Ampleforth College responds after failing most recent Ofsted inspection as it is found safeguarding standards are still not being met

Ofsted inspectors who visited Ampleforth College last month have found that the North Yorkshire public school is still failing to meet key safeguarding requirements.

Ampleforth College
Ampleforth College

The February visit and subsequent monitoring report were commissioned as a consequence of the Roman Catholic boarding school's emergency inspection by the government in September 2020.

Published today on both Ofsted's and the school's websites, the report's outcome is summarised as: 'The school does not meet all of the independent school standards that were checked during this inspection'.

Inspectors ackowledged that some improvements have been made, but state that the school is at the start of 'a long journey'.

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Two external agencies which had undertaken audits of school practices since the beginning of 2021 have played a significant part in these changes and one has been given an extended contract to support staff until 2023.

The review processes have also uncovered several more unspecified safeguarding incidents which were not escalated at the time, although the school says these did not involve abuse.

Further information on the ongoing legal separation of the trust which runs the school from Ampleforth Abbey has also been released. Some functions, such as finance and HR, have now been devolved, but security, though now managed by the college, is not yet completely separate. Recent statements to parents and pupils suggest that the two institutions will continue to collaborate and the school has reiterated its commitment to the Benedictine order's ethos and values.

The school remains subject to an order by the Department for Education which bans the admission of new pupils until the government decides to lift it, and Ampleforth's management say the reason they voluntarily requested another inspection in February was because they knew education secretary Gavin Williamson would not revoke the order without a fresh Ofsted review, potentially jeopardising pupil recruitment for the next academic year.

They are now awaiting Mr Williamson's decision on the matter, having already withdrawn a legal appeal against the ruling.

The Department for Education confirmed on Monday that the restrictions were still in place, and that if the school requested another inspection, this would have to be done when all pupils have returned to the site following lockdown.

A spokesperson said: "A restriction on Ampleforth College, requiring it to stop accepting new pupils, remains in place due to safeguarding concerns not fully addressed.

“The most recent Ofsted inspection showed the school has made some progress, but not yet enough. The school is able to immediately request a further review of the restriction if it chooses, which would trigger another inspection.

“We will continue to work closely with the school and local authority to secure rapid and sustained improvement, to ensure the welfare of all pupils is protected.

"Ofsted inspected the school again in early February 2021. We have considered the recent improvement seen at the school, and the wider representations the school has made about the impact that the restriction has on the school community. This has been balanced against the seriousness of current failings and length of time over which failings have been observed, and the need to see a sustained level of improvement."

Key findings from the report

- All adults now have up-to-date knowledge and training on government safeguarding guidelines.

- Two audits have been undertaken of safeguarding practices by external agencies since January 2021.

- Staff did not share safeguarding information with the relevant agencies in a timely manner. Pupils did not receive the necessary professional support. Until recently, staff did not check that incidents had been addressed or escalate their concerns.

- The school has been hampered by confusing and overly complex systems. Information is held in too many different places.

- The external audit noted that records were difficult to follow and that information was recorded inappropriately. Senior leaders did not share their safeguarding concerns and there was some inappropriate sharing with third parties. Improvements were observed in the last three weeks.

- 'Systemic weaknesses' in the online data storage tool, with incomplete chronologies.

- Leaders now have a new system for reviewing concerns.

- As part of a recent review of past records, leaders came across serious concerns that had not been referred to the appropriate agencies. Full review of complaints is ongoing.

- The risk assessment policy does not address a full range of risks, such as shared premises, alcohol, smoking and the presence of adults who are not staff.

- Risk assessment standards were met during the previous inspection but no longer are. The school has given itself a deadline of the end of March to produce new risk assessment guidance.

- Staff recruitment checks standards are being met.

- 'After a long period of poor practice, leaders have started to implement the many recommended changes, but they are not fully embedded.'

- Record keeping is being addressed - 'but this is the tip of the iceberg. Improvements being made from an extremely low starting point. This is the start of a very long journey for the school. Trustees now accept the need to change fully.'

- Trustees, head and senior leaders now acknowledge the accuracy of the September 2020 report. Chair of trustees said he was 'shocked and disappointed' by the results of the external audits. Trustees now say case management in the past was 'spectacularly wrong'.

