Ampleforth College has been banned from accepting new pupils after the Education Secretary ruled that efforts to improve safeguarding in the wake of a child abuse scandal have been “slow and insufficient”.
The leading Benedictine school has been told it must “cease to admit” any more students by the Department of Education (DfE) as part of its policy to “safeguard the education and wellbeing of children”.
It is rare for the Education Secretary to intervene in the running of a private school and the drastic move is only taken following a series of earlier sanctions.
A damning report published by The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2018 found that leaders at Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside hid allegations of “appalling” abuse against pupils as young as seven to protect the church’s reputation.
The two schools which are both linked to Benedictine monasteries were run at times by “secretive, evasive and suspicious” church officials who avoided reporting misconduct to police and social services, the report said.
The inquiry found that sexual abuse spanning four decades at both schools was likely to be “considerably” more widespread than previously thought.
Both must implement a “strict separation” between the governance of the abbey and the school, if safeguarding arrangements are to be free from “often conflicting priorities”, the report concluded. Allegations stretching back to the 1960s encompassed “a wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones”, it said.
Ten individuals linked to the schools, mainly monks, have been cautioned or convicted over sexual activity or pornography offences involving a “large number of children”.
Officials at the DfE wrote to Ampleforth College on Friday explained that one or more of the independent school standards had not been met by the school.
The letter notes that the school has shown “some willingness to improve” and has made progress and that it did meet all the independent school standards during recent inspections.
It adds that since the arrival of a new headmaster in 2019, the school’s safeguarding arrangements have improved but said that “taking into account all the evidence…that progress has been too slow and has been insufficient”.
A spokesman for Ampleforth College said: “We will be appealing this on the basis that we believe, and have been advised, that it is unjustified and based on incorrect information.
“Given the very considerable steps forward that have been taken by the school to learn from the mistakes of the past and to put in place a robust safeguarding regime, a new senior leadership team, and a new governance structure that has effectively separated the Abbey from the College, we cannot understand why this decision has been taken, and we cannot understand why it has been published, given the appeals process is still open to us.
“As far as we are concerned, we will continue to educate our students to the very high standards they are used to in a safe and supportive environment. We have lodged a complaint to Ofsted and await the outcome of that complaint.”