Government inspectors have found safeguarding at Ampleforth College to be “inadequate” after the head teacher lost the right to veto which monks resided at the nearby abbey.
Ofsted inspectors also identified instances in which sexual activity took place between vulnerable pupils at the boarding school in North Yorkshire.
They reported that Class A drugs were found and that a 2.30am “breakout” party was held by a group of 81 Year 13 sixth form students which resulted in one of them being taken to hospital to be treated for excess alcohol consumption while another was found unconscious in an orchard.
Sniffer dogs and thermal imaging have since been introduced to prevent a repeat of the incident.
Inspectors found the school had performed to a “good” standard in all other categories since the previous inspection in March 2021 – four months after the school was temporarily stopped from admitting pupils because of safeguarding concerns – and that there were overall improvements to the college’s safeguarding procedures.
But Ofsted was concerned that a veto by the head teacher held over which monks were permitted to live at the nearby abbey was no longer in place and that instead a protocol was being drawn up to share safeguarding information between the abbey and the school.
A statement by Ampleforth College expressed disappointment about the conclusions by Ofsted over safeguarding, saying the final report contained “substantive factual inaccuracies which undermine its conclusions about our safeguarding and leadership”.
“Ampleforth College has been on a relentless drive to transform safeguarding policies, practices and culture,” the statement said.
“Since the end of 2020 we have commissioned the support of external safeguarding experts to help us put sector-leading procedures in place.
“We recruited three experienced safeguarding staff (from the police, social services, and another school); strengthened our trustees through the appointments which increased safeguarding expertise and reinforced independence, and commissioned four external audits by safeguarding professionals over this period. We were also inspected by Ofsted four times and accepted their recommendations on each occasion.”
It says: “The statutory safeguarding agencies we work with locally – police, children’s services, and health – are happy with what we are doing to safeguard and promote the welfare of our students.
“Ofsted itself has acknowledged the progress we have made. Other, leading boarding schools have visited us to learn from our safeguarding practices. It is deeply regrettable that Ofsted has reached different conclusions.”
The statement said: “It is with great reluctance and regret that we find ourselves compelled into this response but we cannot stand publicly behind a report containing ill-founded conclusions and we will continue to do everything in our power to demonstrate to Ofsted the need to revisit their assessment in the light of the evidence already in their possession.”
It added that the college had no right to dictate to the abbey which monks could live within its monastic community, but said it would not be possible for any person convicted of sexual offences to reside there.
Robin Dyer, the head teacher, said: “We are deeply disappointed that Ofsted should have produced a report based on a number of incorrect assumptions and factual inaccuracies regarding our safeguarding.
“We have made repeated attempts to correct the facts before the report was published. We do not lightly stand up to our regulator but in this instance the injustice cannot be allowed to stand. Ampleforth is a safe school. Our students know it and our parents and staff know it too.”
The £36,000-a-year school, often referred to as the “Catholic Eton”, was saved from closure last year following an intervention from Gavin Williamson, at the time the Secretary of State for Education.
Ampleforth Abbey and adjacent Ampleforth College were earlier severely criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.
A 2018 report by IICSA said that “appalling sexual abuse” of students had been covered up by monks more conscious about protecting their own reputation, and changes were subsequently introduced.
Former students include actors Rupert Everett and James Norton and Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey TV series, as well as Cardinal Basil Hume, who served as Abbot of Ampleforth before he was made Archbishop of Westminster.
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