A ban on recruiting new pupils at the prestigious Ampleforth College has been lifted, despite Ofsted inspectors flagging continuing safeguarding concerns.
The Department for Education today withdrew an enforcement notice issued in November, which ordered the private school in North Yorkshire to “cease to admit any new students” from the end of December.
The notice was issued following an emergency inspection by Ofsted in September which found Ampleforth was failing to meet the independent school standards. The college said at the time it was appealing the decision as “we believe, and have been advised, that it is unjustified and based on incorrect information”.
The DfE said today it was lifting the notice after the school agreed to an action plan to meet the independent school standards by the autumn.
But an Ofsted monitoring report published today found the school was still not meeting all of the standards at the end of last month, and raised concerns about recent safeguarding incidents.
In the report, inspectors found that although “some improvements” had been made since a previous inspection in February, “weaknesses in the school’s safeguarding practice remain”.
A culture of safeguarding is “still not embedded”, and standards for the welfare, health and safety of pupils “remain unmet”.
Inspectors found recent safeguarding incidents
Inspectors also found there was a “near-miss road traffic accident” on site in early March, involving a visitor to the school who was not accompanied by a member of staff.
And just a week before the inspection, there was “a further serious safeguarding incident, relating to an unaccompanied visitor to the site”. This second incident “demonstrates that the school’s risk assessment policy and procedures are not applied consistently”, Ofsted said.
An external agency working with the trust to improve safeguarding reviewed school records in January, and identified “a number of recent cases of very serious child-on-child abuse”. This prompted a review of all online safeguarding records of current pupils by the school’s designated safeguarding lead and their deputies.
Inspectors found trustees were “not confident that they have a full knowledge of all child-on-child abuse that has taken place since the current online data storage tool for recording and managing safeguarding concerns was set up”.
Culture of safeguarding ‘not demonstrably evident’
Ofsted concluded that leaders had “not yet demonstrated that they fulfil all of their responsibilities effectively so that the independent school standards are met consistently and continually”.
“Despite a raft of very recently introduced systems, structures and policies, the desired all encompassing culture of safeguarding, underpinned by a recognition that a hypervigilance is necessary, is not demonstrably evident.”
The school, which charges boarders £36,000 a year, has been at the centre of a major child sex abuse inquiry.
Last year 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 college and its adjoining junior school.
School still has ‘close’ links to Abbey
The school said last year that a new governance structure had “effectively separated” the college from Ampleforth Abbey.
But Ofsted found last month that the St Laurence Education Trust, which runs the school, and the Ampleforth Abbey Trust remained “linked closely”.
The Ampleforth Abbey Trustees, the sole trustee of the Ampleforth Abbey Trust, is one of eleven members of the St Laurence Education Trust, Ofsted said. The Ampleforth Abbey Trust also met the financial losses of the education trust between 2017 and 2019, and owns the land the school’s buildings sit on.
Links between the two institutions are also “evident in the everyday life of the school”, with facilities such as information technology and telephony still shared between them when Ofsted visited.
Accounts show the Ampleforth Abbey Trustees ceased to be the sole member of the St Laurence Education Trust in May 2019.
School action plan aims to meet standards by autumn
The DfE said today the school had committed to a formal action plan to meet the standards in full by its next Ofsted inspection in the autumn.
The school has also agreed to make changes to its board to appoint new trustees without a previous connection to the school or the Abbey, and employ a new experienced designated safeguarding lead.
It will also commission twice yearly independent monitoring reviews of its safeguarding practices, with findings made available to the DfE.
A department spokesperson said its “robust action … has secured unprecedented commitments to improve governance and safeguarding at the independent school”.
They will be monitoring the school “closely and if it is not meeting the standards at the next inspection we will not hesitate to consider whether further action is necessary.”
Headteacher Robin Dyer said he welcomed the lifting of the restrictions.
“However, notwithstanding the fact that our outcomes remain good – our students are happy and safe, and our parents overwhelmingly endorse the College – it is a simple truth that any criticism of our safeguarding policies and practice must be taken with the utmost seriousness.”