Serious case review finds Hillside school grossly negligent in failing to stop Nigel Leat's sexual abuse of pupils over 14 years
A school "failed on every level" to prevent a teacher from sexually abusing pupils in his classroom despite concerns about his behaviour being raised for 14 years, a serious case review has concluded.
A review of the case published on Thursday found that staff at Hillside first school in Worle, Somerset, had raised concerns about Leat's behaviour 30 times.
He was seen touching, cuddling and even kissing pupils and every year picked out a "star" pupil he would lavish attention on.
Though such behaviour is "typical of grooming activity", the report said the concerns were not passed on to school governors or education authorities, and that each incident appeared to be treated in isolation. It said there was a "lamentable failure by management to create an environment in which the needs of the child were paramount and good practice was promoted".
Ofsted carried out inspections and described the level of care afforded to children as "outstanding" during the time Leat, 51, was offending. The education watchdog was not able to say on what basis it reached its conclusion because its records are not retained.
Tony Oliver, chair of North Somerset Safeguarding Children Board, said: "There was a failure at every level within the school. The fact that these incidents were reported within the school and not acted upon is incredible.
Oliver said it was grossly negligent that the 30 incidents staff raised concerns about were not reported to education authorities or the police.
He said: "There was an endemic culture of neglect. In terms of safeguarding, parents at the school rightly expected their children would be cared for and kept safe.
"Procedures were not followed and this prevented the correct action from being taken. Concerns were not followed up and this led to children not being protected from Nigel Leat. This was a gross failure of responsibility."
The review said that 20 pupils were either abused by Leat or witnessed abuse.
Staff at the school first noticed Leat selecting girls who were "less academically able, emotionally needy or pretty" as his "favourites" a year after he started teaching there in 1996, according to the report.
His behaviour was so well known that staff tried to prevent children likely to become his "star pupils" from being put into his classes.
In 2004, a mother claimed that Leat had been taking pictures of her daughter with a mobile phone but he denied the accusation and no action was taken.
Four years later, two children told staff that Leat had been touching their legs and kissing one of them, causing her to be physically sick.
Another member of staff saw Leat projecting an indecent image of an adult on to a wall during a lesson, warning pupils not to tell their parents what they had seen. Leat was also seen lifting up and touching young girls in the playground and tickling and cuddling pupils in class.
Official records show that those who reported Leat's behaviour were told they should not "insinuate things" or "accuse him of things".
Leat was only arrested in December 2010, when a schoolgirl told her mother he abused her "every day apart from when the teaching assistant was in the classroom".
A police investigation found the abuse took place in the school's computer room, resource room, staff room and during lessons with other pupils present.
Leat, a father-of-two from Bristol, admitted 36 sexual offences including attempted rape, sexual assault and voyeurism. He was jailed indefinitely at Bristol crown court in June last year.
The headteacher, Chris Hood, was sacked in December.