I find my old schooldays a bit difficult to understand. 50 years ago this week I moved from my first boarding school near Arundel in Sussex to my new boarding home for another 7 years. I was just 11 years old. I was an old hand at being away from home, dormitories, dining hall, being inspired by teachers, and avoiding sport.
Until 3 years ago I always described Christ’s Hospital as being the making of me, the happiest of years, a wonderful experience, with almost all my peers having enjoyed the boarding experience. And then the rug was pulled from under my feet as teacher after teacher was accused and found guilty of sexual abuse. I found school friends who had held their own attacks secret for 40+ years. I watched, and watch, the unfolding story.
This week I had the opportunity to share some of my concerns and to meet with some of those who were survivors/victims of my time at the school. The school has been working with the police to help in the process, and I have been helping one of the victims as he brings questions to the school from many of the other survivors.
It wasn’t like this in Jennings and Derbyshire, or even Hogwarts. I continue with my colleagues to explore the connections between abusers at our school and those who have been tried and convicted in other schools. I can’t help but believe there are many more connections than may seem obvious, but I’m only using google to see what seems to be hiding in plain site.
Why am I vexed by all this. I was not abused. I had a great time at my school. I learned my trade in theatre producing. I made connections which gave me a first job, and wonderful inspirations for years to come. But others were abused, and they have buried their pain for so many years. Of course it is different now with statutory checks on employees, safeguarding codes, safeguarding officers in schools, guidance for pupils. It is a different world.
I have two questions which I keep asking: “Is there anyone that the school (or we) are aware of who could potentially, still, be in a position to abuse young people?” and the follow on “What can you (the school), or we, do now to ensure that to the best of your/our abilities they are stopped / put out of harms way”. I have no proof but enough sense that the answer to question 1 is YES and to question 2 is not / must not be NOTHING.
So for now I offer to my school my determination to keep working on google searching and talking to friends and colleagues in a way which could encourage people to come forward who might be able to do something, say something, or help.
My saddest sense of my old school is to learn that some of the early abuses in my day were reported, at the time, to members of staff. There was a world of silence and disbelief at that time. For some at the school it was common knowledge at the time and talked about. I suspect there are staff and employees of the school still alive who knew at the time and said nothing. They must be questioning their consciences about staying silent and still staying silent.
I am told it is not possible or right for the school to approach retired staff and their families to encourage them to come forward with any information they may have. I am told that is impractical because the database is not there, and “disproportionate”. But if there is a chance that there is an adult out there who is still in a position of influence over underage boys and girls who might have been an abuser or groomer in the past, then I hope against hope that one or their adult colleagues, ex-workmates, partners or friends will come forward and stop another young person from being abused.
Who could forgive themselves if, in 10 or 20 years time, another round of historic sex abuse cases come forward revealing another group of young people who were aged 11 to 16 in 2019 and are now damaged and hiding their memories of time at school this year.
I am sure my colleagues and I are the least popular Miss Marples talked about in the Board Room and staff management rooms of my old school. But I think we are needed at the moment. In writing this first I typed “I cannot bring myself, at the moment, to say the name of the school which has as its charge to “never forget the great benefits you have received”. Sadly they pale when compared to the pain inflicted over 50 years to some of my friends.” A commentator has suggested that I should name Christ’s Hospital in order that younger students from more recent times can know that we are trying to make a difference.
Post script – I have become more aware in the last few days of the pain which has been felt in the last few years as the revelations have come out from staff who taught me and whom I hold in great regard. The pain to them realising they have lived in a lie just as much as we have, and the pain on their family is also great. Those abusers have caused so much pain.