This note is an update on the two safeguarding alerts reported to police at the MacIntyre schools in Womaston, Powys and Wingrave, Buckinghamshire.
In March 2014 we were alerted by one of our staff members of a serious safeguarding concern at Womaston School, Powys. We reported this immediately to the regulator and the Powys safeguarding team and the police instigated an investigation. The five members of staff mentioned in the alert were suspended immediately; three have been arrested on suspicion of neglect but all still remain under review by the police. No decision to prosecute has yet been taken and in accordance with strict safeguarding protocols MacIntyre has not interviewed the individuals or heard their responses to the allegations. The issue relates to two students and the police have confirmed that they have no suspicion of any concerns relating to other students- either at the school at the time or prior. We will continue to work with the Welsh authorities and the police and on completion of the formal investigation, if anything new emerges, we will respond proactively.
Following the alert we immediately set up a special safeguarding response Trustee Committee reporting to the Chair of Trustees primarily to ensure the wellbeing of all the students in our care. We seconded experienced practitioners from across MacIntyre to the school to ensure that children were happy and safe.
A number of detailed Trustee and management discussions were held, including an assessment of the practicality of running the school given our agreement with the authorities not to recruit further students during the investigation. A special Trustee meeting in May 2014 reluctantly decided that we had to close the school, even though Trustees were fully satisfied that our safeguarding measures were robust and the remaining students were at no risk. The school was no longer able to provide the depth of curriculum the students would need with only seven of them left at the school. We have succeeded in finding good alternative placements for each student and were pleased to be asked by families to make provision, wherever we could, in other MacIntyre educational services. During the difficult last few months we were really impressed by the commitment and compassion shown by the staff team. They gave unwavering support for the students despite the uncertainty about their own futures. Belinda Manning, our excellent school Principal who joined shortly before the safeguarding alert, has maintained contact with each student and is able to keep us updated of their progress.
In June a staff member alerted us to a second, unrelated, safeguarding alert at Wingrave our school in Buckinghamshire. We immediately notified the appropriate authorities who referred the matter to the police who, after an initial investigation, decided not to take the matter further. The local authority safeguarding team then handed over the investigation to MacIntyre and we asked the independent safeguarding experts, the Ann Craft Trust, to investigate on our behalf. This is complete and disciplinary action has been taken.
We have taken stock since the alerts at our schools and reflected on how we can develop our culture further and continue to improve our quality and safeguarding assurance. We have asked our longstanding safeguarding group, chaired by the Ann Craft Trust to review all alerts, ensuring standards of reporting, investigation and learning are of the highest standard. We have also asked the group to critically appraise practice and provide independent scrutiny to any “service of concern” brought to our attention by the “Indicators of Concern” assessment adopted by MacIntyre from research undertaken by Hull University.
We have given fresh impetus to the creation of a new quality framework for MacIntyre bringing together a number of current quality initiatives and based on an appreciative enquiry methodology. In November we launched a new set of Promises all of which are fundamental to MacIntyre’s DNA and produced by the students and adults who MacIntyre support. These Promises will be embedded in all policies, job descriptions, leadership charter etc and will form a fundamental part of our quality and safeguarding assurance.
This has been a difficult time and we are sorry for the distress caused to the students involved and their families. We are grateful to the two members of staff who brought these two incidences to our notice. It has reminded us of just how crucial it is that our people know how to act properly and do so at all times and that we organisationally respond quickly, effectively and professionally when issues arise. Both external and internal investigations have concluded that we discovered the issues, we were transparent, we did as was expected and there has been a robust response. However we have not been complacent and we will continue to take our safeguarding responsibilities very seriously.
By way of the wider context there is widespread and consistent evidence of good practice across MacIntyre, much of which has been benchmarked as sector leading and is externally validated. This track record of good practice alongside our open culture and our person centred approach does, we hope, give reassurance that the children and adults who we support are safe.
In conclusion we shall continue to update people as and when the police investigation in Powys progresses, and continue to share our learning about how a reputable organisation responds to such a challenge, assures itself about its practice and uses the experience to improve and be even more vigilant.