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Stanbridge Earls Inquiry Statement

31 Jul 2013

Introduction

This public statement summarises the action Ofsted has taken, and is taking, following a review of the inspection history of Stanbridge Earls School.

The Inquiry

The Stanbridge Earls Inquiry was set up by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), on 24 January 2013, in the light of safeguarding concerns raised by the parents of pupils at the school and the conclusions reached by a First-Tier Tribunal in respect of the school in January 2013.

The Inquiry was chaired by Baroness Sally Morgan, the Chair of Ofsted, and comprised HMCI and two other independent non-executive Board members. The Inquiry commissioned an internal review of the inspection history of Stanbridge Earls School from January 2011 to January 2013.

The internal review has concluded that the three inspections conducted during this period, in June 2011, January 2012 and May 2012, were problematic. Each failed to get underneath concerns at the school. As a result, the judgements were not safe. The findings and recommendations from the internal review have been shared with the parents, the school and the Department for Education (DfE).

Whilst the review has not identified wide-spread failings, it did identify some weaknesses in Ofsted’s systems, structures, processes and practices which gave rise to the risk that safeguarding issues might not be fully addressed through the inspection of residential special schools. In the case of Stanbridge Earls during the period in question, this risk materialised. The review also raised specific concerns regarding the conduct of some staff.

The Inquiry has carefully considered and accepted all the findings from the internal review, in full, and has ensured that decisive action has been taken. All the recommendations have been adopted and are being implemented. This note summarises what Ofsted has done, and what we are doing.

Structure

From 1 January 2014, all inspection work will be managed in eight regions overseen by Regional Directors. This will allow a detailed understanding of provision in localities to be built up and intelligence to be gathered and used to best effect where there are concerns. We believe that clearer lines of accountability will make for better and faster decision-making, specifically where there are serious concerns (as in the case of Stanbridge Earls) or a pattern of seemingly less serious concerns that collectively give rise to the need for Ofsted to act. Regional Directors will meet regularly and systematically with their DfE counterparts to discuss providers of concern and to ensure that our collective action is effective.

We have created a new Divisional Manager post and set up a team which combines our compliance, investigation and enforcement work with complaints against schools. This will ensure that concerns relating to regulated provision, like Stanbridge Earls, are reacted to swiftly using inspection to get underneath the issues. It also makes line management accountability clear.

We have created a new Ofsted-wide Safeguarding Group, which mirrors good practice in the social care sector, to review our response to serious safeguarding and child protection matters. The Group was set up in April 2013 and meets monthly as a sub-committee of Ofsted’s Executive Board. It is chaired by an independent social work professional with specific expertise in child protection and safeguarding to ensure appropriate challenge and learning.

Systems and processes

We have improved existing technology to ensure inspectors have better access to joined-up information about providers at the point of inspection. This means that the full history of concerns is known and can inform the focus of inspection. It is mandatory for inspectors to access this information prior to inspection and managers routinely sample inspectors’ work to ensure this takes place.

We have prioritised investment in a difficult financial climate for a new inspection support system which will provide even better information to social care inspectors. This will take 12-18 months to develop and roll out.

Our processes for handling concerns, and supporting concern-driven inspections, have been audited by process experts. A detailed action plan has been agreed to deliver improvements. This will be monitored by Ofsted’s Audit Committee and all actions will be completed within 12 months; many have already been implemented.

Case management has been strengthened, with case tracking and monitoring, and clearer escalation of concerns to senior managers.

People

The review revealed concerns about the actions of a small number of Ofsted employees. We have taken appropriate action which has included disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

We expect all our staff to meet our high expectations and when they do not, we take decisive action.

We have also put a comprehensive learning and development plan in place for all regulatory inspectors and social care HMI to ensure that their skills and knowledge remain up to date. These staff members will undertake in-depth training, particularly in relation to safeguarding and disability, over the course of the coming months.

Finally

In addition, to provide assurances that the weaknesses identified in the inspections of Stanbridge Earls did not represent wider systemic weaknesses, we have completed a review of all other complaints over the last two years which raised issues of child protection and/or safeguarding and have satisfied ourselves that appropriate action was taken.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

'Inspection is part of the safety net designed to protect children from harm and it is clear from our review of Ofsted’s involvement with Stanbridge Earls School that our inspections should have got underneath what was happening sooner. Our most recent inspections in January, March and June 2013 make clear Ofsted’s concerns, specifically regarding safeguarding, leadership and governance and what the school must do to improve.

'We offer our sincerest apologies to the parents and children who have been affected by historic events at Stanbridge Earls.

'We have learnt lessons from Stanbridge Earls that will make our systems, structures, processes and practices more effective.

'We cannot turn back the clock on what has happened at Stanbridge Earls School, but our actions show that when we get it wrong, we acknowledge our mistakes, take decisive action, and ensure that we use the learning to improve.'

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