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Primary Education News
News Music school at heart of abuse scandal failed to safeguard pupils, reports find
Chetham's school of music in Manchester is criticised for failures of leadership over children's welfare
Senior staff and governors of a specialist music school at the heart of a child sexual abuse inquiry have failed to ensure the safeguarding of pupils' welfare, two independent reports have found.
Inspectors from Manchester city council's children's services department and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (pdf) were called to Chetham's school of music in Manchester last month to carry out urgent reviews of child protection procedures at the £31,000-a-year private institution following a number of serious allegations of sex abuse against teachers past and present.
Council inspectors concluded that the local authority "is not confident about the overall effectiveness of the leadership and governance of safeguarding arrangements in the school".
They warned: "Arrangements are present to promote a culture and climate of effective safeguarding at Chetham's school of music but the arrangements are not routinely and reliably implemented, robustly applied, monitored or evaluated by the senior leadership team, governors and Feoffees [trustees of the charity which runs the school]."
In addition the inspectors found "little evidence that the governing body/school committee have sufficiently held the senior leaders of the school to account regarding providing assurances that the current arrangements for safeguarding are actually being implemented, applied robustly, monitored appropriately or evaluated effectively. In the context of recent convictions, allegations and ongoing police investigations, where extra assurances would be expected, this is a cause for concern."
The Manchester council report said that if Chetham's were a state school, "the nature of these findings … would lead us to invite the chair of governors or trustees to a formal review meeting to discuss the capacity for governance and senior leadership to address the failings identified" and noted that since the visit the school had begun to implement improvements.
The report found "pupils report that they are happy and feel safe and secure in the school".
Chetham's accepted the reports but said the inspections were carried out too quickly. A spokeswoman noted that an overwhelming majority of parents and students told inspectors they were satisfied the school provided a safe environment.
The exclusive music school was thrust under an unwelcome spotlight in February when Michael Brewer, formerly director of music at the influential establishment, was found guilty of sexually abusing a student when she was 14 and 15. Last week he was sentenced to six years in jail for what he did to Frances Andrade, a professional violinist who killed herself after giving evidence against him.
In early February, another Chetham's teacher, the violinist Wen Zhou Li, was arrested on suspicion of rape. He denies the allegations but has been suspended by the school pending the police investigation. Detectives are also looking into claims made against other current and former teachers at the school, the Guardian understands.
Following Brewer's conviction the school sought to distance itself from his crimes and draw a line under the past. Claire Moreland, headteacher since 1999, issued a statement on the steps of Manchester crown court in which she declared: "The child protection measures we have in place are robust and extensive and reflect the huge improvements in child protection across the education sector."
Yet both sets of inspectors found the school had failed as recently as March to follow its own guidelines to keep children safe. They also discovered that no formal, minuted meetings had taken place at the school to discuss the recent allegations and consider changes to its child protection policy.
Inspectors discovered a catalogue of worrying evidence, such as:
• Chetham's does not meet the national minimum guidelines around safeguarding the welfare of children.
• Overseas teachers were not properly vetted before starting work at the school.
• One foreign member of staff had not been subject to a criminal records bureau check in the UK.
• The school failed to check out teachers' professional qualifications.
• The school had taken disciplinary action or issued a suspension against four staff because of concerns about their suitability to work with children between 1999 and 2013, but these incidents were not always properly referred to the local authority as required within good time.
• The school's procedure for reporting allegations of abuse against members of staff is unclear.
• The school's procedure for dealing with issues of concern against members of staff is not always carried out in practice.
• The school's policy and procedures for safeguarding its pupils are in place but they are not robustly understood and followed by all staff and governors.
There was confusion over whether teachers ever taught pupils at home. Despite some pupils telling inspectors that they regularly had lessons at teachers' houses, this was denied by at least one member of the school's staff.
The Manchester council report states: "There are inconsistencies in relation to the child protection officer, designated governor for safeguarding and the head of academic music's understanding of school policy and procedures for teaching at the home of a tutor. This ranges from an understanding that pupils 'wouldn't ever have home tuition', to it is not encouraged or sanctioned by the school and would only be agreed and arranged by parents, to if there was an exceptional circumstance that required teaching at the home of a tutor, there would be a risk assessment completed and parental consent sought. No reference is made to home tuition in the staff, pupil or parents handbooks. During interviews with pupils some pupils stated that home tuition regularly takes place."
Responding to the reports, a school spokeswoman said the school had given "careful and detailed consideration" to the findings. But, she said: "Unfortunately we believe the time allowed for the review was insufficient."
The school had made detailed written representations and submitted further documentation to both sets of inspectors, she said, adding: "There is enormous interest in the school at the current time and it is imperative that Chetham's, and all students, staff and parents associated with it, are treated and represented accurately."
The school was already committed to "a thorough review of our current processes and historic events", she said, and would be seeking a meeting with the Department for Education to discuss the review's findings and share a detailed action plan to demonstrate how it was remedying the issues highlighted.
She said: "We are determined to ensure that we consistently achieve best practice in safeguarding standards at Chetham's. We are extremely proud of our school, its students and its staff and believe that Chetham's makes an invaluable contribution to the community and the musical life of the nation. However, the safety and happiness of our pupils is our top priority, above all else."
Last week Moreland, the headteacher, sent out an email to all parents, claiming the police investigation was focusing on events 20 to 40 years ago. After the Guardian pointed out that detectives were looking at allegations relating to incidents as recently as 2006, Moreland sent out another email the following day, saying that after talking to police she could confirm that "a number of more recent allegations/complaints are being treated as part of their wider investigation".