Grubby images and dirty linen

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
The school, where ex-drama teacher Renate Williams worked, is in trouble, write Clare Dean and Karen Thornton

RENATE Williams' downfall is writ large in the report by social service inspectors on the private boarding school where she taught.

The ex-drama teacher, who admitted in court that she swam naked with boys on a school trip, complained that pupils were "socially abusive, manipulative and aggressive".

She was cleared of indecently assaulting a 15-year-old pupil but the inspector's report, which has just been published, raises serious child protection issues.

It exposes a world of erratic staff checks, shabby accommodation, where quilts were likely to be washed only once a year, and boys preoccupied with girls and sex.

Inspectors said pupils put up sexualised images of women on their bedroom walls. They found that the school was failing in its welfare duty on six counts, which were:

absence of night-staff arrangements

inadequate staff-vetting checks

inadequate complaints procedures

inadequate child protection procedures

failure to report child protection incidents that occurred in the school

and absence of a fully-qualified and experienced head of care.

It now has six months to demonstrate that care arrangements meet the required standards. It has already prepared an action plan which has been adopted by its board of governors.

The school cannot be named but its chair of governors said: "The school has many gifted and dedicated staff doing a demanding job really well.

"It is important that we meet the challenges presented by the report so that the very special needs of the children can be met by this school."

Social services inspectors, who spent four days at the school last June, concluded that posters on the boys' walls, while not pornographic, were of sexualised images of women.

"This suggested a lack of confidence among staff about boundaries which are inappropriate and this is of particular concern."

And they discovered that both staff and pupils believed there was a culture in the school that allowed alleged inappropriate staff behaviour to be covered up.

Care staff were predominantly young and had no previous residential experience of boarding school life.

One female member of staff was just 19-years-old and, in the view of inspectors, too young to undertake duties with pupils of a broadly similar age.

The inspectors sampled 21 files on staff, and ex-staff, employed since 1994 and found seven contained no evidence of vetting. A further seven showed that staff began working with children before checks were completed.

In four cases there were no copies of references on file, and in six only one written reference had been obtained.

In 14, there was either no evidence on file, or referees had not been specifically asked whether they knew of any impediment to the person being responsible for the care of, or substantial access to, children living away from home.

Inspectors said the school must now conduct the full range of required vetting checks.

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