10 December 2020, The Tablet

Ampleforth pledges change after Ofsted report

Ampleforth pledges change after Ofsted report

Ampleforth failed its latest inspection because of a failure to take “all reasonable, timely and appropriate action to safeguard pupils” and to establish “a well embedded safeguarding culture in the school”, according to an emergency Ofsted report.

Last week the education secretary  ruled that Ampleforth would be banned from taking any new pupils from 29 December because of a failure to meet “standards relating to safeguarding and leadership and management” highlighted in the Ofsted report.

At the time report was not publicly available but it has now been published and lists failings around governance, and welfare, health and safety at the school, which has 488 pupils including 392 boarders and charges £25,374 for day pupils and £36,486 for boarders.

“Leaders have not taken precise enough account of the longstanding historical safeguarding failings at Ampleforth College in their current practice,” it states. “Despite improvements in the last year, leaders do not take all reasonable, timely and appropriate action to safeguard pupils. They have not established a well embedded safeguarding culture in the school.”

The report concedes that the headteacher since his appointment has brought improvements to the school’s internal safeguarding arrangements. “However, other leaders do not always share essential information so that he has full strategic oversight of potential risks at the school and how those risks are being mitigated. When this occurs, information is not shared or used effectively between leaders to inform vital and urgent decisions,” the report says.

Leaders and governors do not have a thorough understanding of statutory guidance and have not followed this guidance well enough, it continues.

There are “serious weaknesses” in the way leaders make safeguarding referrals to statutory agencies and manage allegations.

Although leaders and governors feel that they have established a robust governance mechanism that takes all appropriate and reasonable action to safeguard pupils, this is not borne out by inspection evidence.

“Evidence shows that when governance has powers to act swiftly to prioritise the welfare of pupils in potentially risky situations, they do not routinely use this,” the report states.

Appropriate school leaders are not always present when essential decisions are made regarding adults who access the site, and concerns raised by the local authority safeguarding teams and police are not always given “sufficient consideration”.

Some leaders indicated to inspectors that they feel “unable to act with complete independence from the Abbey” when making safeguarding decisions.

And while the school has a suitable safeguarding policy published on its website, “the policy is not being effectively implemented”.

In a statement, Ampleforth said: “The failings of the past have been well documented. We have expressed our profound regret and sorrow and will continue to do so.

“Our past has been the major driver in a fundamental transformation over the past two years. We are under new leadership, at both operational and trustee level, with a professionalised safeguarding team. The Charity Commission appointed an interim manager with responsibility for safeguarding who put in place a robust safeguarding regime. We became an entirely separate entity from Ampleforth Abbey, legally, constitutionally, organisationally and physically, to ensure independence of decision-making and accountability. We are a different College today and are determined to become an exemplar in safeguarding policy and practice.

The college said the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) had endorsed its actions through two successful inspections in January and August 2020. The Charity Commission did the same when they discharged their interim safeguarding manager in May after a successful independent audit of safeguarding in November 2019.

“There is always room for improvement and for lessons to be learnt. We welcome independent scrutiny and take very seriously the concerns expressed by Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted. In the three safeguarding instances on which Oftsted’s report is based, none had any negative impact on any of the children in our care. This report does not criticise us for our child-centred approach to education and recognises that our students feel safe. However, while our parents and other independent regulators are satisfied with our safeguarding performance, Ofsted is not.”

The college said it had taken on board Ofsted’s conclusions and volunteered a plan to the DfE, outlining the new actions it will be taking. “Throughout the last 18 months, we have worked constructively with regulators and children’s services to make constant improvements to ensure our students remain safe. We will continue to do this to enhance the outcomes for all students. We are always happy to be inspected and would welcome a further inspection at the earliest opportunity.”

The school is working with the Department for Education in the hope that the ban on new admissions, due to come into effect on 29 December, will be revoked.

Robin Dyer, the head at Ampleforth College, said: “I was appointed head at Ampleforth College in August 2019, brought in specifically because of my experience in establishing strong pastoral and safeguarding regimes at another major and successful public school.  Working with my entirely new leadership team and new board of trustees, we have rebuilt the school’s processes and structures and continue to prioritise the safeguarding and wellbeing of all our students. We look forward to a time when this focus is acknowledged as successful by all external parties. We are all enormously grateful to our parent and alumni community for their incredible support for the college and the work we are undertaking.”

Richard Scorer, solicitor at Slater and Gordon who acts for several victims of abuse at Ampleforth, said: “The issues identified by Ofsted are very serious and suggest that the culture at the school which led to the horrific sexual abuse of a pupil by a teacher in 2005-10 has not been properly rooted out. Having said that it intended to appeal against Ofsted’s findings, Ampleforth now seems to have abandoned the appeal and has belatedly recognised that it has to address these major failings urgently it is to have any chance of survival. I hope Ampleforth acts quickly on this and in the meantime, I hope it stops trying to wage a social media campaign to defend the indefensible. Only substantive reform will improve safeguarding, more PR will not ”



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