Nigel Leat: School 'prioritised performance over safeguarding'

Image caption,
A judge described Nigel Leat as a "paedophile of the most sickening order"

The former head of a Weston-super-Mare school where a teacher abused pupils said his local council prioritised attainment over safeguarding.

Nigel Leat was jailed in 2011 after admitting 36 offences, including attempted rape of a child and sexual assault over five years.

The response of Hillside First School is being examined in an Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse hearing.

Ex-head teacher Christopher Hood called Leat a "devious paedophile".

Mr Hood, who was head of the school from 2001 to 2011, told the inquiry he felt North Somerset Council focused on school attainment over safeguarding.

"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," he said.

"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."

Image caption,
Leat abused children at Hillside First School in Weston-super-Mare

Mr Hood said he should have taken a "more cumulative" view of concerns made to him about Leat, including being too "tactile" with pupils.

He said he knew nothing of Leat's crimes until he was arrested.

"I honestly believe looking back, I didn't know. 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 said.

The inquiry heard Mr Hood had been dismissed from his role following the discovery of the crimes.

A serious case review found the school management failed to act on Leat's increasingly sexualised behaviour.

"I can only imagine the ongoing distress and effects victims must be experiencing and I will remain deeply saddened and heartbroken by that," Mr Hood said.

"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."

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