IICSA Residential Schools Investigation

The independent report from March 2022 makes for shocking reading

This investigation focused on residential schools in both the state and independent sector and explored how schools and other agencies responded to allegations of sexual abuse by school staff, and addressed broad questions of school culture, governance, leadership, training and recruitment.

The chilling, 224-page report chronicles cases of abuse in Chetham's School of Music, The Yehudi Menuhin School, Wells Cathedral School, Clifton College and The Purcell School for Young Musicians among others.

The introduction to the report, states: "The instances of the sexual abuse of children presented in this report will shock and horrify. They represent the antithesis of everything that a school should be. For many victims and survivors, the impacts have been profound and lifelong. Some perpetrators have been brought to justice, but many have not. Some of those in positions of authority and responsibility have been held to account for their failures of leadership and governance in varying degrees, but many have not."

Chetham’s School of Music

In 2013, Michael Brewer, the former director of music at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, was convicted of sexually abusing a former student when she was 14. His victim took her own life after giving evidence at his trial. This prompted other former pupils to come forward, with 47 alleged perpetrators reported to the police, 35 of whom were connected with the school.

Four were charged with criminal offences, including Christopher Ling who had abused eight young girls, often in the guise of ‘rewards and punishments’ at his home during tutorials, during music courses in school holidays and at the school itself. This first came to light in 1990, shortly after Ling moved to the USA, taking a group of girls with him as pupils. Extradition was not pursued and no further action was taken at the time by the school or by others. It was, as one victim put it, “as if it hadn’t happened”.

Hillside First School

Hillside First School was a maintained school for children aged four to eight in Weston-super-Mare. For 15 years from 1995 to 2010, teacher Nigel Leat had his “favourites” – young girls many of whom were vulnerable in some way. From September 2006, there was evidence that in each school year Leat selected a different girl to sexually abuse, doing so in various locations in the school.

Police discovered 454 original videos in which Leat had filmed himself abusing his pupils. He was charged with 36 separate offences, including a count of attempted rape, eight counts of sexual assault by penetration and 23 other counts of sexual assault, all against girls under 13, the youngest of whom was 6. He pleaded guilty to all. A subsequent serious case review revealed that his inappropriate or unprofessional conduct had been noted on over 30 occasions, but few were reported to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL), even fewer were officially recorded and no effective action had been taken in respect of them.

The Purcell School

At the Purcell School, a specialist music school, allegations against staff were not responded to appropriately under the headship of Mr Peter Crook. This is unsurprising, as the headteacher demonstrated a failure to understand some basic principles of safeguarding. For example, in 2009 Mr Crook took a group of Year 9 boys to his home, discussed his own sexual experiences with them, told the boys how to measure their penises and told them he would ignore it if he caught two boys masturbating each other. When this came to light, it was decided that no disciplinary measures were to be imposed on the headteacher.

Boarding Schools

During this investigation, the Inquiry considered child sexual abuse and safeguarding concerns at 10 boarding schools.

The closed residential schools account submitted by the Counsel identified a number of complaints of sexual abuse which occurred at four boarding schools in England in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s: Ashdown House, Sherborne Preparatory School and St George’s School, which became Dalesdown School. These were independent preparatory schools for pupils between the ages of 8 and 13.

A teacher at Ashdown House, Martin Haigh, was convicted of sexual offences against four boys aged 7 to 12 years old who boarded at the school during the 1970s. Allegations were also made against other staff which did not result in convictions.

St George’s School, later Dalesdown School, were owned and run by the headteacher, Derek Slade. Slade severely beat, sexually assaulted and raped boys in his care. In 2010, Slade was sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment for sexual offences committed in the 1980s against 12 pupils.

Two other teachers at St George’s School, Alan Bridgen and Gerald Singer, also sexually assaulted and raped boys at the school. A third teacher was charged with sexual offences against pupils but took his own life before the case came to trial.

Sherborne Preparatory School was owned by the headteacher, Robin Lindsay. In 1998, an Independent Schools Tribunal prohibited Lindsay from teaching and from owning an independent school, concluding that he was a “fixated paedophile” who posed a risk to children. In 2014, eight former pupils of the school made allegations to the police that Lindsay had sexually abused them as children but he was by then suffering from advanced dementia and was judged not fit to stand trial.


The chair and panel responsible for the report have made a large number of recommendations aimed at residential schools and the DfE and the Welsh government. These include:

  • Requiring all residential special schools to be inspected against the quality standards used to regulate children’s homes in England and care homes in Wales;
  • Reintroducing a duty on boarding schools and residential special schools to inform the relevant inspectorate of allegations of child sexual abuse and other serious incidents, with professional or regulatory consequences for breach of this duty. If the recommendation above is implemented, residential special schools will automatically be subject to this duty;
  • Introducing a system of licensing and registration of educational guardians for international students which requires Disclosure and Barring Service and barred list checks to be undertaken;
  • Introducing a set of national standards for local authority designated officers in England and Wales to promote consistency;
  • Clarifying in statutory guidance that the local authority designated officer can be contacted for informal advice as well as when a concern or allegation needs to be referred;
  • Amending the Independent School Standards to include the requirements that there is an effective system of governance, based on three principles of openness to external scrutiny, transparency and honesty within the governance arrangements, and the ability of governors to have difficult conversations both internally and with those providing external scrutiny;
  • Amending the Independent School Standards to stipulate that the proprietor cannot be the designated safeguarding lead; and
  • Amending the current system of registration of independent schools to apply the same standards to registrants as those applying to open a free school or early years provision.

Additional Vulnerabilities of Children in Residential Special Schools

The report revealed that pupils in residential special schools are amongst the most vulnerable children in society. Disabled children are almost three times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-disabled children.

Despite statistics that suggest that a high proportion of sexual abuse outside the home occurs in schools, there are few convictions for child sexual abuse in residential special schools. This may be for several reasons, including that pupils with SEND find it more difficult to disclose abuse and that there are difficulties with the investigative and court processes for witnesses with SEND.

Many children living in these settings have significant communication impairments. Some children are unable to communicate verbally and some have social communication disorders which means their understanding of social cues and norms is limited. This significantly impacts the ability of these children to tell others about sexually abusive behaviours. A number of children in residential special schools have complex physical disabilities which make them completely reliant on adults for all aspects of their care, as well as their education.

Many children placed in residential special schools live a considerable distance from their parental homes. Around 75 per cent of children who live in out-of-area placements travel more than 20 miles away from home. Their parents and other family members who know them well are not present to interpret their communication needs or to understand when their behaviour is connected to pain, distress or unhappiness.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Harmful sexual behaviour between pupils occurs in all types of school but can be a particular issue in residential special schools where pupils who are living together may have difficulties understanding social cues or appropriate interactions. The Inquiry’s safeguarding of children from sexual abuse in residential schools research report noted that residential special schools recorded nearly 10 times the number of concerns per student than other residential schools.

The increased frequency may be explained in part by the greater levels of supervision in residential special schools. This can be seen in an example given at Southlands School where at the time of the hearing in October 2019, a couple of 16-year-old pupils were in a relationship in the school. Ms Gaster described having to monitor their relationship “very, very carefully” using contracts of behaviour and discussions with parents and social workers.

The report can be read in full by clicking HERE and searching for IICSA in the Topic Tags menu of the Quick Guides Library