Conclusions and recommendations
The Inquiry’s Residential Schools Report has concluded that schools are not as safe for children as they should be and that children’s interests still do not always come first when allegations of sexual abuse are made. The report states that in spite of increased awareness of the risk some children continue to experience sexual abuse and sexual harassment in schools and highlighted the particular safeguarding challenges prevalent in music schools, boarding schools and residential special schools.
The report states that schools need to alter their mind set and accept that ‘it could happen here’ and in the case of harmful sexual behaviour between pupils that ‘it probably is happening here’. The Inquiry heard evidence about ineffective safeguarding in schools during the past 20 years and the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website demonstrate that currently, for children in some schools, sexual abuse and harassment between peers remain endemic.
The report adds that many of the schools examined by the Inquiry responded inadequately to allegations against their staff and in some cases there was a culture which discouraged reporting. Too often, the Inquiry saw examples of head teachers who found it inconceivable that staff might abuse their positions of authority to sexually abuse children, were unaware of current statutory guidance or did not understand their role in responding to allegations against staff. It was clear that some staff were more focused on protecting the reputation of the school than protecting the interests of the children.
The report also highlights that for many victims and survivors, the impact of abuse has been profound and lifelong. In addition, it mentions that many of those in positions of authority and responsibility have not been held to account for their failures of leadership and governance and that many perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
The recommendations made in the report can be summarised as follows :
- Specific recommendations for residential schools to include inspection, reporting duties and a system of licensing and registration of educational guardians for international students
- The introduction of national standards for LADOs to promote consistency and statutory guidance confirming that LADOs can provide informal advice
- Amendments to Independent School Standards to include the requirement to have an effective system of governance
- The establishment of nationally accredited standards and levels of safeguarding training in schools, with the highest level of training being mandatory for head teachers and DSLs
- Schools to be required to inform the relevant inspectorate when a member of staff has been referred to the DBS, the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) or the Education Workforce Council
- Regulations to be amended to bring all teaching assistants, learning support staff and cover supervisors within the misconduct jurisdiction of the TRA
The potential impacts of the report
We share a number of thoughts as to the potential impact as follows:
- This report may well encourage previously reluctant victims of historical abuse in schools to come forward and/or be encouraged to do so.
- The number of schools investigated by IICSA was only a very small sample. There will be other school in England and Wales which could have had similar historical CSA issues. Victims from those schools may well now feel empowered to raise complaints and claims.
- Renewal audits, especially with Independent Specialist schools, should ensure that the schools safeguarding policy reflects good practice and takes account of the recent recommendations. Particular focus should be given to the schools ability to review, monitor and respond to Specialist Tutors performance or concerns about their behaviour.
- The Everyone’s Invited (“EI”) movement is referenced a number of times in the report. EI focusses on more contemporary, peer on peer abuse and harassment behaviours. EI has a significant and very active media profile and the types of claims that could arise from EI scenarios are much wider than conventional CSA injury claims. Potential arguments around systemic failings in an institution’s safeguarding practice, and the impact these failings had on the claimant’s mental health are likely to be referenced in claims. The combination of all these factors and the additional profile raising of EI by IICSA may well have a significant impact on the claims numbers and the way they are presented.
- EI is referenced in complaints raised directly with schools. Complaints of harassment are raised alongside systemic failure allegations; accounts from fellow pupils are referenced to support complaints about a schools failures to adequately respond to inappropriate behaviour/harassment/assault.
- Limitation and mandatory reporting are going to be the subject of IICSA’s final report expected “later in 2022”. The nature of the recommendations made by IICSA may impact on future civil claims for damages.