarding training, insufficient awareness by leaders of risks or the signs of abuse or inappropriate behaviour, insular and inward-looking schools with little internal or external accountability, treating allegations as a reputational rather than a child protection concern, discrediting of children who complain, a lack of concern about sexual activity between staff and students, and a general culture discouraging parents, children or staff members from complaining (p. 102). All of these factors were certainly at play at Chetham’s during the period when the maximum abuse occurred, and it would appear for a long period at many of the other SMSs too. John Vallins, headteacher at Chetham’s between 1974 and 1992 (the report wrongly claims he was head from 1970) gave evidence to the inquiry, and seemed to many to whom I spoke to have communicated a sense of being aloof, complacent, and little prepared to engage with the gravity of what had occurred under his watch. The report says the following:
In this investigation, there were examples of headteachers who found it inconceivable that staff might abuse their position of authority to abuse children. Mr John Vallins, headteacher of Chetham’s School of Music (Chetham’s) between 1970 and 1992, assumed the instrumental teachers were “admirable people with absolutely right relationships with their pupils” and that extra tuition outside of school hours was a “splendid aspiration”. There was a failure to recognise that such occasions were potential opportunities for abuse and therefore no safeguards were put in place to minimise such risks and to protect pupils. (p. 103)
At Purcell, Peter Crook’s priority appears to have been to protect teachers against allegations. If such allegations are false, this is indeed a paramount concern, but Crook does not seem to have considered seriously also attempting to ensure that credible accusations were taken seriously:
Mr Peter Crook, headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians (the Purcell School) from 2007 to 2011, drafted a document on safer working practice in 2009 which he presented as being designed to protect staff from allegations which could be made by pupils “of unsound mind”. In the document, Mr Crook described adolescents as sometimes unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality and informed staff that pupils therefore may “present a danger, even to the most careful of teachers”. Although the document was described as a draft for discussion, it may have given rise to the inference that pupils were inherently unreliable and not worthy of belief, and that allegations against staff were likely to be false. Mr Crook subsequently told police investigating a staff member, RS-F80, for sexual offences against a pupil that he did not believe the girl and that her allegation was based on fantasy and exaggeration. It was wrong for Mr Crook to seek to undermine the credibility
of his pupil in this way. (p. 104)
The action of Peter Hullah, Vallins’ successor as headteacher at Chetham’s, working primarily to protect the reputation of the school after Michael Brewer’s relationship with a sixth-form student was discovered, is viewed no more favourably:
On occasion, when allegations of child sexual abuse arose, headteachers moved to protect the reputation of the school rather than the welfare of victims and other children at the school. In 1994, Michael Brewer, the director of music at Chetham’s, resigned after his inappropriate relationship with a sixth-form student was discovered by the headteacher, Mr Peter Hullah. The headteacher suggested that it would be publicly announced that Brewer had taken early retirement on the grounds of ill health, in order to preserve the reputation of the school and its director of music. Brewer went on to work with young people in the National Youth Choir. No external agencies were notified of the circumstances of Brewer’s departure. (p. 104)
In this context, the report also noted that:
The Charity Commission told the Inquiry that some independent schools see their reputation as being of paramount importance and that this has unduly influenced the handling of safeguarding matters by some charity trustees. (p. 104)
At Purcell, the sort of leadership required to protect children was clearly lacking under Peter Crook, as established by an independent report:
As the leader of the school, the headteacher has to be a role model to staff and students, and must embody the values of the school. The headteacher must demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding and adhere to the same rules and boundaries as other staff. An independent review of safeguarding practice at the Purcell School in 2019 found that Mr Crook, headteacher from 2007 to 2011, “did not provide a good role model”. The review concluded that, under the leadership of Mr Crook, the school “did not have a culture of safeguarding”, “safeguarding was not well understood” and “the attitude of senior leaders was complacent”. Mr Paul Bambrough took over as headteacher of the Purcell School in 2018. He said that the high turnover of staff in the headteacher role over the previous 10 years meant the school had no clear identity or idea of its function. Mr Bambrough sought to develop the safeguarding culture and ethos of the school by ensuring that everyone in the school was aware that the “overriding priority is to ensure that all students in the school are safe, happy and healthy”. He considered that consistency in messaging from the headteacher was of central importance in facilitating a safeguarding culture. (p. 104)
The report however considered Wells to have a better approach to such things, at least according to their own account:
Openness and transparency are key to a protective environment. Schools with a strong safeguarding culture responded promptly and appropriately to allegations and concerns, including complaints about non-recent incidents. Wells Cathedral School said that in the aftermath of allegations or safeguarding concerns, it cooperated with external agencies and reflected on opportunities to learn from mistakes in order to improve safeguarding arrangements in the school. (p. 105)
A little later in the section, the report considers further the role of governors and the need for them to act as a check on headteachers, which was not the case at Purcell:
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. (p. 107)
In the case of both Chetham’s and Purcell, there was further reason to believe the governing body negligent in terms of their responsibilities in this respect:
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.
