Education secretary Gavin Williamson has declined to revoke his ban on Ampleforth College recruiting new pupils. He has told the troubled school that it needs to undergo another Ofsted inspection if he is to consider doing so.
Williamson wrote to Ampleforth following an investigation by the Government’s inspection body in February which reported on continuing failings in its safeguarding procedures but also acknowledged the school had made progress. Now the education secretary has recommended a further study is made, following the return of pupils to the school after the easing of national lockdown rules.
The latest recommended inspection – which the school supports – would be the third such Ofsted inquiry since September last year. And it is vital if the school is to have a future. Without new £36,000 a year pupils, the school’s financial viability would be in jeopardy.
In a statement, Ampleforth said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s acknowledgement that the college has made progress and that we are committed to further improvement. In line with his recommendation, we will be writing tomorrow to request that Ofsted return for a further inspection now that the college has fully reopened after lockdown. We anticipate being able to provide sufficient evidence of progress for the secretary of state to revoke before the end of term”.
Ampleforth College, founded by the monks of the adjoining Benedictine monastery of Ampleforth, has been under intense scrutiny for years following allegations of serious sexual abuse of pupuls by monks. In 2018, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published a damning report into the school saying it had put its reputation above the protection of children and said “appalling sexual abuse” was endured by pupils for decades.
The latest report from Ofsted, based on its February inspection, says that Ampleforth does not meet all of the national minimum school standards, nor the independent school standards that were checked during the inspection.
The report does say that Ampleforth has begun to address problems of safeguarding and acknowledges the efforts made. However, it also says “there is still much work to do” and that safeguarding is still a work in progress. It refers to problems with safeguarding material kept in too many places and says that there are “confusing and overly complex problems”.
Ofsted’s autumn report, which led to Williamson banning the school from new admissions, mentioned a series of failings including school leaders not taking appropriate action to safeguard pupils and serious weaknesses in the management of allegations. It also said that concerns raised by the police regarding safeguarding were “not always given sufficient consideration”.
Since then the school has been seeking to overturn the ban on new pupils with headteacher Robin Dyer saying that there was no evidence of children being at risk of harm.
Ampleforth says the latest Ofsted report recognises “the significant progress we have made and confirmation the College has in place the leadership, commitment and platform to embed the improvements”. And it says that it is now “illogical” for the Secretary of State to continue his ban on new pupils.
In a letter to parents, also given to The Tablet, the school says that this latest inspection was requested by Ampleforth itself in order to demonstrate the progress it has made.
Recently, the school’s head girl, Ida Bridgeman, wrote on behalf of 300 pupils to prime minister Boris Johnson, asking him to save the school from closure and saying they felt safe there.