In the past three years more than 35 public schools have been embroiled in child abuse allegations with claims arising that a number of elite institutions are adopting a nonchalant attitude to child abuse in a bid to protect their reputations.
The findings, which came after a Sunday Times investigation, have strengthened calls for mandatory reporting of child abuse from long-term campaigners, including our own Head of Abuse Law, Peter Garsden.
The Times’ report, which was focussing largely on offences committed some years ago, but investigated recently, found that:
- Instead of being investigated, public school teachers suspected of abuse were allowed to leave institutions and were even given positive references that helped them find teaching work elsewhere
- Citing the need for confidentiality, many schools refuse to tell parents or pupils that an investigation into alleged abuse is underway
- Schools often demand gagging clauses in compensation settlements, so that their reputation is not tarnished by any revelations of child sexual abuse
Most concerning about the Times investigation, which has revealed a relaxed attitude to child abuse amongst public schools, is that many of these types of institutions can inadvertently foster an environment that leads to vulnerable children being subject to abuse.
Whilst it is true that child protection policies presently in force, and laws surrounding child safeguarding, are much tighter than they were in the past, abuse is typically not disclosed at the time, and investigated many years later.
A greater proportion of public schools provide boarding facilities than state schools, as such children are living away from home and are in the care of the school, if a school is then compromised by an abusive member of staff then children are at risk of being abused.
The hierarchical system of command in public schools is usually more traditional and strict, which results in a cloistered environment that is supported by a strong network than can prevent complaints of abuse from being pursued.
This cloistered environment often means that by some extent, public schools can bypass the safeguarding rules applicable to state funded secondary schools or academies.
Public schools also often have strict authority figures, which – if held by an abuser – can result in vulnerable children being abused by a person in a position of power.
Finally, pupils are often very loyal to public schools and the alumni pressures of being a member of the school mean that pupils do not want to speak out about abuse, especially if they are lead to believe that speaking out could upset the institution and potentially damage their bright futures.
Due to public schools wanting to protect their reputation they are more likely to deal with reports of abuse internally, without involving a police investigation that could result in information ending up in the public domain.
It is because of this protectionist attitude that mandatory reporting is especially relevant to public schools than it is in other child settings, as a clear requirement to report suspicions of abuse to an independent body would protect children in this currently secretive environment.
Commenting on the Times investigation, Peter said:
“These schools are funded by charging often eye watering fees to pupils’ families and as such they are much more likely to be concerned about their reputation and brand. This motivation to protect their reputation could lead to allegations of child abuse not being properly handled, with teachers often moving on to different schools instead of being referred to the police.”
“We must remember that the system of safeguarding for these schools has only been established in recent years and many allegations go back the 1960s and 1970s when safeguarding policies were either none existent or sadly lacking.”
“Alongside this concerning backdrop where there are the clear factors that could result in institutional abuse, we should be aware that the system of dealing with late claims is being hampered by the present law on limitation or supposed ‘time delay’.”
“This law is going to change in Scotland soon and will mean that there is no limitation or time delay for sexual abuse cases, but we need to make sure that it also changes in England and Wales so that survivors of sexual abuse as a child can seek justice decades later when they finally feel comfortable confronting their haunting experience.”