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”. The ISI also inspected Chetham’s in 2013 and found that there was inadequate oversight of the safeguarding arrangements at the school. 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. 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. (p. 108)
The role of the Chair of Governors, Graham Smallbone, comes under further harsh scrutiny:
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. 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.
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”, although he had previously told the governing body it was “very good with only very minor exceptions”. 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. 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. 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.
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”. (pp. 110-111)
The final passage relating to SMSs in this section of the report does acknowledge some positive actions taken by Chetham’s after a critical report on safeguarding in 2013:
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. (p. 112)
The next section looks in detail at existing and projected requirements in terms of safeguarding training for staff, and the need to renew these. Once again, Wells was cited as an example of good practice:
Effective training goes beyond the minimum of ensuring staff have read and understood the relevant parts of KCSIE and the school policies and procedures. Staff should have a clear understanding of the safeguarding risks which could arise in their school and how to be alert to signs of abuse. Mrs Helen Bennett, the former DSL of Wells Cathedral School, explained that she adapted and supplemented the training materials provided by the local authority to address particular aspects of a residential music school and used real-life examples to emphasise the importance of safeguarding: “I just didn’t really hold back on the dangers that were out there”. Mrs Bennett said that face-to-face training took place on a frequent basis, with training sessions tailored to different staff roles, including ancillary staff such as boarding house cleaners, “to keep child protection and safeguarding a bit of a buzz in the school, because I wanted people to be part of a team. I wanted everybody to be involved”. (p. 116)
This was in sharp contrast to Purcell under Peter Crook:
Mr Peter Crook, former headteacher of The Purcell School for Young Musicians, said that he did not receive any training from the DSL, and considered that he kept up to date with safeguarding by reading bulletins from the professional associations of which he was a member. Evidence showed that he lacked the safeguarding knowledge and awareness that would be expected of a headteacher. (p. 116)
The report also considers the lack of any special requirements in terms of training for those working in boarding schools, and concludes that these are needed. I would add that there should be extra forms of training for all involved in teaching music, because of the specific dangers there (the same may apply to dance, though with different specific dangers). (p. 118) It also the need for governors to have mandatory training and for there to be a standardised safeguarding course for these and proprietors. (pp. 120-122).
The following part of the report, on the role of inspections of schools, makes further reference to Chetham’s and Purcell:
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. 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. This illustrates both the extent to which the inspectorates are reliant on headteachers telling the truth 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”. 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”. 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.
The final relevant section of the report is that on conclusions and recommendations. The most relevant aspects are as follows:
- The dangers of sexual abuse in boarding schools are especially acute, are not addressed in current statutory guidance and standards, and the problem is heightened for those whose parents are overseas.
- There are many cases of poor leadership, especially on the part of headteachers, and governance, while there are too few checks on independent schools.
- Statutory training does not involve minimum standards, leading to inconsistency, nor does it address the particular needs of certain types of schools.
- There should be a single inspectorate body (currently there are two), and better sharing of information between different parts of the system (schools, local, authorities, DBS, etc.). This would also address cases where school leaders do not disclose all the necessary information.
- DBS checks do not make enhanced certificates compulsory for supervised volunteers, for whom the system is in general too loose.
- Recruitment decisions have been made without full and proper assessment of relevant information.
- The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) does not deal with those doing work such as being cover supervisors or teaching assistants, and should do.
As for recommendations to the Department of Education and the Welsh Government, the relevant ones are as follows:
- A new duty for boarding schools to inform the relevant inspectorate of allegations of sexual abuse and other serious incidents, with professional/regulatory consequences for breach of this.
- A system of licensing and registration of educational guardians, with DBS checks.
- National standards for LADOs, and clarification that they can be contacted for informal advice too.
