Damning report finds 'serious shortfalls' at Ruthin boarding school with pupils 'at risk of harm'

A top private school has been criticised and called "inadequate" at making sure children are protected from harm.

A damning report published by the Care Inspectorate Wales found "serious shortfalls" at Ruthin School, where pupils are "not appropriately safeguarded" and are "at risk of harm".

Leadership, accountability and a "lack of rigorous oversight" has been slammed at the £35,000-a-year- boarding school under principal, Toby Belfield. The CIW report highlighted a senior management culture that was both "controlling" and "autocratic".

  • 'Pupils at risk of harm'

The report, which comes after unannounced safeguarding inspections following concerns, states: "We found a culture where there was a lack of robust challenge prevalent at all levels, with an autocratic and controlling management system in place. "

It says management systems were "not implemented effectively," staff morale was low and there was a "lack of confidence" among staff to report their concerns.

It states there has been a "failure" by the COM (Council of Management) to ensure staff follow a professional code of conduct that protects them and pupils at the school, which has "resulted in young people being placed at risk of harm".

  • Breach of human rights procedures

The school was also found to be in breach of discrimination and human rights procedures.

The report said contrary to the Equality Act 2010, the school policy stated: “No boarder that has medicated mental health issues will be admitted to Ruthin School”…and…“If any current boarder visits a doctor and is diagnosed with mental health issues that requires a referral to a specialist psychiatrist, the boarder will be sent home to their parents”.

It said the school did have a counsellor but they had not visited or supported any young person at the school in the twelve months preceding the inspection, even though the need was "apparent" for such a service.

The report said: "We found that young people cannot be confident they are appropriately safeguarded and protected in a way that supports their overall wellbeing.

"The COM do not have robust enough processes in place to safeguard the emotional health and wellbeing of young people.

"The leadership, management and governance relating to safeguarding was found to be inadequate and as a result, young people were not fully protected."

The private school in Ruthin costs £35,000 a year

The report adds: "Young people felt safe and secure and said there were appropriate responses to any allegations of bullying. We did not observe any concerns regarding behaviour management, but we were informed of an incident that did give concern regarding the ‘public' humiliation of a young person by a member of the school staff.

The report found there was a "sanction book" of serious incidents, but governance arrangements were "ineffective" and there was no review procedure to identify patterns or trends.

"Policies are discouraging young people from coming forward, accessing support in relation to their mental health in fear of losing their place at school or university. This is because, we found the policies and practices relating to their emotional health were inadequate and discriminatory."

The report concludes, "This inspection has found serious shortfalls in all these areas with the COM failing to carry out their areas of responsibilities effectively and have not ensured young people are appropriately safeguarded.

"The COM had not provided rigorous oversight in the implementation of policies and procedures and there was no evidence to support effective challenge of leaders at the school."

The CIW made a series of recommendations including reiterating previous recommendations they made during a safeguarding inspection in 2018 which were not addressed.

Toby Belfield sparked fury in 2015 when he claimed students with the Welsh language “forced upon them” will become “educationally weaker” than their English peers.

In 2017, the University of Cambridge maths graduate couldn't make the numbers add up and was looking to expel students to make room because the school was over subscribed.

Outlining a strict set of rules, he said he would kick out students after “carefully examining” their behaviour, "and wouldn't tolerate girls who "look like they are going to a nightclub", "pathetic" students pretending to be ill, or anyone who smoked or drank alcohol - even if of age.

He later came up with the solution of housing them in portable cabins.

In January 2018, the Daily Post reported how Mr Belfield warned pupils he would give them a "worse reference" for university if they are in a relationship because he "strongly disapproves" of pupils being involved with each other.

He quickly backtracked on his threats and said he would not "hamper students' chances" if they did have a girlfriend or boyfriend.

In response to the report, Ruthin School said: "The Council of Management at Ruthin School was already carrying out root and branch strategic review at the time of the inspection, and that work is continuing.

"We welcome the timely publication of the latest Care Inspectorate of Wales report, and are ensuring the observations and action points contained in it are fully addressed as part of our review.

“The work we are doing now will ensure the school’s governance and operational procedures continue to keep pace with modern requirements.”But Denbighshire Council said it still remains concerned.

  • "Heads must roll"

One Plaid Cymru politician said "heads must roll" over the findings.

Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales Llyr Gruffydd, said, "It’s been incredibly concerning to read of failings at Ruthin School.

“Those young people, many away from their parents for the first time, need and deserve proper safeguarding.

“This is the second report in a year following Denbighshire Council’s concerns about safeguarding issues.

"Senior management must now respond quickly to allay people’s concerns and that means taking decisive action against those who are responsible for the school’s running."