Ofsted accused of keeping quiet about sex abuse cases in schools

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The education standards watchdog Ofsted will be accused tonight of keeping parents in the dark over cases where teachers have been convicted of sex offences against pupils at their children's schools.

A Channel 4 News investigation, due to be screened this evening, will reveal eight examples where Ofsted failed to highlight cases in which teachers have either been found guilty of committing sex offences against children or are awaiting trial.

The revelations have prompted Barry Sheerman, who chaired the Commons select committee covering education in the last parliament, to profess his "shock" and "astonishment".

One of the most striking cases involves Headlands school in Bridlington, Yorkshire, where five members of staff have been convicted of sex offences against pupils in the past five years. Seven Ofsted reports on the school covering the period say nothing about them – instead offering assurances about the quality of child protection at the school.

The mother of the last of the five victims, who was interviewed anonymously for the programme, said: "I think if they had been regularly reporting on safeguarding issues and had been honest about what had happened then things... would have been better for my daughter and maybe it wouldn't have happened."

In April 2008, a local authority report said there had been repeated safeguarding failures at Headlands. But when Ofsted published the findings of its latest inspection in May 2008 it made no mention of any previous problems. "Procedures for the safeguarding of students meet national requirements," it said.

In another case involving a special needs school in Buckinghamshire in 2005, one of the teachers, Anthony Bulley, pleaded guilty to six counts of rape and sexual assault against four boys. He was jailed for 10 years. The headteacher was sacked and was later criticised in a serious case review for failing to ensure the safety of pupils. In Ofsted's next report in 2007, the watchdog said that child protection measures were exemplary at the school and failed to mention the case.

Other incidents include a Birmingham school where a teacher was jailed for four years for having sex with a pupil. A report from Ofsted six months later said "effective child protection policies ... are in place". Of all the other cases examined, there was only one instance of Ofsted making any reference to a previous child protection failure.

Mr Sheerman said he believed the inspectors had a duty to parents to report on cases. "We've been going through some pretty hard times with Ofsted at the moment," he said. "It's growing fast, it's growing to be a very big inspectorate and it's time, I think, it needs to be assessed very carefully by government... to assess if it's fit for purpose."

During the general election campaign, Michael Gove, who was then education spokesman for the Conservatives and is now Education Secretary, promised a review of Ofsted's operations. He said the inspectorate had taken too much on and ought to concentrate on its core responsibilities of putting more focus on teaching quality.

Ofsted told Channel 4 News that they do not include details of offences when the situation has been resolved.

"It's not the case that issues like this are never mentioned in an Ofsted report," it added. "What parents... need to be clear about is that where Ofsted inspects a school and finds fresh evidence that the child protection has not been carried out, there will be reference to failings in an Ofsted inspection report.

"The focus of the current Ofsted inspection, school inspection arrangements, are to make very clear judgements about schools being safe places and actually carrying out their safeguarding responsibilities appropriately."

The full Channel 4 News investigation will be screened on Channel 4 at 7pm tonight.