- Contract with one of the agencies for support and advice has been extended to 2023, with day-to-day support for the next three months.

- CEO of one of the external agencies said that the school was in need of crisis management and had significant failings. Rapid improvement plan has now been adopted.

- Some degree of separation between the Ampleforth Abbey Trust and the St Laurence Education Trust has now been achieved. Finance, HR and grounds maintenance now separate. IT/security now managed by the school. Decisions about who is resident at the Abbey now take into account safeguarding duties.

- Widespread support from parents who responded to an Ofsted survey.

- 'Leaders rely heavily on external support, and are not yet demonstrating the skills and knowledge to ensure standards are being met consistently.'

- Eight pupils from 481 remained on site to be educated during lockdown.

- Two new safeguarding posts have been created since September 2020.

- A central safeguarding information system called MyConcern is now operational and being used by staff.

Ampleforth College's response

Ampleforth College released a lengthy statement in response to the report's findings on Monday.

"After the November 2020 announcement of the restriction order by the Secretary of State and the publication of Ofsted’s previous report in December 2020, the College deliberately requested another inspection within a few weeks. In such a short space of time we knew it would not be possible to provide the required level of evidence of changes having been embedded to demonstrate full compliance. But we needed Ofsted back so soon because the Department for Education made clear the only basis for revoking the restriction would be evidence of sufficient progress from Ofsted. Revocation requires a ‘change in circumstances’.

"We welcome Ofsted’s recognition of the significant progress we have made and confirmation the College has in place the leadership, commitment and platform to embed the improvements. We are encouraged by the endorsement of 97 per cent of our parents in Ofsted’s survey. Under these circumstances it is illogical to continue to ban us from recruiting new students. We had hoped we would have received the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to revoke his restriction order by now based on this evidence. We believe this decision is imminent and remain confident that our messages are being heard and understood.

"Since Ofsted’s previous inspection report was published in December, we have taken swift action to identify and address any weaknesses in our safeguarding. We commissioned two external root and branch reviews which found the College to be a safe environment with excellent pastoral care, dedicated staff and a child-centred approach. However, the reviews uncovered failings in the reporting and case management of our safeguarding which greatly differed from internal reports that had been provided to the trustees and senior leadership team and from our own observations. This was nothing to do with any form of abuse or members of staff harming children - the issues were procedural. The type of horrific abuse by a member of staff reported in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has not occurred for over a decade. We immediately implemented the recommendations for changes to personnel, practices and procedures. We also streamlined the safeguarding structures that had been put in place to meet the Charity Commission’s requirements in 2019 to reflect our changed relationship with the Abbey and clarify our independence.

"In their February inspection, Ofsted found evidence that new practice, processes and procedures (put in place in January following the reviews) are being implemented to address the issues identified in their previous report but are not yet sufficiently embedded. As a result, Ofsted have found that the College does not meet all of the Independent School Standards. However, once again, as Ofsted noted in their December report, children feel safe at Ampleforth. In Ofsted’s parents survey in February, 99 per cent of parents reported their child feels safe and happy, enjoys the boarding and welfare experience, and this helps their child’s progress and development. In the opinion of external experts, The Safeguarding Alliance, Ampleforth College is a safe place for children. None of the procedural failings found have caused harm to any child.

"We hope the Secretary of State will now revoke his order quickly on the basis of the improvements we have made and are embedding and allow us to continue to provide our students with the first class Benedictine education they expect in a safe environment. We are committed to continuous improvement and are determined to be the best that we can be in all areas.

"Under the terms of the restriction order, the College can apply to have the restriction revoked at any time because of a change in circumstances (the Independent School Standards do not all need to be met). DfE made clear to us in December 2020 that they would not consider revocation before a further inspection. They also made clear that another inspection early in the new year did not give us sufficient time to show evidence of embedding new practices and systemic culture change.

"However, as a school that relies on fee income, the restriction order left us with no choice about timing. We have a large Year 13 leaving this year and have recruited 165 new starters for September. If our new students are not able to join that leaves us in a difficult position. Under the terms of the restriction order, we are not required to meet all the Independent School Standards but to show a change in circumstances. We knew we could evidence this in a relatively short period of time. This Ofsted report shows that we commissioned external expertise to review our safeguarding, have accepted all their recommendations and made fundamental changes to personnel, structures and practices since their December report."