Concerns have been raised 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, Tes can reveal.
The revelation that the schools were given clean bills of health has led to concerns that Ofsted is leaving schools to mark their own homework on safeguarding.
One charity leader told Tes that Ofsted urgently needed to scrutinise how schools are handling sexual harassment and violence rather than just looking at their paper policies.
In one of the cases brought to Tes’ attention, a six-year old girl was raped multiple times at school, despite staff reportedly being present in the playground during sexual attacks. The school had also allegedly been previously alerted to the fact that the two boys involved were displaying harmful sexual behaviour.
The girl’s mother repeatedly tried to alert Ofsted to the school’s failures during an inspection and eventually spoke to an inspector. But the primary was still judged to have “effective” safeguarding.
In a second case, Ofsted was alerted to an incident in which a secondary school had put a 16-year old girl back into a classroom with a male classmate who had allegedly raped her outside of school.
The case was marked for “immediate action” by Ofsted, but the school was not inspected for a further 10 months, and when the inspectorate published its subsequent report it found the school to be effective on safeguarding.
Ofsted safeguarding inspection 'not fit for purpose'
In the first case, the six-year-old rape victim’s mother, Anna*, told Tes how she attempted to tell Ofsted what had happened.
“I rang the helpline, [on the morning of the inspection], that opened at 9am,” she said. “I spoke to someone who said it would be ‘very hard to get a message through to the inspector’, so I basically said, ‘Well, my daughter’s been raped in school.'"
Anna was forced to call the number twice more, because no one got back to her. “There was no proactivity at all, I had to keep on ringing them,” she said.
Eventually, the inspector called back. Anna recalled: “She told me that she was fully aware of the safeguarding issues and, ‘What was it that I wanted to add?’”
Anna said she explained what had happened to her daughter, and told the inspector that concerns about the behaviour of the two boys involved in the attacks on her daughter had been previously raised with the school by other parents.
However, when the inspection findings were published, safeguarding at the primary was judged to be effective. Tes is not naming the school to preserve the anonymity of the children concerned, but has seen the report and can confirm this is the case.
In the second case, first reported by Tes in March last year, a 16-year old girl was allegedly raped by a classmate outside of school.
The alleged perpetrator was arrested by police and released on bail, with one of the bail conditions being that he should not make contact with her. But the day after the arrest, the school put both pupils in the same classroom, saying that he was innocent until proven guilty. A trial has yet to take place and the girl is still considering whether or not to press charges.
The failure to adequately safeguard the girl prompted an immediate complaint against the school by the victim’s mother, Sue*. But the school continued to allow the alleged perpetrator to go to lessons with the victim.
Months later, with the school refusing to accept it had made serious errors in the handling of the incident, Sue felt that her formal complaint against the school was being frustrated. So she raised her concerns with Ofsted by phone, and the outlines of her concerns were logged.
She understood it was not Ofsted’s job to look into individual incidents, but contacted Ofsted because she thought the school’s approach raised issues about its safeguarding, leadership and handling of complaints.
Sue expected to be contacted by an appropriately trained individual from Ofsted to explore her concerns in more detail, but she was never called.
However, Tes has seen later correspondence from Ofsted, sent to Sue, which shows that the concerns were flagged up as requiring “immediate action”.
“The HMI who reviewed your complaint did evaluate that the information received was of sufficiently serious a nature that it raised wider safeguarding concerns about the school’s practice, and therefore that immediate action was required by Ofsted,” a letter from the inspectorate states.
Ofsted referred the case to the local authority two months after the concerns were received and the school was scheduled for an Ofsted inspection.
But this inspection was not “immediate” and only took place 10 months after the mother initially raised her concerns. Ofsted gave the school a clean bill of health for its leadership and safeguarding.
Sue also said that Ofsted’s approach of referring incidents to the relevant local authority was inadequate; because local authorities can act on behalf of maintained schools on such matters. She said in her case she felt the authority was complicit in frustrating her complaint.
The two cases suggest that Ofsted may be relying on the accounts given by schools when reaching judgements about safeguarding, rather than cross-checking this against parents’ experience.
Ofsted’s own guidance, "Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings", states: “Judgements must not be made solely based on the evidence that is presented during the inspection.
“Inspectors must probe further and take into account a range of evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements over time.
“Inspectors should take into account any comments that Ofsted has received from parents of children who attend the setting.”
Rachel Krys, co-director of End Violence Against Women, told Tes that the fact that the schools had been given clean bills of health was “a really big concern”.
“I don’t think [Ofsted] have really understood the causes of sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools… and that schools’ responses to it are reinforcing a really unhelpful and negative culture,” she said
Ofsted had to be “looking at the culture” and practice of safeguarding in a school, rather than just “inspecting the policy”, she said.
Sue said there were “systemic flaws” in the inspection system because Ofsted was “getting information from one side and one side only”.
“I’m frightened by it, because our children aren’t safe. Nobody’s accountable for our children’s safety,” she added.
Anna told Tes: “If this was water that was being poisoned, as a regulator, Ofwat would have been held responsible for not dealing with that. Ofwat could also impose sanctions, including financial penalities, for the failures.
“Given they are also a regulator, why are Ofsted any different? The Commons Public Accounts Committee report was damning about Ofsted’s failure to engage effectively with parents, as well as their reluctance to take the lead on wider issues like this, affecting the school system. The reality is, Ofsted are purely auditors, not regulators, and parents need to be aware of that if they expect Ofsted to take any action to protect their children.”
Ofsted said it stood by the judgements of its inspectors in both cases.
A spokesperson said: “This is clearly a distressing situation for the children and their families.
“In both cases, we made extensive efforts – including referral to the local authority as the appropriate safeguarding body, and investigation by ourselves, which led to inspection – to ensure all actions within our powers were undertaken to address the parents’ concerns and the matters raised with us.
“We are confident that inspectors acted appropriately and professionally at all times.”
*Not their real names