The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) – An update

Conclusion of Phase 1 of the residential schools investigation

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was set up in 2014 to investigate concerns that some institutions had failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and to make meaningful recommendations to keep children safe in the future.

The Inquiry, which is unprecedented in its size and scope, comprises 14 separate investigations into a range of institutions that care for children and which have witnessed serious safeguarding failings.   Residential schools have been identified by the Inquiry as a particular setting where children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, due to their isolation from their families and the involvement of staff in their intimate personal care.  The investigation is exploring how schools and other agencies have responded to allegations of sexual abuse by school staff, as well as looking at broad questions of school culture, governance, leadership, training and recruitment.

The Inquiry has just completed Phase 1 of its investigation into residential schools.   

The Phase 1 public hearing began with a written narrative reporting abuse which took place at a number of schools which have since closed or are under new management. 

Following the presentation of the written report, the hearing spent a week focusing on abuse in specific residential music schools and a further week looking at child sexual abuse in five different residential special schools.  The Inquiry chose to focus on music schools due to the issues arising from their specialist nature, one-to-one tuition sometimes involving physical contact when teaching instrument technique, and their intimate atmosphere.  Meanwhile residential special schools were chosen for investigation by virtue of the increased vulnerability of children who have special educational needs. 

Additional expert evidence was provided by the Boarding Schools’ Association, in relation to the development of safeguarding regulation and culture generally in the sector, and the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students provided a sharp focus on the safeguarding risks presented to international students as a result of the absence of regulation of education guardians.

A preliminary hearing for Phase 2 of the Residential Schools Investigation will take place on 14 January 2020, with the full public hearing scheduled to take place in May 2020.  Phase 2 will focus on residential schools within the context of governance and management; inspection and monitoring; recruitment and termination of employment; whistleblowing and reporting; and safeguarding culture. 

A single report setting out the findings of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 is due to be published in early 2021. 

Given the evidence that has been heard so far, it seems likely that the Inquiry will recommend a tightening of safeguarding standards in residential settings.  While the Government has rejected calls for ‘mandatory reporting’ of abuse, with associated criminal liability, the Inquiry has shown interest in the views of the expert witnesses in this regard in Phase 1, and it seems likely that further discussion on the point will feature in this part of the Inquiry.   In the meantime, as demonstrated by the recent Report by the Inquiry into the Catholic Church, which has included damning scrutiny of several Catholic schools, residential schools are likely to come under even greater scrutiny from the media when the Inquiry moves into Phase 2.