ArtsEd Faced Routine Inspection Within Days Of Misconduct & Bullying Claims At Top Drama School
EXCLUSIVE: ArtsEd faced a routine external inspection by the UK’s education regulator within days of Deadline publishing allegations of bullying and misconduct at the esteemed drama school.
ArtsEd – which counts Andrew Lloyd Webber as its president — was told in May to expect the Ofsted review around this time of year, but the precise date of an inspection is not revealed until the school day before a probe begins.
Inspectors entered ArtsEd’s higher education faculties earlier this week, soon after Deadline reported on concerns about the conduct of the institution’s principal, Julie Spencer.
An ArtsEd source said the inspection was “categorically” not linked to the allegations, but Deadline understands that Ofsted was aware of the story before entering. The regulator declined to comment.
ArtsEd was last inspected by Ofsted in 2015 when it was awarded an “outstanding” status by the regulator — the highest grade a school can achieve.
Ofsted invites employees to complete anonymous surveys during inspections and a source said some staff members had taken the opportunity to communicate concerns about the school’s leadership. “A lot of what inspections are about is leadership and how the business side of schools work,” an ArtsEd insider said.
Deadline’s investigation revealed considerable anxiety about the leadership style of principal Spencer. Twenty people who have had personal interactions with Spencer accused her of being an erratic and occasionally intimidating individual. The majority of those who spoke to Deadline said they considered her behavior to be bullying.
Students told Deadline that she created a “culture of fear” and was capable of bizarre outbursts, including one in which she accused a year group of being “snakes.” At least two ex-staffers accused Spencer of intimidating behavior, while others blamed ArtsEd for a deterioration in their mental health.
A well-placed former employee said there were a number of complaints to HR about Spencer’s alleged conduct, but people were reluctant to put concerns in writing for fear of being punished or losing their jobs.
ArtsEd rejected accusations of misconduct and bullying leveled at Spencer and strongly denied that it has a “toxic” culture that has impacted the wellbeing of students. It said Spencer was responsible for a major overhaul of the school’s processes, which had been necessary, if not always popular with long-serving employees.
Since publication, Deadline has been contacted by more than 50 people who have described their own experience at the school, as well as at Spencer’s previous employer, St Mary’s University.
Others shared Deadline’s story on X, formerly known as Twitter. Arysha Kelly, a 2021 ArtsEd graduate, said: “It’s just horrifying reading through the other hundreds of stories that happened to so many people. Everyone deserved much better.”
ArtsEd has been unmoved by the backlash and continues to stand by Spencer. It has argued that many of the allegations refer to conduct that took place before a lawyer-led inquiry into ArtsEd’s culture in 2021, even though the majority of those who spoke to Deadline did not give evidence to the independent investigation.
In a staff email last week, school leaders said the story was not justified and was “in no way reflective of the facts.” The email continued: “We understand that the article will have come as a shock to many of you. However, it is important to point out … that we strongly reject the allegations.”
One senior employee said the email “wound me up so much,” while other insiders said the school was in a state of denial that they did not consider to be sustainable. “ArtsEd has been riddled with scandal [in the past] … but this is the worst incarnation of the place there has ever been,” said the senior employee.
Annemarie Lewis Thomas, the former principal of London’s Musical Theatre Academy and an industry advocate for student safety, said on X that ArtsEd had its “head down” in the hope the “crisis will pass.”
Also on X, Steven Kavuma, a former ArtsEd teacher who spoke out about student safety as part of Deadline’s investigation, said: “Still nothing from ArtsEd… They have not created an anonymous reporting system where past/present students and staff can come forward. They have not started a formal investigation. The board needs to prioritise the safety & well-being of students & staff.”
The school declined to answer questions about whether it had received further complaints but said it would always listen to those who speak out, pointing to its complaints and whistleblowing procedures.
An ArtsEd spokesperson said: “We will always encourage anybody, including students, alumni and staff, to speak up and report any allegations of misconduct.
“We have a clear complaints procedure in place, including a whistleblowing policy, and ensure that every complaint that we receive is thoroughly investigated and recorded. Where complaints are upheld, appropriate action is taken. We are unequivocal in the belief that people should be empowered to speak out, and they will always be listened to by us.”
Previously, the school told Deadline: “The school’s leadership has been working to proactively improve our culture and processes. We have made many robust changes that were needed in light of those findings, including staff departures and instilling a new and more student-focused culture.
“Although this work is ongoing and we recognise that there is always room for evolving and building on the improvements that have been made, we are confident that the school today is a much more accountable and supportive environment than two years ago.”
A representative for Lloyd Webber declined to comment on Deadline’s investigation last week. There is no suggestion that he was aware of the allegations.
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