Yorkshire school under fire after inspection reveals child protection failures

A prominent North Yorkshire independent school known for its famous alumni has come under fire after failing to meet child protection standards among its staff and governors.

Harrogate’s Ashville College, past pupils of which include Downton Abbey star Jim Carter and former Leeds United footballer Andy Gray, educates nearly 900 children. Now, after it failed to meet several standards around background checks for staff in its latest Independent Schools Inspectorate report, parents have raised concerns over why such key markers are not being met.

“This is very distressing for parents who are paying £14,000 a year to educate their children and comes at a time when other similar schools have passed with flying colours,” said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous. “The headmaster sent the report via email with no explanation as to why the school had failed or what it was doing to address it.

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“He even commented in his email he was ‘delighted’ to send it – perhaps hoping we wouldn’t read it. As parents we want answers, we are concerned about the welfare of our pupils.”

Ashville College, founded in 1877 and set in a 64-acre campus on the outskirts of Harrogate, is an independent day and boarding school with children ranging in age from three to 18. It was visited by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in March, with two separate inspections on educational quality and regulatory compliance carried out.

For the quality of education, the school was rated “good” and “excellent” for the quality of pupils’ academic achievements and personal development. But when it came to compliance, the report said, the school did not meet all the required standards and “should take immediate action to remedy deficiencies”.

The highlighted concerns centred on child protection, in particular over background checks on teachers, staff and governors. This included not checking if teachers were allowed to teach or had suitable references, and whether governors and supply staff had completed an enhanced criminal record check.

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“The school does not always make appropriate checks to ensure the suitability of staff, supply staff and governors prior to appointment,” the report read. “It has not always carried out the required checks prior to a person taking up an appointment. The standard on child protection is not met and represents a failure to safeguard boarders.”

Ashville College headmaster Mark Lauder admitted he was “naturally disappointed that a very small number of compliance issues” were identified in the inspection.

He added: “We were naturally disappointed that a very small number of compliance issues were identified during the March inspection. ISI found three historic examples of a check being completed late which we had already identified and were already working to address.

“The inspection did find every other area of compliance – including safeguarding, health and safety, medical care, and the safety and welfare of children – was fully met and inspectors indicated these were among the strongest they had seen. Inspections are about helping schools to improve and we immediately put in new measures to avoid any repeat.

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“Throughout the process Ashville has been open and honest with ISI and our parents. The Chair of Governors wrote to parents in advance of the report being published to assure them that the recommendations made had been acted upon and that if inspected tomorrow the school would be fully compliant.”