Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse [IICSA]
On 27th November 2017 the public hearings commenced on Child Sex Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church and continued until 15th December. The first case study examined the English Benedictine Congregation including schools run by the congregation of which Downside is one. The Inquiry have now published a report on their findings which can be accessed here.
Downside School welcomes the report and would like to take this opportunity to thank the Inquiry and the brave victims and survivors who gave evidence to the Inquiry and to whom we have listened carefully and humbly. The School apologises unreservedly to every child who suffered sexual abuse whilst in our care. We deeply regret the past mistakes and are committed to providing effective and meaningful support to former pupils who are victims and survivors of abuse. It is helpful that IICSA’s report recognises some of the significant steps we have and are continuing to take in order to address safeguarding challenges at Downside.
The Inquiry process has provided an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and look forward with safeguarding at the heart of everything we do. Since Downside representatives gave evidence to the Inquiry in November 2017, there have been a number of developments in relation to safeguarding at Downside School:
The Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) have conducted a thorough safeguarding audit of the School and a link to their report is at the bottom of this page. The Audit found that within the school, a safe culture is very well-embedded, and an awareness of safeguarding is wide and deep.
Following a competitive process, Andrew Hobbs, our Acting Head and designated safeguarding lead has been appointed as Head Master of Downside. The SCIE audit found that Andrew Hobbs performs his role to a high standard and his safeguarding leadership has been central to the improvements across Downside. Andrew will take on the role of Head Master from September 2018 and is committed to ensuring that improvements continue and that there is a widespread understanding within the School that safeguarding is the responsibility of everyone at Downside.
- A new lay Chair of Governors, Adrian Aylward, was appointed in January 2018.
- A new team of advisors has been appointed to manage the separation of the School and Monastery and the creation of a new independent Trust for the School.
- A Project Manager was appointed April 2018 to manage the process of a separate school trust.
- Plans for the recruitment of new School Trustees are underway.
- A new Prior Administrator for Downside Abbey, Dom Nicholas Wetz from Belmont Abbey, has been appointed from September 2018
We are keenly aware that safeguarding is an ongoing process that requires continuous work and constant vigilance. The School is committed to achieving the highest standards in safeguarding and working with our various safeguarding partners to ensure that safeguarding is at the heart of our ethos and everything we do here at Downside so that our students both feel protected and are best protected.
This page provides resources for those seeking further information on the details of the Inquiry. Please see the links below:
Andrew Hobbs wishes to repeat the apology he made on behalf of the School, as part of his witness statement at the Inquiry in December:
‘I apologise on behalf of Downside School to every child who suffered child sexual abuse whilst in our care. I do not believe that we, at Downside School, woke up to and faced the reality of the extent of the abuse and its nature quickly enough, nor did we act as we should have to support and assist those who were suffering harm. However, we absolutely and humbly accept this now, acknowledging the significant harm caused to some pupils who have attended Downside School. I would also like to state clearly that we wish to cooperate in any way we can in providing support in the future for victims and survivors who have suffered that harm.
We regret that we are unable to undo anything which has already happened, but it is our commitment to work unstintingly to ensure that the safety of children is our highest priority with an aim that no pupil is put at risk in our future. A great deal of effort is going into delivering that outcome. Safeguarding and child protection cannot be secured simply by putting the right policies in place. They are a daily challenge that must be ingrained in the culture and every day practice of our organisation, requiring constant vigilance, honest reflection, the willingness and desire to learn from mistakes and the commitment of resources to ensure we have appropriate staffing in place and adopt the most effective systems. This witness statement undoubtedly reflects the fact that there have been serious inadequacies in Downside School’s processes and procedures for safeguarding and child protection, including the decisions taken; some of which have been wrong and deeply regrettable, and led to serious harm being suffered. I hope that it also shows our absolute commitment to addressing our shortcomings, demonstrating that we are genuinely striving for a better system and committing fully and properly to addressing safeguarding and child protection at the School.
Downside School is acutely aware that child protection and safeguarding require constant vigilance. We are not complacent about child sexual abuse being a thing of the past, and we are determined to get safeguarding and child protection right today and tomorrow. We aim to achieve a high and rigorous standard of monitoring and a great deal of effort goes into this. As well as the work of the safeguarding committees, and improvements in software and record keeping, we have made safeguarding a key priority with the aim of being an early adopter of best practice. We have also worked hard to build the right culture to support these goals, so that pupils and staff alike feel able to report any concerns they have and are listened to when they do. It is with this focus that we approach the next chapter in Downside’s history. We deeply regret the past mistakes, we apologise for any harm and suffering caused, but we look towards to a new era where appropriate preventative and reactive measures are in place to ensure our students both are best protected, and feel best protected.’
Downside Abbey is committed to supporting victims and survivors of abuse and will follow the procedures prescribed in the School’s Child Protection Policy to ensure that reports of abuse are appropriately received and acted upon. We are also fully committed to helping victims and survivors access the support most appropriate to their needs, through our links with the Clifton Diocese Safeguarding Team. The Contact number for the Clifton Diocese Safeguarding Team is:Tel: 0117 954 0993