A new Instagram account set up for the pupils of leading Roman Catholic state school, the London Oratory, to share their testimonies has seen a similar outpouring of accusations, painting a worrying picture of sexual abuse, harassment and humiliation that extends beyond Britain’s fee-paying schools.
One account said the Oratory “had the worst rape culture of any school I know… It’s not just the private schools with issues”.
The London Oratory headteacher, Daniel Wright, reportedly wrote to pupils, parents and staff earlier this week, informing them that he had spoken to pupils who had reported concerns. The school added in a statement: “It is completely unacceptable that anyone should be subject to sexual assault or harassment of any kind and we do not, and will not, tolerate it.”
The question on the lips of many parents and pupils will be: How has it got to this point?
There can be little doubt that the current outpouring of allegations has come in the wake of the tragic death of Sarah Everard and the conversation around female safety it sparked. Girls and women have been emboldened to share their stories of harassment and abuse online in a way not seen since the first wave of the MeToo movement in October 2018.
Among them are women who, as one mother put it on Twitter, “had hoped this wouldn’t be an issue for our daughter’s generation”.
Last week, Ava Vakil, 19, a former pupil at my old school, Wimbledon High in south-west London, published an open letter describing the nearby private boys’ school King’s College, Wimbledon as a “hotbed of sexual violence” and including eight pages of anonymous testimonies gathered from current and past pupils highlighting the longstanding nature of the problem.
“I’ve had messages from women who went to Wimbledon High School 30 to 40 years ago, telling me this was the behaviour of King’s boys when they were there,” Ms Vakil told The Telegraph. In response Andrew Halls, the head of King’s, said: “I am grateful to Ava for sharing these testimonies… these accounts are shocking, and we will not tolerate any form of abuse or discrimination.. and we will act on what Ava has told us.”
This, then, is a scandal that has been right under our noses for decades – and has only worsened with the rise of social media and the availability of online pornography, issues on which school safeguarding policies have been slow to keep up.
And while state schools are at least subject to Ofsted inspections and signed up the Safer Schools Partnership, fee-paying schools are not – instead inspected by the Department of Education, which acts as their regulator, or the Independent Schools Council. On Saturday, the Metropolitan Police offered to send officers in to teach boys about consent.