Residential schools ‘ideal grooming environment’ with children at higher abuse risk – new IICSA report
A new report into child sexual abuse has found boarding schools are the “ideal environment for grooming”, with pupils being more dependent on adults around them than in non-residential settings.
The report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said that “for some children, their residential school, in effect, may be their home”.
The investigation looked at residential specialist music schools and residential special schools, where children faced higher risks of sexual abuse, and went on to examine various other types of school, including day schools, where staff had been convicted of the sexual abuse of pupils, or where serious safeguarding concerns had arisen.
The first phase of the inquiry, with public hearings held during September and October 2019, focused on residential music schools, including Chetham’s School in Manchester, the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, and the Purcell School in Hertfordshire.
It also examined residential special schools, including Appletree School in Cumbria, Southlands School in Hampshire, and the Royal School Manchester.
The second phase looked at three mainstream schools where sexual abuse allegations had been raised, including a state secondary school, Headlands School in Bridlington, East Riding, and a private boarding school, Clifton College, in Bristol.
The allegations were largely reported and investigated or responded to between 1990 and 2017, and related to incidents alleged to have taken place from the 1960s to 2014.
The report said: “In the specialist music schools examined, the power and influence of often revered and influential music teachers made some pupils even more vulnerable to being sexually abused by them.
“The reputations of both the musicians and the schools were often seen as more important than their victims and potential victims when allegations were made or concerns were raised.
“The response was similar when concerns were raised about well-liked and generally respected members of staff in other school contexts, in both the independent and state sectors.”
The report found that, across 12 schools, as well as eight schools which were no longer operating, there was a reluctance to report sexual abuse perpetrated by staff and pupils.
“Despite numerous changes and improvements to safeguarding since the complaints of child sexual abuse referenced in the closed residential schools account, children continue to face sexual abuse and sexual harassment in schools,” it said.
The inquiry was told of ineffective safeguarding in schools over the past 20 years and that “the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website demonstrate that currently, for children in some schools, sexual abuse and harassment between peers remain endemic”.
It heard that at Chetham’s School, former director of music Michael Brewer was “a powerful figure, having complete autonomy over all matters relating to music”.
In 2013, Frances Andrade, a former pupil at the school, took her own life after giving evidence on how Brewer had groomed and sexually abused her.
The inquiry also heard that Christopher Ling, a violin tutor at Chetham’s who was employed by Brewer, abused a number of pupils in his care, who were aged between nine and 15, in the 1980s.
Its report made a series of recommendations to improve safeguarding in schools, including setting nationally accredited standards and levels of safeguarding training in schools, making the highest level of safeguarding mandatory for headteachers and designated safeguarding leads in England and Wales, as well as reintroducing a duty for boarding schools and residential special schools to inform relevant inspectorates of allegations of child sexual abuse and other serious incidents.
Inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said: “Today we have published the inquiry’s 19th investigation report, into residential schools.”
“Schools play a central role in the lives of almost nine million children in England and half a million in Wales. They should be places of learning where children are nurtured by trusted teachers and are able to flourish in a safe environment.
“This is in contrast to the many shocking instances of child sexual abuse detailed in this report. They represent the opposite of everything that a school should be.
“Poor leadership frequently left staff unaware of how to respond to concerns about sexual abuse or too afraid of potential consequences to act. In some cases it was clear that protecting the reputation of the school was prioritised over the protection of children from sexual abuse – this is a recurring theme in very many of our reports.
“Day and residential schools play a key role in keeping children safe from harm, but, despite 20 years of enhanced focus on safeguarding, they are not as safe for children as they should be. This must change. The seven recommendations in this report must be implemented to vitally improve the current systems of child protection in schools.”
Kim Harrison, principal lawyer and head of operations for abuse and public inquiries at Slater & Gordon, who represented a male victim, A301, of a female abuser at Headlands School, said: “My client took part in this inquiry primarily because he wanted to highlight the lack of understanding many male victims and survivors of female abusers face once they disclose that abuse.
“Boys and men who have been abused by women are often made to feel additional shame and embarrassment because society tells them they should ‘enjoy’ such attention from females, rather than recognising that they have been groomed and abused in a damaging way.
“This can make male victims of female abusers less likely to disclose their abuse for fear of being judged or their abuse being minimised.
“A301 is keen to raise awareness of this issue and highlight the need for specialist training, awareness and support for male victims of female abusers which is still so desperately lacking.”
“It is disappointing that the inquiry has not addressed this issue in their report and we urge the inquiry to address it and make meaningful recommendations to help male survivors of female abuse in their final report.”
Chetham’s took part in the inquiry in 2019.
A message on its website reads: “It is a matter of deep and profound regret to Chetham’s that former teachers at our school betrayed the trust that had been placed in them in order to harm children, for which we are truly sorry.”
“Chetham’s recognises its responsibility in safeguarding the rights of all children and will continue to be thoroughly committed to taking all appropriate steps to maintain a safe environment and to liaise with statutory agencies to ensure that any allegations of abuse are properly investigated.”
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