Education watchdog Ofsted has apologised to children and parents for failing to deal properly with reports of alleged sexual abuse at a special school in Hampshire.
An inquiry by the organisation into its inspections of Stanbridge Earls School in Romsey found that three visits from 2011 to 2012 where “problematic” and “each failed to get underneath concerns at the school”. As a result, “the judgements were not safe”.
Ofsted said that some staff involved in the inspections have either been sacked or disciplined for their conduct. “We expect all our staff to meet our high expectations and when they do not, we take decisive action,” it said in a statement.
Police are still investigating the school, which educates children with learning disabilities and will now close in December, following allegations that at least two former students were attacked.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal has already heavily criticised the 2011 actions of Stanbridge Earls relating to one female pupil – prompting the police probe called Operation Flamborough.
Another pupil has since come forward alleging she suffered sexual abuse in 2010.
The vulnerable disabled youngster was said to have been raped twice in 2011 at the hands of another student and the tribunal branded the school “unsystematic and unprofessional” in dealing with the incident – prompting headteacher Peter Trythall to step down in April.
The allegations prompted the inquiry by Ofsted which it said did not identify widespread failings but “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”.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), who set up the inquiry in January, 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.”
The watchdog will now from next year appoint regional directors to allow a detailed understanding of local issues at residential schools and better intelligence, plus a safeguarding group to review child protection issues.
Hampshire Police said on Wednesday that its investigation into Stanbridge Earls was ongoing, complex and comprehensive and is also looking at the police handling of the allegations at the time and any new allegations.
A charity is due to take over the site and run a new school from 2014 after Stanbridge Earls closes.