Reflections on the case of Nigel Leat

“Pupils feel exceptionally safe and secure because they know that staff have their well-being at heart and are always prepared to listen, help and take action.”

This quotation is taken from the OFSTED Section 5 Inspection report, published in January 2009, which judged Hillside First School to be a “Good” school. At this time, Nigel Leat had been working as a teacher at the school for nearly 15 years and it is likely that he had been systematically sexually abusing children in his care for 12 of these.

Whilst we await with interest the publication of the Serious Case Review into Leat’s activities, it is already clear that warning signs about Leat’s “tactile” approach to young girls in his class were ignored and that he was apparently warned that these might “leave him open to accusations of improper behaviour”. There seems to have been a fundamental gap in the understanding of school leaders about their safeguarding responsibilities, the ways in which dangerous professionals exploit such opportunities and a belief that “It couldn’t happen here”.

Thankfully, predatory paedophile activity in education settings is rare but it is nonetheless devastating for children, parents, colleagues and the credibility of the institution.

Despite OFSTED’s findings, Hillside First School was not operating as a safe organisation because;
• Leat was able to identify and exploit gaps in their safeguarding systems,

• Any staff code of conduct that might have been in place seems not to have applied to Leat – he pushed boundaries and was not challenged,

• Leat was trusted absolutely by his managers and most colleagues,

• He created opportunities for unsupervised access to individual children and groomed his targets over a very long period,

• He used the classic devices employed by paedophiles to isolate children and used guilt, blame and shame to ensure their silence.

The key to effective safeguarding is awareness and collective responsibility for professional standards and ‘whistle blowing’. Until these are routinely addressed in whole-school training and fully understood by Governors and School Leaders, the Nigel Leats of this world will continue to pose a risk to our children and schools.