Ofsted took nearly a year to take action after it was notified about a secondary school where safeguarding failures resulted in a girl allegedly being sexually exploited by an older boy, Tes can reveal.
The older boy – who at the time had been charged with the rape of two other girls, and was later convicted – was allowed unsupervised contact with girls in the school, his alleged victim said. Concerns were raised about his relationship with the girl, but the senior leadership team failed to act.
But the girl’s father, John*, said that trying to get Ofsted to take an interest in the case was like “running at a brick wall”.
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After nearly a year of inaction, the school was finally rated "inadequate" because of its safeguarding failures.
The latest incident follows reports by Tes that revealed “systemic flaws” in Ofsted’s inspection model in relation to peer-on-peer abuse, after it was found to have given clean bills of health to schools responsible for serious safeguarding failures.
John first called Ofsted to raise his concerns about the school in May last year. However, he said it was a “very short frustrating call”, and he was told that Ofsted “only inspected schools, they did not investigate schools”.
He called again about a month later. “I told them what had happened, they just hung up,” he said.
Several weeks later, he called them three times in one day. He was “fobbed off” on the first two occasions. When he called back the third time, he was determined they would listen to him.
He asked to speak to a manager, and when the operator continued to be obstructive, said: “Look, my daughter has been raped in school by a boy convicted of raping two other girls, and I can’t get any answers or any help.”
He was “fighting off the tears, nearly sobbing on the phone because no one would listen or help, having to bare my emotions to a person I have never met”.
He was put on hold, and then transferred to someone more senior. He described what had happened to his daughter.
About a week later, Ofsted sent him a formal response. They said a summary of his concerns would be “available to the lead inspector for consideration at the provider’s next inspection”. They said he should complain to the school.
But John had already done this, and felt their response was insufficient because it did not acknowledge anything had gone wrong. Ofsted said he should contact the local authority as well.
However, the inspectorate also told him: “The purpose of Ofsted’s legal powers when considering complaints about schools is to determine if there is a need to inspect the school.
“The responsibility for the day-to day running of a school and the resolution of individual issues falls to the senior leadership team.
“Ofsted inspectors will only consider the matters in the complaint that relate to our inspection functions. They will not investigate any individual matters.”
John emailed Ofsted on three further occasions later in the year. In the autumn, the inspectorate reiterated that it could not look into his concerns.
However, in early 2019 – just months after Tes had published stories raising concerns about Ofsted's approach to peer abuse – it changed tack. In a letter sent to John, the inspectorate admitted: “The communication from Ofsted to you has been insufficient in this case and we sincerely apologise for this and for the delay in writing to you.”
At the time, Ofsted was coming under pressure from the Commons Education Select Committee over its inaction in relation to peer-on-peer abuse, and John believes this is one of the reasons why he finally began to make progress.
The school was eventually subject to a snap inspection and was rated "inadequate". The report makes clear it was inspected in relation to a parents' concerns about safeguarding.
For John, trying to get Ofsted to take his concerns seriously was exhausting. “I can see why people give up because it is impossible…it does really feel that you’re running at a brick wall,” he said.
“We’re parents, but we’re people as well and we’re people with feelings. The mental health toll it’s taken on me is massive in the last 12 months.”
His experience is consistent with other families who have tried to alert Ofsted to failures relating to peer abuse. Last October, Tes reported concerns about “systemic flaws” in Ofsted’s inspection model, after it praised two schools on safeguarding, judging them “effective”, despite being warned of major failures in their protection of child rape victims.
Throughout his ordeal, John felt no one was looking out for his family’s interests. “I thought if something like happens to you, there’s then a safety net there. That you’ll be able to talk to somebody, and somebody will be on your side to help you. There’s not, there’s nobody.”
Rachel Krys, co-director of the charity End Violence Against Women, said there was a gap in the system.
“It would be wrong to say it’s just an Ofsted failure – it’s a total system failure,” she told Tes. “There isn’t an organisation, there isn’t an oversight body that is there to properly respond to really serious concerns.
“The only reason this Ofsted inspection happened, the only reason that these changes are happening, is because of the determination of John, who has been absolutely knocked back at every turn.”
A spokesman for Ofsted said: “We are sorry that this parent is unhappy with how we handled his concern, and we have arranged to meet and discuss this with him.
“Ofsted does not have the legal power to investigate individual cases of children who may have suffered peer-on-peer abuse, or who could be at risk. That responsibility lies with local authorities.
"Of course, if we receive information that suggests a child may be at risk, we will pass it on to the relevant local authority immediately, so that they can decide what action should be taken.
“For obvious reasons, Ofsted cannot share information about future inspections. In this case, we scheduled the inspection so it did not interfere with the ongoing police investigation. Its timing was not influenced by any other factors, such as the education committee hearing. In fact, the hearing took place after we had scheduled the inspection.”
Ms Krys hoped the fact that Ofsted finally took action could mark a watershed moment.
"I think it’s important that Ofsted is going to be inspecting schools for their responses in these cases,” she said.
“It’s important that schools understand that ultimately if they completely fail to listen to parents' concerns, parents are left with no choice but to resort to complaining to Ofsted, among others.”
*Not his real name