Ampleforth College head says separating the school and abbey will be 'complex' and that the college has 'no assets' of its own

The headteacher of Ampleforth College has spoken about measures that have been taken to improve safeguarding at the North Yorkshire public school after it was banned from taking on new pupils.

Ampleforth College
Ampleforth College

Robin Dyer gave an interview to The Times today in which he outlined how the Roman Catholic school had acted following allegations of historic sexual abuse that span decades and the recent conviction of a former monk who taught there for indecency.

He revealed that the majority of the monks of Ampleforth Abbey no longer have access to pupils, with only two teachers and seven house chaplains from the abbey remaining in employment.

However, he also revealed that separation of the abbey and school as legal entities has proved complicated because Ampleforth Abbey owns the land on which the campus is built and the buildings themselves, meaning the school has no assets of its own.

Mr Dyer argued that this situation - almost unique among independent schools - meant that the college relied solely on fees for income and would be unable to survive unless the ban on new pupils was lifted.

The Department for Education issued the ban last year after deciding that the school had not acted quickly enough to address safeguarding concerns following a poor Ofsted report, but Ampleforth have already said they will appeal the ruling.

Mr Dyer, who joined Ampleforth from Wellington College in Berkshire in 2019, admitted that the school would close if the decision were not reversed.

He has led reforms and accepts that Ampleforth's past is 'indefensible'.

He has removed several senior staff from their posts but says that a further three years would be required to oversee a complete overhaul of the school's culture.

He added that rolls had increased after a decline in pupil numbers and if a new intake was admitted in September, the school will be financially viable.

No monks other than those approved as staff are allowed access to the school buildings without being accompanied all times, as is the school's visitor policy.

A further Ofsted inspection took place this month and the request for the ban to be lifted is under government consideration.

An inquiry into child sexual abuse at the school that concluded in 2018 found there was a widespread culture of tolerance of the behaviour and that the monks of Ampleforth Abbey were “evasive” with police and social services when suspicions were raised about members of the Benedictine order.

A history of Ampleforth College

Opened by the Benedictine monks of Ampleforth Abbey in 1802, it has gone on to become one of the most popular schools among the leading Roman Catholic families of Britain and Europe, including the aristocracy. Its status has seen it nicknamed 'the Catholic Eton'.

Yet the campus, occupying its own valley deep in the North Yorkshire countryside, could fall silent after the government ordered Ampleforth to stop admitting new pupils, putting its future viability in doubt.

The co-educational boarding school has struggled to recover from the damage to its reputation caused by the convictions of former monks who taught there for sexual offences against pupils.

An eventual closure would come as a blow for the local community, as Ampleforth is a significant employer of both teaching and support staff. Although many pupils come from further afield, the property market in areas such as the Howardian Hills is influenced by demand from parents wishing to relocate nearer to the school.

The school's sports centre, St Alban's, which has a gym, swimming pool and squash courts, is open to the public.

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes attended Ampleforth, as did actors Rupert Everett and James Norton and Angel of the North sculptor Antony Gormley. The school also has a strong rugby tradition, having educated England's Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Lawrence Dallaglio and current Wales player Tomas Francis.

It was originally a boys' school which took boarders from 1900, and girls were admitted to all year groups in 2010.

During World War Two, the school was hit by tragedy when six boys burned to death after the carriage of a London to Newcastle train in which 100 Ampleforth pupils were travelling caught fire.

In August 2020, an inquest found that Ampleforth College groundsman Andrew Cornforth, who had worked at the school for 25 years, took his own life in a workshop on the site, in part because of fears he would lose his job if pupil numbers declined following the sexual abuse scandal.

Another Benedictine boarding school criticised for safeguarding in the 2018 inquiry, Downside in Somerset, announced last year that it was formally ending its association with the order. The remaining 12 monks at Downside Abbey left the site to live elsewhere.