Inspectors savage public school

By David LennardONE of the region's top public school has been strongly criticised in a hard-hitting inspection report, which found evidence of racial harassment, bullying and theft there.

By David Lennard

ONE of the region's top public school has been strongly criticised in a hard-hitting inspection report, which found evidence of racial harassment, bullying and theft there.

The report on Framlingham College was prepared by the National Care Standards Commission, a Government inspectorate, and said a "significant number" of the 300 boy and girl boarders at the private school were "not feeling as safe as they should".

Inspectors added the school – were fees range from £11,259 a year for day pupils to £17,517 a year for boarders – had a "macho culture" where pupils were "distressed by continual verbal harassment, in some cases of a racial nature".

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Other problems identified in the report on the college, which was founded in 1864 under Royal Charter as the Suffolk memorial to Prince Albert, included incidents of bullying, theft and smoking.

The report said: "Bullying was certainly an issue. A number of boarders brought to the attention of inspectors their unhappiness at been bullied. They acknowledged that in any school there was likely to be teasing and some name-calling.

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"What distressed them was the continual verbal harassment and in some cases the racial nature of what was being said."

It added: "What quite surprised inspectors was that some physical bullying was reported as still going on. Pupils and parents referred to a recent incident, now satisfactorily dealt with by the

head and her senior colleagues, which involved some very rough horseplay by older boarders after a house event. Some younger boys were intimidated.

"Those responsible were punished. One parent said that anti-bullying policies had been changed after this incident last year and she hoped this would make a significant difference.

"The head attracted some positive comment over the manner in which she dealt with the issue once it was brought to her attention, but some junior staff appear, in parents' eyes at least, to have

downplayed the matter, describing it merely in terms of 'pranks' and high spirits' when small

boys received considerable bruising.

"Parents commented on the level of theft that appears to have gone on in some boarding houses. Pembroke girls said that police had been brought in after incidents of thieving. Other pupils complained to inspectors about having their personal possessions stolen."

But Gwen Randall, head of college, said she felt the report was "woefully self-contradicting" and refused to sign it as fair and accurate.

Mrs Randall said the school – whose motto on its website is Encouraging the Pursuit of Excellence – had been inspected twice recently, by the National Care Standards Commission in a two-day visit and by a nine-inspector team from the Independent School's Inspectorate over the course of a week.

"The two reports are diametrically opposed in findings relating to student welfare, although they both took place in the same academic year," she added.

The Independent School's Inspectorate said students at the school of different gender, ethnicity and background, including those for whom English is an additional language, flourished at Framlingham College and make good progress.

There was also no evidence of bullying in its report, with inspectors saying: "The school cares very effectively for all its pupils' welfare, health and safety."

Mrs Randall said staff and governors at Framlingham College would continue to provide the best possible learning environment for students.

"No school is immune from incidents of bullying or poor behaviour. It is the way in which schools deal with these issues that is really important," she added.

"We will never shut our eyes to problems that we encounter and continue to develop our policies and practices because we are determined to provide the best possible learning environment for all our students, not because inspectors tell us that we should, but because we are fully committed to the young people entrusted to our care."

Mrs Randall has written to all parents with children at the school giving her response to the National Care Standards Commission's report.

Meanwhile, Summerhill School, a few miles away from Framlingham College in Leiston, was praised by the National Care Standards Commission inspectors.

The "alternative" school founded by AS Neill more than 80 years ago has often been criticised by official inspectors in the past, but it was praised for the way pupils felt "happy and safe".

In their report the inspectors said: "The school's system of community meetings and equal involvement ensured that all boarders, of all ages, had their views listened to and fully respected. There was no bullying or discrimination."

Zoe Redhead, school headteacher and daughter of its founder, said: "It is absolutely brilliant to be praised in this way, but we have not suddenly changed our philosophy as we have been operating this way ever since the school opened.

"Our pupils enjoy their time at school and go on to have a successful career in whichever field they choose."

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