Correspondence with Ofsted

29 Aug 14

Dear Ofsted

I would like to discuss child protection in residential and boarding schools.

I am a retired GP and psychiatrist, political activist and blogger. Over the last few weeks I have been creating a website that draws together some of the data concerning child sexual exploitation (CSE)

As a result of this exercise, I wish to ensure that all children in residential accomodation, from the most expensive boarding school to the special school with the most challenging residents, are all offered the maximum protection from abuse, particularly sexual abuse.

As a psychiatrist I am aware of the severe impact that sexual abuse has on the subsequent life of the survivor.

In view of the recent Jay Report into the CSE problems in Rotherham, and also because of the many other instances of abuse across the country in past decades, it would be appropriate for Osfted to review and strengthen the effort it puts in to inspection of schools from the point of view of child protection. You may already be reviewing your methods with this in mind.

I would be very grateful to be able to put some questions.

I have read your documents

The framework for inspecting boarding and residential provision in schools
Evaluation schedule for the inspection of boarding and residential provision in schools
Conducting inspections of boarding and residential provision in schools

Para 115 of Conducting Inspections says "On a very small number of occasions, inspectors may come across evidence or allegations of child abuse within a school."
From the evidence, it seems that sexual abuse is far more common than we imagine.

Q1 May I ask how many times Ofsted inspectors have detected CSE?
I recognise that this is very difficult, and that such detection may never have occurred.
It could be that reviews of past Ofsted records of institutions where CSE was later proven might provide useful leads for future inspections. Observations such as cliquiness, manipulativeness or controlling behaviour on the part of staff might offer clues of possible abuse.

Q2 Would Ofsted be inclined to consider reviewing records with this in mind?

The Framework for inspecting boarding and residential provision in schools says that inspectors must "spend time in talking to boarders/residential pupils about their experiences" (paras 48, 198).
Paras 202-7 dilate on the way this should be done. Para 46 indicates that children should not be alone with inspectors. This raises questions. Clearly, nothing will be divulged by an abused child if staff are present.

Q3 Therefore, will Ofsted consider interviewing individual children in the presence of two inspectors?

In this situation, one useful question to put is "Has anyone ever asked you to keep a secret?" The non-verbal response to this question is revealing, and an affirmative reply is often forthcoming in abuse cases. The abuser has enforced a secret, but the meta-question about the existence of the secret may not be seen as off-limits for the victim.

Q4 Are Ofsted staff trained in detection of non verbal signs of abuse?

These would include:

Withdrawal and isolation from friends or usual activities
Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
Rebellious or defiant behavior
Depression, anxiety or a sudden loss of self-confidence
Attempts at running away
Attempts at suicide

Clearly, inspectors would not be able to make a certain diagnosis from a three day inspection, but they could interview the school nurse and look at medical records if this is possible with reference to confidentiality.

It should be possible for the medical office to generate anonymised records of primary complaints.

"Rebels" and "difficult" children, especially if there is a recent change in behaviour, should raise the question of possible abuse, rather than simply being dismissed as "bad children".

Complaints relating to genital or anal areas (recorded on the school medical records) might raise questions. This might manifest as difficulty in walking or sitting.

Records of absconding behaviour might also raise suspicion.

Para 50 of Conducting Inspections says "If serious issues of concern arise, for example in relation to the failure to follow child protection procedures and/or where a child/young person is discovered to be at immediate risk of harm, the headteacher will be notified as soon as possible unless this compromises the child/young person’s safety". The matter is then rather left hanging, apart from a referral telephone number.
In the rare instance that a child may make an explicit declaration that s/he is being seriously abused, that child is at risk of punishment or worse if the abuser decides that the secret is out. Therefore, in that situation, the inspector needs to be able to take the child to a place of safety immediately.

Q4 Do inspectors have this ability, and access to such safe houses? If not, will Ofsted consider making this provision?

The inspectors also need to be able to call in a doctor specialising in child protection to carry out medical examinations on children suspected of having been abused.

Q5 Does this facility exist?

These are a few thoughts that have been raised by reading your documents.

I hope you will not feel that this communication is presumptuous. It is not intended to be critical, and I am fully aware that inspectors have a difficult job to do, and cannot be expected to identify every case of abuse, but recent events mean that we must review all our procedures to make sure that the next generation of children are spared some of the shameful exploitation that has been inflicted on the present and past generations. This email is put to you in a constructive spirit.


Dr Richard Lawson

Ofsted replied civilly on 2.10.14, saying they were reviewing their procedures, that the above points will be considered, and that their procedures will be put out to consultation in Spring 2014.

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