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Ofsted forces private school to close over sexual abuse of pupils

Staggering 190,000 children will suffer sex abuse by 18, says experts’ private assessment

By Frederika Whitehead and Mark Watts | 28 June 2013

“I hope that lessons can truly be learnt. We are delighted, although saddened, at the school’s closure” – Parent of pupil at Stanbridge Earls school

Child sex abuse at a private school led it to decide today to close later this year, Exaro can reveal. Stanbridge Earls school in rural Hampshire confirmed the move ahead of a crisis meeting called by Ofsted, the regulator, for next Tuesday.

The announcement was triggered after Exaro sought comment from the school about the meeting. Stanbridge Earls is embroiled in a police investigation into sexual abuse of pupils.

The new head teacher of the school wrote to parents of pupils this afternoon to say that it will shut in December. Another school is being lined up to take over the site.

A spokesman for the school told Exaro: “What we know is that the school will cease to exist. Its charitable status will go. It is being taken over, and the people will change.”

Today’s dramatic announcement comes as specialists in the field of child sex exploitation privately assess the scale of the problem in the UK to be far higher than previously thought, with around a staggering 190,000 children who will be victims by the age of 18.

It raises questions about how the authorities are responding to the issue, which will be the subject of a report by the deputy children’s commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, due this autumn.

Meanwhile, well-informed sources told Exaro that inspectors from the official regulator, Ofsted, carried out a third “emergency, unannounced inspection” last week into Stanbridge Earls school in the market town of Romsey, where personnel of the armed forces send their children.

After a three-day visit, the inspectors were set to recommend the school’s closure. They were still putting the final touches to their report in preparation for the crisis meeting on Tuesday when the school notified Ofsted of its decision.

The inspectors were due to present the report to officials from the Department for Education (DfE), the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the local authority and the school’s new head teacher at a meeting at Hampshire County Council’s offices in Winchester.

Sources told Exaro that teachers were quitting the school, and no replacements were being recruited. In addition, the MoD and local authority decided against sending more children there.

Hampshire Constabulary is investigating allegations that two girls were sexually abused at the school.

Earlier this year, a tribunal found that Stanbridge Earls had failed to protect a vulnerable pupil with Asperger’s syndrome from abuse by older boys at the school.

Staff failed to raise the alarm with the police or any other authority.

Three weeks ago, Exaro revealed a letter that shows how Michael Gove, education secretary, is resisting pressure to make it mandatory for schools to report all such allegations.

Stanbridge Earls is an independent special school for 190 children with learning difficulties. It takes boarders aged 10 to 19, and charges between £25,000 and £39,000 a year.

One parent told Exaro: “I hope that lessons can truly be learnt. We are delighted, although saddened, at the school’s closure.”

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal awarded the family of a girl £85,000 after Stanbridge Earls failed to respond properly to her allegations of sexual abuse by other boys at the school.

The tribunal was damning of the school’s then head teacher, Peter Trythall, saying: “He failed to recognise that non-consensual sex is actually rape.”

It condemned his decision to exclude the girl from the school on the grounds of having sex on the premises. According to the tribunal, Trythall had concluded that the girl “was herself responsible for breaching school rules by engaging in sexual activity.”

The boy with whom she had sex was allowed to remain at the school.

Stanbridge Earls failed the girl, said the tribunal, “because of its own failures to provide appropriate care and protection.” The school’s response, it added, “was fundamentally flawed.”

The case of Stanbridge Earls prompted a disclosure that the MoD forces children of service personnel to stay at schools in the face of allegations of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, Exaro journalists last week captured the moment when detectives investigating an alleged VIP paedophile ring arrested the half-brother of a senior Conservative MP.

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Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.