This is a huge investigation with many issues to consider. IICSA held a preliminary hearing recently which highlighted how wide a topic this is and the challenges IICSA faces in ensuring a proportionate investigation which still ensures all issues have been addressed.
IICSA has already published a research paper – Child Sexual Abuse in Residential Schools: A literature review. It also intends to publish a narrative report which focuses on 7 “Closed” schools, that is schools which have either been closed for many years or which have had a significant change in their ownership. Although there are core participants (CP) including victims and survivors of abuse at those schools it is not currently anticipated that any CPs will give oral evidence. A narrative report will be produced in September 2019 based upon documentary evidence and witness statements.
In addition to the Closed schools IICSA is currently focusing in Phase 1 upon music schools and special needs schools with a two week hearing in the autumn to address these specific school types. Six music schools had been identified for consideration but that seems now likely to reduce to four music related institutions. Ten special schools were previously chosen as a focus but that number is again likely to reduce and to be eight.
Whilst there are topics for consideration which are specific to music or special needs schools the bulk of the issues listed at the preliminary investigation are issues which apply to all schools and many will also be considered in phase 2 of the residential schools investigation, which will look at issues on a thematic basis rather than by focusing on specific schools. IICSA has already started to make requests to a wide number of schools and it is likely that many schools will be contacted in the future and asked for information which might cover a wide or a limited range of topics. All schools in the residential sector should be ready to answer queries about any of the topics referred to below.
The topics identified above are however of relevance to any school whether residential or not. All schools would be wise to consider and reflect upon them as part of continual development and review of safeguarding within the school environment. That focus should be by the Governors/Trustees and Senior Leadership teams but many are not just topics for consideration at management level or by the designated safeguarding team, they are issues which should be considered throughout the school community. For example knowledge of warning signs of when a child is being abused are as relevant for the catering staff as they are for the headteacher.
A clear focus by IICSA will be on how the culture of the school influences and perhaps even enables abuse to occur. The factors which are to be considered as part of the focus on culture are detailed below. Many of these are topics already highlighted by the Royal Commission in Australia and these should be topics which are actively being considered now, not when IICSA reports, particularly as changing culture can be a challenge and not achieved overnight.
Paula Jefferson, Partner