A HAMPSHIRE school hit by sex abuse claims failed to protect some vulnerable young girls, a major review has found.

The Serious Case Review into events at Stanbridge Earls School near Romsey has highlighted a number of failings by the school.

It has also made a number of recommendations to ensure independent schools across Hampshire look closely at their own measures to safeguard children and asking the body tasked with keeping Hampshire children safe to review its procedures.

The report found that the school was “not sufficiently alert to its safeguarding responsibilities” there were “basic errors” by the school.

These were:

  • An overall lack of alertness to safeguarding issues and incidents with safeguarding implications
  • Failure to keep parents properly informed, perhaps arising from a failure to grasp the seriousness of matters
  • Failure to make and keep other agencies aware of cause for concern
  • Failure to recognise that sexual activity between children might raise safeguarding concerns, or concerns that crimes may have been committed
  • Confusion about confidentiality which was used to excuse failure to take essential action
  • Weaknesses in basic administration.

It said in one case there were examples that some staff were "apparently unaware that they were dealing with situations which might have a safeguarding aspect, or indeed criminal implications, and that they might have a responsibility, professional, personal or both, to take action".

Although it acknowledged that some pupils had benefited from attending the school, the report said: "The crux of these events is that some vulnerable girls were not adequately protected.

"The school that should have been preventing that maltreatment, and promoting those girls' best interests, failed to do those things sufficiently thoroughly.

"Staff and trustees generally were not sufficiently alert to the needs of vulnerable girls, when that was an apparent area of risk."

It said there were weaknesses in the way in which the school was equipped to meet the health needs of pupils.

As previously reported, the school found itself criticised for excluding a pupil who had made a rape claim, and was subjected to multiple inspections.

The review comes after a former pupil at the school was spared jail after admitting sex offences at the school.

Gareth Stephenson was given a two-year suspended sentence at Salisbury Crown Court after admitting five sex offences and was convicted of a further six charges after trial, along with carrying out 175 hours of unpaid work.

The £39,000-a-year independent school, which had boarding and day pupils aged from ten to 19, closed last year after failing to get enough children to sign up for classes for the new school year, making it financially unviable.

A Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal in January 2013 found that the school had discriminated against a girl and that staff members failed to tell the youngster’s parents that she had complained of pain in an intimate part of her body.

An Ofsted inspection the next month also uncovered serious care failings and an action plan drawn up by the school was rejected by the Department for Education.

Prosecutors later ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges for claims of sexual abuse of pupils.

They considered the original allegation made by the parents of a pupil and separate claims from four other pupils against ten individual students.

They also investigated allegations of perverting the course of justice against two teachers.

The Independent Chair of the Hampshire Safeguarding Children Board took the decision, in May this year, to undertake a Serious Case Review, which looks at events between 2010 and the school's closure.

It concluded that it found no fault in how the county council had handled safeguarding after the tribunal findings and said its response had been "extensive and thorough" and had reached appropriate conclusions.

It also concluded that the response from police was "thorough and co-ordinated" at a senior level.

However, it did identify lessons in respect of how they worked together when investigating safeguarding concerns.

The makes a number of recommendations to the Hampshire Safeguarding Children's Board to flag up the findings of the report to independent schools across Hampshire and highlight issues.

These include the need to ensure that all staff are adequately trained and supported to deal with safeguarding issues and potential safeguarding implications for young people with special needs involved in sexual activity.

It also recommended the board develop ways to engage with and support professionals providing health services in independent schools.

And it recommended the board review and make changes to its multi-agency child protection procedures.

This would be to ensure feedback between police and the local authority, to look at how they work together in cases of vulnerable young people and decisions by professionals about informing parents they become aware a child who may be vulnerable is involved in sexual activity.

Family representatives refused to make any further comment on the case review.

Romsey MP, Caroline Nokes, was unavailable for further comment.