A secondary school repeatedly turned a blind eye to evidence one of its teachers was having an affair with a pupil until it was too late to stop him abducting her, a serious case review concluded yesterday.
Seven months after the first complaint was raised, the teacher - Jeremy Forrest, from Bishop Bell Church of England school in Eastbourne, East Sussex - fled to France with her where they had sex. He has been jailed for five-and-a-half years.
During these seven months, the school was told that the two had been seen holding hands on a school trip, had tweeted messages such as “miss you” to each other, while other pupils had spotted an “inappropriate” photograph of him on her mobile.
Yet the school repeatedly failed to see this as evidence he was an abuser and appeared to adopt a default position of supporting a colleague - unable to comprehend he could be in the wrong.
“Safeguarding concerns were raised or came to light seven times (five of them by students),” concludes the case review. “The fact that none of these reports led to investigation is a cause for concern.
“Despite corroborative evidence the reports were dismissed, even though there was no indication that any of them were malicious or sensationalist.”
It added: “School staff need to reflect on how they were deceived and misled over a period of months by an unsophisticated and careless abuser, who did little to cover his tracks...
“All the specialist and senior staff in the school seem to have reconstructed the events into misconduct by Child G (the name given to the girl in the inquiry to protect her identity)
“Mr K (Forrest) became the victim. Even when reporting to this review after Mr K’s imprisonment, there was evidence of some school staff failing to recognise the child protection implications of some of the earlier events."
The report was also critical of the police and the county council, saying the police had failed to access indecent images of Mr Forrest on Child G after it had seized her ‘phone - declaring there was no cause for alarm. Senior county council officials had kept inadequate records of their involvement in the case, it added.
The review’s findings have alarmed ministers. Edward Timpson, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, said: “For a school so comprehensively to fail to protect a vulnerable teenager from a manipulative adult who has been placed by the school in a position of trust is an abrogation of leadership and responsibility which had terrible consequences for this child and the family.”
He said the report revealed “systemic flaws” in child protection at the school “amid a culture which repeatedly ignored inappropriate adult behaviour while blaming the child and offering unsuitable advice to her”.
“The way that school leaders dismissed warnings made by young people about an improper relationship and the failure to provide any effective support to the child is inexcusable,” he added.
Terry Boatwright, the school’s executive headteacher, said: “We are extremely sorry for these previous failings, particularly for the impact they have had on the victim, her family and friends, school students, parents and all our staff.”
The school has implemented new child protection procedures and staff and governors received extra training, he added.
Cathie Pattison, who chairs the East Sussex Local safeguarding Children Board, said: “The report shows opportunities were missed to intervene sooner and more robustly. We need to do more to make sure established safeguarding procedures are followed correctly in schools, that records are kept when safeguarding concerns are raised, that young people are listened to and that families are involved when issues arise.”
The report also revealed that Child G had been involved in a safeguarding issue at the school beforehand - when a supply teacher had asked a number of pupils for their telephone numbers, and had made inappropriate remarks to them. At another school, he had made drawings of pupils - containing an explicitly sexual reference.
The school had also had a previous problem in 2008 when a member of staff used social media to try and “groom” a student, However, any potential lessons learned from this incident did not appear to have been embedded in the school, the review added.
The seven tell-tale signs in 2012 missed by the school
February: Two pupils approached the head of the upper school to report Child G had a “crush” on Forrest after a school trip to the US. Forrest was spoken to about maintaining professional boundaries
March: A teacher emailed a colleague in charge of safeguarding to say she had hear Forrest and Child G “got close during the trip and had been caught holding hands”. The safeguarding teacher reported this.
March: It was reported by the safeguarding officer that Forrest took Child G out of a class claiming this was to provide her with extra maths teaching.
March: Two incidents of Child G not attending her class but going to the room where Forrest was teaching. Forrest was told to send Child G away if she tried to approach him in the classroom and keep his door open.
May: A student in Child G’s class said she had seen Twitter correspondence between the two which talked of “marriage falling apart”, “separate rooms” and “miss you”. The safeguarding officer advised Forrest to adjust his Twitter account so pupils could not access it.
July: Two ex-pupils came into school to voice concern about the relationship between Forrest and Child G - he had been seen picking her up from her work experience. Staff appeared oblivious to the possibility Child G was being abused by Forrest, says the report.
September: It was reported that another child refused to be taught by Forrest calling him a “pervert”. Deputy head spoke to Forrest “offering him support over his marriage breakdown and told him he should not seek support from a young girl”.