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Choirboys' school tried to 'conceal' protection lapses

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 19 November, 2010 | By: Stephen Exley

Top independent resisted FoI powers that forced revelation of weak security procedures

A high-profile independent school in Cambridge has been ordered to release an inspection report - criticising its security and recruitment procedures - that it "inappropriately" tried to conceal.

In a landmark ruling, King's College School - which teaches the choirboys who perform at Cambridge's King's College Chapel in the annual televised Christmas Eve service - has become the first independent school to be made subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

King's College received several requests for information related to an advice note from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which criticised the school for allowing a teacher to work with an out-of-date Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate.

The note, produced following an unannounced visit by inspectors in September 2009, found the school did not have "robust" procedures for verifying the qualifications of new employees before their appointment, and failed to keep a centralised register of new staff.

It also revealed that a former employee who had already left the school was still its designated child protection officer, and described its anti-bullying, child protection and discipline policies as "inadequate in various areas".

Private schools are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act but, following a complaint, information commissioner Christopher Graham ruled that the details requested should be supplied.

The school is classed as a public authority because of its financial links to King's College, Cambridge, which is publicly funded and therefore legally required to respond to freedom of information requests.

The commissioner rejected claims by the school, which charges fees of more than £18,000 per year for boarders, that it was a completely separate entity.

He concluded that "for the purposes of the act the school is part of the college", and found King's had "inappropriately" used the act.

The commissioner also criticised the college for failing to carry out a "proper" internal review and for not responding to the requests within the required 20 working days.

"In light of the nature of the withheld information and the lack of any detailed explanation from the college as to how disclosure of the withheld information would have been likely to have had the effects suggested by the qualified person (the provost), the commissioner is not convinced that the qualified person's opinion was a reasonable one," he added.

The decision could pave the way for other private schools without an independent board of governors and trustees to be made subject to the act, including choir schools such as St John's College School, Cambridge.

The complainant, who asked not to be identified, told The TES: "The lengths gone to by the school to cover up its failings are extremely worrying.

"The school's letter heading states that it is an 'integral part of King's College', the school governors are appointed by the governing body of King's College - which is also responsible for the school - and the school's chair of governors is also the college provost. It is clearly part of the college," he added.

Professor Ross Harrison, provost at King's College, said: "Everything that caused concern is now in order. This was confirmed by the follow-up ISI inspection in February 2010, which gave the school a glowing report and specifically stated that it 'met all the requirements of the Independent School Standards Regulations 2003'."

ISI findings

'Not up to date'

The advice note from the ISI revealed that the headteacher and the bursar at King's College School were "unaware of the need for a centralised register to be held of all staff appointments".

Recruitment procedures were criticised, with the inspectors finding "most files did not contain any evidence that qualifications or medical fitness had been checked".

The report also revealed that a new member of staff was working "on the verbally agreed basis that a CRB check is in place" and that this had "not been verified by the school".

"No one in the school has complete oversight of recruitment procedures, and information on staff is not kept centrally," it added.

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Comment (9)

  • I am frankly horrified by the claims made in this article. My daughter has been at King’s College School for several years. She loves it, she has made many good friends there, she looks forward to going every day and has made enormous progress since she has arrived. To my mind, the school is as good as any in the country. I am not surprised that the ‘source’ in this article has refused to be named, if I had made such unfounded allegations I too would hide my identity. I am surprised, however, that the TES has published this attack on the school. It is beneath the TES to print this piece, I would hope for greater balance from a publication of the TES’s standing.

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    19 November, 2010


  • I hope the TES has checked the motives and background of its un-named complainant. This sounds to me like someone with a grudge against the school wanting to cause embarrassment and trouble...

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    28 November, 2010


  • I have to agree with the previous two comments. I am a former King's parent and was delighted with the school in every way. And I think a hefty dose of common sense is needed: it's not as though the teacher without the up-to-date CRB check was actually a paedophile.

