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Government serves Royal Ballet School with an improvement notice


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I am rather shocked that the notice relates to safeguarding.  I would expect any prudent leadership team to be paying great attention to that in the current climate.  I know that the Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse is looking extremely closely at all of the specialist music and dance scheme schools, given the well documented abuses, many of them the subject of criminal proceedings, at residential music schools.  

 

Given the extremely high hurdles that state schools must cross in order to properly screen anyone having contact with children, I have found it shocking how lax private institutions have been (and in some cases still are).  In music schools there has been a culture of assuming that because someone is a "great musician" they are above reproach.  I really hope that the same culture does not exist in residential ballet schools........

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Having worked in a senior position in education for many years, I can assure you that a notice to improve ( which used to be classed as a "satisfactory" ) can be given for having documentation that fails to tick the correct boxes. I wouldn't for one minute wish to belittle the inspection report with no detailed knowledge of what the problem is, but I would just wish to emphasise that many educational establishments have had these judgements when the quality of what they deliver isn't in question, it's how the communicate iand embed it in their work. I should imagine there will be a few people in this forum who have experienced a similar situation. Sadly, the way these things get reported detract from the many excellent aspects a school or college can possess.

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Neither of these links seem to yield anything later than November 2014, trog.

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Having worked in a senior position in education for many years, I can assure you that a notice to improve ( which used to be classed as a "satisfactory" ) can be given for having documentation that fails to tick the correct boxes. I wouldn't for one minute wish to belittle the inspection report with no detailed knowledge of what the problem is, but I would just wish to emphasise that many educational establishments have had these judgements when the quality of what they deliver isn't in question, it's how the communicate iand embed it in their work.

I agree Odyssey - having worked in Higher Education for many years and having endured more quality inspections than I care to remember, I can confirm that you can deliver the best service ever, but if you don't have acceptable documentation to support and evidence that, you might as well forget a good report because it won't happen.

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It sounds as though one of the criticisms was that staff aren't adequately vetted for potential problems before being hired. But in a way that might be a less serious problem for a vocational ballet school than for a regular school, since presumably the teachers coming into RBS have been known for a long time by the current staff and administration because they're almost always professional ballet dancers, and it's a fairly small world. That isn't a good reason to bypass procedures nevertheless.

 

It also sounds as though there are some issues with the assessing-out procedure, and making that process less traumatic (if possible) might be helpful.

 

On the whole that review seemed pretty positive.

Edited by Melody
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It sounds as though one of the criticisms was that staff aren't adequately vetted for potential problems before being hired. But in a way that might be a less serious problem for a vocational ballet school than for a regular school, since presumably the teachers coming into RBS have been known for a long time by the current staff and administration because they're almost always professional ballet dancers, and it's a fairly small world. That isn't a good reason to bypass procedures nevertheless.

Under government guidelines everybody that has contact with children or vulnerable adults has to be vetted. So whether they are a 'highly respected ex dancer' that the other staff feel they know well or the cleaner that applies for a job they have to have a current DBS in place before they can start in post.

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Jane is absolutely right and I would also add, from first hand experience, that the thinking in Melody's post (while completely understandable) was exactly what caused many of the problems at a well-known specialist music school. "I've known him/her for years/they are an outstanding musician" allowed people to get jobs and abuse children (in some cases over many years) with impunity and concerns raised by children and parents were dismissed on this basis.

 

Another factor of these competitive, high-stress environments is that a teacher's favour (choosing for performances, networking as the young musician begins their career and even years later) is so important that young people and even some parents are very reluctant to rock the boat. The very fact that children are taught by first class performers (ex-performers) with contacts in what is a very small world gives them far more power over their pupils than teachers in "normal" schools. This relationship was exploited by abusers at music schools.

 

I am NOT suggesting that any of this has happened at the RBS or any other ballet school. Just explaining how these are the kind of environments where young people can be very vulnerable and governing bodies and leadership teams should be striving for the very very highest standards of screening.

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On a brighter note the report suggests that the school has taken on board the criticism about its assessing out procedure, It says that pupils who are who are not doing that well are being  told at a much earlier stage than was previously the case; that reports are being shared  and support.given to assist the students concerned to improve. 

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I think the assessment process is quite clear at RBS now - as parents we get to watch ballet classes, see termly reports and meet with the ballet teacher to discuss these reports. Lower down the school the teacher assessment is worth 60% of the overall assessment marks rather than just the actual assessment class. My DD is only in year 7 so don't know what it was like before - but so far I'm happy????

