After the Scottish independent school was included on a list of schools being investigated by the Scottish Inquiry into historical child abuse, Gordonstoun has taken a transparent approach by contacting 3,000 ex-pupils, asking for any abuse survivors to come forward.
Our Peter Garsden discusses the steps the school has taken to encourage abuse victims to come forward and to ensure lessons are learned from the past.
Email Sent To Gordonstoun Alumni
It has been revealed that Gordonstoun, attended by Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh, sent out around 3,000 emails to pupils who had previously attended the school covering a 20-year span. Other former pupils came forward in 2015 accusing a teacher, Derek Jones, now deceased of sexually abusing them during his 3-month employment at Aberlour House, the school’s junior department. However, concerns that abuse spanned the whole of the 1980s and 1990s by other members of staff, has since been revealed.
The current principal, Ms Lisa Kerr, commented:
“We have been incredibly pro-active in contacting our alumni and saying ‘if you had a bad experience please come forward.'”
The address for the Scottish Inquiry has also been included in the most recent alumni magazine as a further method for outreach.
Lessons To Be Learned
The school has partaken wholly in investigations with police and work closely with the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland and research is being conducted at the school that will be used to inform them on what support is needed for abuse survivors.
An IT system is used that allows all members to regularly contact each other if there are any concerns with students who are in distress for any reasons and each child is assigned a child protection officer and student councillor.
Ms Kerr commented:
“We cannot give the kind of superb pastoral care we have here today if we try to pretend that the past did not happen. We have to be open about it.”
This proactive approach is commendable, but questions have arisen that queries what lengths the school has taken to ensure that ex-pupils are provided with the resources needed to not only give evidence, but also to cope with memories of past abuse being brought to the forefront.
Peter Garsden comments:
“If a school like Gordonstoun contacts ex-pupils as part of their quest to uncover allegations from the past about abuse at the school, it is very important for them to not only think about the method of communication, but also the wording of any letter, because it can trigger abuse victims who receive it into a downward psychological spiral.”
“At Simpson Millar, if we ever write such letters, we make sure that counselling and support is also made available for any recipients of such letters, should they need it. Such letters are also, sometimes, vetted by judges to make sure their content is appropriate. If an insensitive approach is used, it can cause more harm than good.”
“It is, however, important for any victims of abuse, or witnesses who can assist, to come forward, and assist the investigation.”
“It is important that any investigation into past abuse remains impartial, independent, and unconnected with the school, who should not be attempting to investigate themselves. The National Inquiry set up in Scotland to investigate abuse is the ideal choice for such a job.”