    I notice you quote the fees as £18,000 per year. The only people who pay that much are non-chorister boarders, who form a tiny minority. The others pay considerably less. So why do you write as though the fee paid by boarders is representative? Hmm, I think I know the answer to that one ...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 January, 2011


  • I find the comment of F Bueller surprising. Usually, the reason (in an education story) for being annoymous is to protect the identity of certain children F Bueller says that the allegations are unfounded, yet the Provost of King's College School offered to resign over the failed ISI inspection and there has been a second Decision Notice from the Information Commissioner. The Provost has also apologised o the parents for the way in which they were treated by the school and in particular the headmaster. None of the comments are unfounded or untrue, even if that is what F Bueller would like to believe.

    Suggest that he/she looks at the Wikipedia site for King's College School Cambridge.

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    26 January, 2011


  • Anyone looking at the website of Kings's College School, Cambridge will find it has been repeatedly vandalised by someone who goes under the name of Kitty101423. Check the edits. Kitty101432 has been vandalising the page for over two years!

    So, how amusing to see in the above posting Kity101423 uses his/her own edits to the wiki page (which hardly constitute a useful contribution to an online encyclopedia) as "evidence".

    I am afraid Kitty looks like a vindicative parent with an axe to grind.

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    3 March, 2011


  • There are a lot of people keen to attack the parent involved but the facts speak for themselves.There are a lot of things that happen at schools that are swept under the carpet,If you don't know what happened then don't assume it's just a trouble making parent at the heart of it. More likely a very hurt and angry parent forced to withdraw their children, who were settled in a school, as the school failed to deal with a genuine complaint in a professional manner.I have heard a lot of negative things about this school so find this all unsurprising.

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    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    12 March, 2011


  • It is wrong to use the perch of anonymity to attack others repeatedly and vigorously.

    Despite what Kitty101423 says, there are no child protection issues involved -- at least, on the evidence of the TES article. Sloppy procedures, perhaps, but no worse.

    I make no comment on what happened between the parent and the
    headmaster. Perhaps the headmaster behaved badly, perhaps the parent -- who knows?

    But I do know it is cowardly for the parent to attack the school, the headmaster and individual teachers while claiming anonymity for herself.

    In fact, the parent (the vigorously wiki-page editing Kitty101423) gives away ample clues in her rambling discourse on the wiki to identify herself.

    And, now I have identified her ... I can well understand why she wishes to remain anonymous !!!!!

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    15 March, 2011


  • I'm an ex pupil of KCS and a curious sort so I typed Kitty101423 into Google and had a look some of the to and fro between Kitty and the Wiki editors.

    She seems to believe the Wikipedia entry to be her personal soap box for venting spleen against this school, rather than an impartial resource for sharing information.

    Might be an unhealthy obsession Kitty, might be time to let it go and move on or it might be time to buy and do your ranting there and give the nice people at Wikipedia a break.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    2 July, 2011


  • Accommodating boarders with patchy safeguarding arrangements is like driving without seatbelt (or crossing the road with your eyes shut): great in every way, while it works, but apt to suddenly sour seriously.
    The school was caught in a bit of a hole, operating in this way - and it conspicuously failed to stop digging. The above contributions highlight the importance of national inspection bodies - and of the press, picking up the inspection reports.
    That is, too many of the contributors seem to be forming a ring around that hole - obscuring it from wider view, nudging each other to agree that it's not really a hole, it's not a big hole, it's not deep, it's really quite a dry hole, and anyway what's a couple of kids drowning in a sea of bullying? among 400? in the grand scheme of things? They left, after all, and all's well that ends well.
    But no doubt with their lives and hopes reduced to chaos and dross.
    And no, Kitty101423 hasn't been vandalising Wikipedia. She's been accepting advice while struggling to achieve the necessary detachment to share a shocking experience which other people need information on.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    10 April, 2012


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