Abuse inquiry told council prioritised school performance over safeguarding – Somerset County Gazette
THE former head of a school where a paedophile teacher abused young pupils said his local council prioritised attainment over safeguarding, the national inquiry into child sex abuse has heard.
Chris Hood was the headteacher of Hillside First School in Weston-super-Mare, where Nigel Leat sexually abused girls.
Leat, a father of two from Bristol, was jailed indefinitely in 2011 after admitting 36 sexual offences, including rape and sexual assault. Last month, the Parole Board announced he was to be released.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard Mr Hood had been a teacher since 1982 and was head of the school from 2001 to 2011 when he was dismissed following the discovery of Leat’s crimes.
He was later banned from teaching indefinitely and now works as a painter and decorator.
A serious case review subsequently found the school management failed to act on Leat’s increasingly sexualised behaviour.
Mr Hood told the inquiry North Somerset Council, the local education authority, focused on school attainment over safeguarding.
He said: “I don’t remember having conversations with the school adviser on their termly visits or anything other than how well we were doing with the Sats; are children making progress over the year in the class; what’s their reading and writing and mathematical ability like and so on and so forth.
“I felt essentially my failings involved being over-trusting and having an especially directed focus on trying to make the school the very best it was in academic performance and that was consistently and constantly reinforced and encouraged by the local authority.”
Mr Hood said he should have taken a ‘more cumulative’ view of concerns made to him about Leat, including being too ‘tactile’ with pupils.
“In essence I wasn’t trained in any degree at all about what low-level incidents looked like,” he said.
“At the time I felt I had made the right decisions and in essence taken those observations back to him on several occasions and by so doing, his grooming nature.
“The delivery of training by the local authority to senior managers and we had to go and disseminate that to our staff doesn’t really snap of this is very important and this is something we need to do.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t important, but I just feel the emphasis was not on generating an emphasis on how low-level incidents can lead to terrible abuse.
“We weren’t trained well enough on that and I hope and pray that people are now.”
Anna Bicarregui, counsel to the inquiry, referred Mr Hood to police statements which stated it was common knowledge among staff, including dinner ladies, that Leat had ‘favourite’ pupils.
She asked Mr Hood how he could not have known, if all these staff knew.
He replied: “I honestly believe looking back, I didn’t know.
“I went around the classrooms twice a day, every day. We are talking about a devious paedophile who, as soon as you walked in through the door, would cover up what he was doing.
“He wasn’t about to show off the awful crimes he was committing. He had every ploy sorted out.”
The inquiry heard that of 33 incidents highlighted in the serious case review, only 10 had been reported to Mr Hood or his deputy.
“I think there was an unfortunate cultural feeling at Hillside where people weren’t seeing someone being evil,” he said.
“It made it very difficult to bring that forward and I think the psychology is very different now than it was then.”
Ms Bicarregui asked Mr Hood whether Leat had ‘blackmailed’ him or whether he had a ‘feeling’ the abuse was happening.
“No, I may have been very naive and very foolish about Leat but there is no way I was going to be colluding with this monster,” he replied.
Before answering questions, Mr Hood had apologised to the victims and their families and insisted he knew nothing of Leat’s crimes until he was arrested.
“I can only imagine the ongoing distress and effects victims must be experiencing and I will remain deeply saddened and heartbroken by that,” he said.
“I wish I could keep you all well and look after you because that was why I first became a teacher.
“I sincerely hope that from the bottom of my heart with the passage of time you can come to lead the happy lives that you all so readily deserve.”