- Modification of governance standards within the Independent School Standards, involving external scrutiny, transparency and honesty, and forbidding a proprietor to be a safeguarding lead.
- Standards for independent schools to be brought in line with those for free schools or early years provision.
- National standards for safeguarding training, mandatory for headteachers, safeguarding leads and safeguarding governors.
- Schools to be required to inform the relevant inspectorate if they have referred a staff member to DBS, TRA or Education Workforce Council.
- More guidance for supervised volunteers working with children, and ensuring DBS checks are free of charge to them.
Questions of mandatory reporting, support for victims and survivors, and vetting and barring will be revisited in IICSA’s final overall report, to be published later this year.
These may all seem quite general, and few of them specific to music schools, but nonetheless are all important developments. Overall, the report goes much further than any previous document in placing in the public domain a good deal of information relating to grievous past errors, neglect, complacency or even corruption such as has allowed abusers to act with relative impunity in a range of settings. I know from speaking to a range of survivors how important it is for much of this to be made public by a goverment-appointed body, in terms of clearly laying the issue of the responsibility not only with the abusers themselves, but also the institutions which failed to protect these survivors from them when children. There is absolutely no reason for any such survivors to ‘blame themselves’, as unfortunately the earlier processes of obfuscation, cover-up and denial on the part of the institutions have encouraged.
I believe various individuals deeply implicated in this ought to make some statement of their own, at the very least to acknowledge the severity of what has happened – in particular John Vallins, Peter Hullah and Clare Moreland, all former head teachers at Chetham’s, and Peter Crook and Graham Smallbone from Purcell. As was recounted in a piece for the LRB Blog by Laura Newey written soon after the IICSA hearings, one attendant there was incensed by Vallins’ testimony, claiming not to know about the abuse going on at the hands of Chris Ling, and shouted from the gallery at him (this was edited out from the video); in my own testimony I also made reference to various indviduals who had come to me with evidence that they had indeed told Vallins. If it may be the case that sexual abuse of the type perpetuated by Brewer, Ling, Gazelle and others is less likely today than it was in earlier decades, that is some consolation, but as Newey wrote, it is a ‘low bar’; there remain various types of other physical or emotional abuse and bullying which are often part of the culture of music education, and these are equally important to address.
I would have liked to have seen more consideration in the IICSA report of the wider culture at the schools (as well as the institutional structures). This is touched upon but not pursued in any depth, though may be somewhat daunting for non-musicians to consider. Undoubtedly this is an area which warrants much further study and research, some of which I will be undertaking myself.
Overwhelmingly the report identifies a prioritisation of the reputation of schools over the welfare of pupils, and does allude to the power and influence of revered music teachers, a theme about which I have also written on multiple occasions previously. The relatively unregulated form of patronage which exists in the wider musical world militates against those who have experienced abuse, assault, harassment or other discriminatory treatment from coming forward, and some wider regulatory measures to protect such individuals are needed, even if this means a less ‘hands-off’ approach to arts funding than has hitherto been the case.
As I mentioned in my previous post, despite clear evidence and knowledge of the activities of Philip Pickett, it took a long time before individuals finally felt able to go forward. How many are intimidated into staying silent so as not to ‘rock the boat’? How many fear that all they have worked for as a musician stands to be taken from them if they register a complaint, and may risk opprobrium from other musicians (as has been the case for some of those courageous ones who have come forward since the Brewer trial)? But people knew, some of these activities were relatively ‘common knowledge’ in sections of the music world. How many choose just to look the other way and ignore these in their own self-interests, leaving the victims even more isolated? Similarly, how many see individuals being mistreated in various environments, educational, workplace or even social, and think the simplest option for them is simply to tacitly go along with this, so as to stay with the ‘in group’? These types of bullying behaviour and complicity with the same may start at school but by no means necessarily end there. And all the evidence of intimidation and marginalisation of abuse survivors points to the same processes and behaviours being commonplace, and exploited maliciously. Principled whistleblowers like Margaret Moore are very much the exception rather than the rule. The whole music world needs to look at itself, and stop pretending that being involved in such an elevated field of practice somehow makes such concerns secondary.
I would also draw people’s attention to the recommendations submitted to the inquiry by lawyers Slater & Gordon, who represented a range of survivors. When IICSA produces its final report, then it will be time to reflect more widely on these.