Is the Independent Schools Inspectorate fit for purpose? Can it be trusted to protect children in private schools?

The scandal of the child abuse at St. Benedict’s School has highlighted some significant problems with the Independent Schools Inspectorate’s methods. As has been widely reported in the press, child abuse was rife at this private Catholic school, which was run by monks, some of whom were abusers. Lord Carlile’s recent report into the school, which can be downloaded from the school’s website, has hinted at significant failings with the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). The report says:

“The ISI inspected St Benedict’s in November 2009, with follow-up visits in April and May 2010, and further reports. Separate reports were prepared for the senior school and the junior school respectively. The November 2009 inspection was by a team of 10 inspectors with 2 reporting inspectors. They judged the School to be fully compliant with statutory requirements.”

However, as has been reported by the Times today and quoted again on this ‘Confessions of a Skeptic’ blog (not behind the paywall and), the report does not point out that the ISI praised the school for its “high quality” welfare provision in November 2009, a deeply worrying assertion considering what had been going on there.

The central problem is this: the ISI is far too cosy with the private schools it inspects, being viewed by many schools as an adjunct to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which relentlessly promotes independent schools in the media and in the highest corridors of power. The ISC’s website says: “ISI is a not-for-profit organisation, led by a Board of Directors which includes representatives of the ISC Associations. Day to day management is the responsibility of the Chief Inspector who is also a member of the Board.” This indicates that the very organisation which is there to promote independent schools, the ISC, is hand-in-glove with the ISI.

The Confessions of the Skeptic blog urges people to write to their MPs about the poor safeguarding that children at boarding schools enjoy, with these schools having no statutory duty to report abuse. It goes on to say:

“The Education Bill currently going through Parliament includes a clause which would enable the DfE to appoint the ISI to inspect welfare at independent boarding schools (those which are members of the Independent Schools Council). This responsibility is currently held by OFSTED. Baroness Brinton spoke forcefully against this extension of the ISI’s powers in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords.”

I think this ‘Skeptic’ blog has a very good point. If I had a child at a private boarding school, I’d be quite worried.

It’s yet more evidence that the private school system is certainly not what it’s cracked up to be. Gove and Cameron’s trust in the private system is deeply troubling in the light of these revelations for all sorts of reasons.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

Categories Government policy, UncategorizedTags, , , , , , , 3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Is the Independent Schools Inspectorate fit for purpose? Can it be trusted to protect children in private schools?”

  1. I do apologise – I was a bit of a spanner and posted in the wrong place this morning – so cut and paste and hey presto.

    The child protection shortcomings are far more extensive than you suggest in this article, and very far from limited to just independent settings. .

    An already poor and disjointed framework that was unfit for purpose, is being vandalised by the Coalition. Anything that was painted red is being demolished and what remains painted blue with a tinge of another colour here and there. Changes in the Education Act 2011 bring further damage, and Ofsted’s role in child protection inspection is now almost zero. But then it was zero before because despite wearing the ‘safeguarding’ badge it was not doing the job as the ten minute Channel 4 News report in June last demonstrated. The Freedoms Bill brings further matters around CRB which have been robustly argued line by line in the Lords but to little avail.

    This is bad for everyone involved with schools and child protection everywhere else. Designated officers – you have no support from the framework, and neither do staff. And children……………

    It all stems from the statutory framework that does not even require the management of any setting to report discovered rape of a student to the LADO, police, or social services. There is no mandatory requirement on any setting, school, faith organisation, club, sport, society, or any setting in which children gather for managed activity, to report evidenced abuse or allegations of abuse to the LADO. And even if a school fails to report – no action can be taken against the individuals responsible (it is the chairman of the board of governors who is statutorily responsible for safeguarding in each setting), for the continuation of the abuse. The Serious Case Review for the school in Weston Super Mare, released yesterday, at which Mr Leat abused for years is a perfect example.

    In Australia if staff fail to report concerns, which is a mandatory requirement, they can potentially be fined AUS$30,000. This provides motive for staff to report. It is not that the State wants to fine anyone, it wants staff to refer and a fine of this nature provides ample justification. Now return to the staff at Leat’s school. Everyone stayed silent despite reporting concerns to the Head who would not refer. One member of staff left because she was so fed up, but she did not speak to the LA. No one spoke including the Head who ignored repeated concerns from colleagues and there was no mandatory expectation that he would refer! And why did staff not come forward? Well among a number of dynamics at play when considering what to do in the back of the minds of staff will be the thought of what happens to whistle-blowers – they get shot. And so the children at the school continued to be used by Mr Leat to provide him with his sexual pleasure.

    It’s grim.

    The child protection framework is founded on a hologram which repeatedly fails and no one at the DfE, Ofsted or the ISI really gets it – well perhaps one person does but she is biddable. In my experience few at these organisations see the “whole picture.” They do not get the difference in dynamics of abuse in a LA setting and a private setting. Any why is there a difference? Because in a private setting there exists a balance sheet and the effects this has on abuse and its concealment is dramatic.

    1. Thanks! I’ve deleted the post in the previous place. Yes, this matter really isn’t being picked up by any paper except the Times, but it is very serious indeed. I’m surprised that some of the wealthy, well-connected parents who have children in the private sector are not complaining as well. It’s quite puzzling because it is a serious safe-guarding issue.

      1. It’s very serious for everyone including conscientious staff as well as pupils and their parents.

        Here is another little known fact – there is one country in the UK that does have mandatory reporting and prescriptive child protection policies. – Northern Ireland.

        This mandatory requirement is a legacy of anti-terrorism legislation – “it is a crime not to report a crime” and child abuse is a crime. NI safeguarding was poor until the Cabin Hill school debacle – see Wikipedia – and the SCR called by the Education Minister. The 2005 Report highlighted failures at the school and in the safeguarding framework but recognised that all the mechanisms were in place to operate a good and robust safeguarding infrastructure – it all just needed to be made to work. The Government set about this with vigour, and it mostly works well in stark and marked contrast to England.

        Pupils and good staff are left unsupported in England (Wales and Scotland) by a lousy framework which successive Governments ignore.

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