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Jane is absolutely right and I would also add, from first hand experience, that the thinking in Melody's post (while completely understandable) was exactly what caused many of the problems at a well-known specialist music school. "I've known him/her for years/they are an outstanding musician" allowed people to get jobs and abuse children (in some cases over many years) with impunity and concerns raised by children and parents were dismissed on this basis.

 

Another factor of these competitive, high-stress environments is that a teacher's favour (choosing for performances, networking as the young musician begins their career and even years later) is so important that young people and even some parents are very reluctant to rock the boat. The very fact that children are taught by first class performers (ex-performers) with contacts in what is a very small world gives them far more power over their pupils than teachers in "normal" schools. This relationship was exploited by abusers at music schools.

 

I am NOT suggesting that any of this has happened at the RBS or any other ballet school. Just explaining how these are the kind of environments where young people can be very vulnerable and governing bodies and leadership teams should be striving for the very very highest standards of screening.

Yes, I understand that, and I'm not saying that the processes shouldn't be followed, obviously. It's just that there are some fairly major differences between ballet school and music school, largely that a lot of the tuition in a music school is in much smaller classes or individually, where there's much more scope for abuse with no witnesses; plus music teachers can often be current high-level performers (hence people with a lot of clout in the music world) and I assume you have a larger faculty because you need specialist teachers for each instrument, so it's not quite such a small world.

 

I could sort of see a mindset when, just as a fairly random recent example, Daria Klimentova (with her years of being a popular teacher at her own summer school) was joining RBS as a new teacher, the administration at the school might not feel that there was any sort of potential threat and that the relevant paperwork was just a matter of going through the motions (although, just to be clear, that's not an excuse for not doing it). I think this sort of situation is a bit different from what you might see at a regular school or possibly even a music school for the reasons mentioned above. As I said in my previous post, this sort of familiarity isn't a reason for not going through the correct procedure, but I still think that the more relaxed attitude, while not optimal, is understandable. And without knowing any of the details of why they had this inspection, I think that makes it very likely that it was simply a matter of lax procedure (possibly first noticed during an earlier routine inspection, with this emergency inspection as a follow-up) rather than an actual personnel issue.

Edited by Melody
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Your point about one to one lessons in music schools is true, but these are boarding schools and there are always opportunities. Again I am NOT accusing anyone of anything but am very suspicious of cultures of complacency. Chetham's was still telling parents that there was no issue at all after a long time director of music and his wife were convicted of raping a former pupil and two current teachers had been arrested. It is that kind of attitude that sends a signal to potential abusers that the school is more concerned about its reputation than it is about investigating potential problems.

 

The RBS has historic form for ignoring and attacking critics and whistle blowers (see the concerns about bullying raised by acclaimed teacher Linda Goss' back in the 90s and reported here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/a-step-in-the-wrong-direction-1250670.html)

 

If I were advising their leadership team now I would say that they should learn from events elsewhere and that every single issue and procedure should be addressed with the utmost energy and seriousness. The failure to maintain robust safeguarding systems suggests that is not currently the case. I hope that active steps are currently being taken to change this position.

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I know what you mean Betterankles.  The department I worked for decided, in the mid-1990s that all the branches should go for ISO-9001 quality accreditation.  It took us months to get the documentation in place and the audit team that came in was very nit-picky.  We had to face spot checks and annual reassessments too.

 

The process did give us some better working practises - I worked in IT and previously if we had a problem we fixed it first and thought about documenting the fix later, often forgetting about it.  With the accreditation we had to do the documentation first and get approval to make the changes.  It did make for a more robust system.  However the ISO documentation was interminable and added a heck of a lot on to any job and that is all the auditors checked.  As long as our ISO documentation was OK it didn't matter how well (or possibly badly) we were doing the actual job!

 

The requirement was lapsed after a few years and we all felt quite aggrieved that all our hard work went, as it seemed to us, for nothing.

 

With all that has been uncovered in various high publicity cases over the past few years, I can see the need for the procedures to be in place but the procedures should be workable - not making the real work unworkable (if you see what I mean).

 

I read the summary of the Ofsted report linked above and I thought it was vey positive.

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The requirement to undertake enquiries and make checks about people coming into contact with children at school is not unnecessary bureaucracy. It is intended to protect children although I accept that it may have more to do with demonstrating that the organisation is taking the prescribed steps to protect the children in its care than actually managing to protect them.. As every school is required to undertake these enquiries and make these checks it is worrying that the RBS failed to do everything that it was required to do even if the lapses are technical such as failing to record that it had checked information rather than a failure to obtain it and check it.

