A prestigious private school known as the “Catholic Eton” has been ordered by the government to stop admitting new pupils over safeguarding failures.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has today ordered Ampleforth College, in North Yorkshire, to “cease to admit any new students”.
The enforcement action follows an emergency inspection by Ofsted in September that Williamson said showed Ampleforth is failing to meet the independent school standards (ISS). The September report has not yet been published as the school has lodged a complaint.
The letter states that Williamson has “had regard to the fact that that the school is failing to meet the ISS, including standards relating to safeguarding and leadership and management, and in his view, these failings are considered to be very serious. The nature of these failings are detailed by Ofsted’s current report.”
The letter adds Williamson has also taken into account both Ofsted and Independent School Inspectorate reports from January 2016 to the present day, as well as the Catholic school’s “response to regulatory action”.
A spokesperson for Ampleforth said they will be appealing the decision as “we believe, and have been advised, that it is unjustified and based on incorrect information”.
The school, which charges boarders £36,000 a year, has been at the centre of a major child sex abuse inquiry.
Earlier this month a report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) highlighted five individuals who were connected to the school who have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or offences concerning pornography.
The report found “appalling sexual abuse” was inflicted on pupils at the North Yorkshire College and its adjoining junior school.
A Department for Education spokesperson said today’s action follows “safeguarding concerns that have not been addressed in the timely and sustained manner that the Department and school community would expect.
“We will continue to work closely with the college and local authority to secure rapid and sustained improvement, to ensure the welfare of all pupils is protected. We will not hesitate to pursue further action, including the de-registration of the college, should it be necessary.”
Williamson’s letter states the school has “shown some willingness to improve” since 2018.
It adds that reports in January and August this year found that the school was meeting all of the ISS and notes new leadership has secured improvement since the prior inspection in May 2019. There had also been “improved internal safeguarding arrangements”, the letter adds.
However, Williamson’s view is that taking into account all the evidence “is that progress has been too slow and has been insufficient” and in some respects the school “appears to have relapsed”.
The order was not due to come into effect until December 29th. However, as the school has now appealed the decision, the restriction will not take effect until the appeal is determined.
The proprietor, St Laurence Education Trust, can also apply to have the restriction revoked at any time, and would only be approved if Williamson “was satisfied that it would be appropriate to do so because of any change in circumstances”, the letter adds.
A spokesperson for the school said: “We will be appealing this on the basis that we believe, and have been advised, that it is unjustified and based on incorrect information.
“Given the very considerable steps forward that have been taken by the School to learn from the mistakes of the past and to put in place a robust safeguarding regime, a new senior leadership team, and a new governance structure that has effectively separated the Abbey from the College, we cannot understand why this decision has been taken, and we cannot understand why it has been published, given the appeals process is still open to us.
“As far as we are concerned, we will continue to educate our students to the very high standards they are used to in a safe and supportive environment.”
In February Peter Turner, a former monk who worked at the Catholic boarding school, was found guilty of sexually abusing three boys aged below 13 between 1984 and 1990, and jailed for 20 years.
The offences took place at Ampleforth College and a parish in Cumbria, with Turner admitting 14 charges including indecent assault, gross indecency and another serious sexual offence.