 

It has been suggested that failing to tick every box can result in an adverse report on a school's implementation and application of policies relating to child protection but everyone running a school knows that and knows that being seen to be failing to apply the duties imposed on it by government will result in adverse reports and raise concerns. Sorry I think that this one is non negotiable. It's not as if every teacher is required to undertake the checks. I would have thought that undertaking these enquiries and keeping the prescribed records would be one person's responsibility and part of that person's job description. So the failure is down to that person and his/her line manager. 

Edited by FLOSS
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 It's not as if every teacher is required to undertake the checks. I would have thought that undertaking these enquiries and keeping the prescribed records would be one person's responsibility and part of that person's job description. So the failure is down to that person and his/her line manager. 

 

 

Does every teacher not have to have the checks or have I misunderstood your meaning?

 

I agree that a designated person should have the "checking" responsibility and perhaps appropriate action has been taken for that person and their line manager.

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As long as our ISO documentation was OK it didn't matter how well (or possibly badly) we were doing the actual job!

 

ISO-9001 is a pain in my profession, too - it doesn't necessarily guarantee high-quality results, just that the work has been done systematically in a way which allows various boxes to be ticked.

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If I have caused confusion I apologise.I did not think that anyone would be confused by the use of the word "undertake" but there you go Everyone having contact with children is subject to the checking process and undergoes that process. Only one person needs to be responsible for making the checks and they undertake them.

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Let me begin by saying that the following are general comments about the child protection requirements imposed on educational institutions. I don't pretend to have any special knowledge about the RBS's compliance apart from what is said in the report.

 

In recent years there have been many news stories about alleged  historical child abuse in institutions and organisations ranging from Churches to the Health Service and from the BBC to children's homes. It has become clear that in the past many organisations were very lax about child protection. Many people believed and continue to believe that child abusers are not "people like us" and that they are easily identifiable.In the past this attitude meant that those engaged in professional activities which brought them into contact with children were thought to be above suspicion. There have been a number of high profile investigations which have proved the contrary.

 

I would have thought that it was impossible for anyone to be unaware of the events which have lead to educational institutions being required to make specified child protection enquiries and to keep records of the enquiries undertaken and the results I would have thought that  any educational organisation would have gone out of its way to comply with the duties imposed on it by central government if only to prove that it has robust child protection systems in place and  that it is compliant I find it impossible to understand why a school would fail to comply when its management knows that it will receive an adverse report if it can't demonstrate that it has undertaken the necessary enquiries and has the records to prove it . It's a bit like not answering the exam question which carries 60% of the marks.

 

In the context of the amount of historic child abuse that has been uncovered in all sorts of organisations the comment to the effect that form filling gets in the way of teaching led me to say that it was not as if every teacher was required to make the enquiries and do the CRB checks.While I agree that government departments and line managers are perfectly capable of dreaming up systems which impose unnecessary burdens on staff and confer no obvious benefits on anyone except those who have imposed the obligation who will be seen to have done something, these checks are not an example of that sort of activity. It seems to me that if these requirements deter unsuitable people from applying for jobs with children they will have achieved something. 

Edited by FLOSS
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I fear that we are in danger of pointing the blame when we start to discuss the person in charge of filling in the security checks. Floss, you rightly state so many of the dreadful cases of abuse are historic when no such checks were in place. I don't think anyone would disagree that the inclusion of stringent safe guarding checks are a vital part of OFSTED inspections and that all schools and colleges must follow these procedures. However, it is quite feasible for a school to fall foul of inspection requirements because of the way data is required to be recorded and reported. It's regrettable, but it happens. New and changing criteria for assessing and quality proofing systems is rife in education as it is through all public services. It doesn't mean the school has been failing it's pupils. Indeed if this had been the case, it would have been immediately put into special measures during the first inspection. I mentioned in my earlier post that the grade "notice to improve" used to be classed as "satisfactory". This was changed because it was felt that schools who achieved this grade would be content and not have sufficient incentive to strive to move to the categories of good or outstanding. Schools can no longer achieve this "notice to improve " grade on a second inspection without being put into special measures. Hence the situation at the Royal Ballet School. I would also go back to my earlier point about the need for procedures to be embedded in a school. What tends to happen in an inspection is there is an initial interview with the manager of the area and an examination of the paperwork. The inspectors then make checks on staff who are involved in carrying out this aspect of the school's work. This can range from teaching and pastoral tutors through to administrative and other support staff. So we really can't come to any conclusions about what has brought about this situation, and we certainly shouldn't be judging that the school has systems that might allow the recruitment of unsuitable staff.

Edited by Odyssey
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