9 Jul 2014

Child abuse, cover-ups and public schools

So the NSPCC has finally had a change of heart and backed calls for the criminal law to confront those who fail to report evidence of child abuse. Intriguingly, public schools are included in the list of institutions that need to come within the remit of such a law.

I’ve been thinking about what Norman Tebbit said at the weekend about the matter of a possible conspiracy at the heart of Westminster to suppress evidence of child abuse within the upper echelons of the establishment. Maybe he’s right: if it existed, he reckoned it was less a conspiracy, and more a culture that placed the interests of the “institution” well ahead of those of the abused child.


And that, naturally, is where the public school system of the day comes horribly into view. For the culture of the public school in the 60s, when I was incarcerated in one, represented something beyond the unnatural. Many of the politicians and civil servants charged with dealing with suspicions of a paedophile network in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, attended similar boarding institutions in that very era.

I well remember my first days in my boarding school – the wolf whistles from the prefects’ open windows as we passed in and out of our boarding quarters. Prettier boys were openly rated as desirable. It was in my second term, when I was 13-years-old, that I first received a note from a 17-year-old in the school rugby team asking would I meet him for a smoke. This was a euphemism for intended sexual contact.

Walling adolescent boys up in testosterone-fueled circumstance led to intense and exploitative sexual activity. Most of us, when we left school, skated over our sexual activity, reckoning the experience had done us no harm. I’m not so sure.

VIDEO: ‘Abuse devastated me – but I won’t be silenced’– ex-Caldicott School pupil Ian McFadyen speaks to Jon Snow

Of one thing I am certain is that the experience of inter-generational sex between boys in boarding schools – leave aside the staff – encouraged a view of; “well, it didn’t do me much harm – let’s move on”.

So that when it came to dealing with an MP, a Lord, a priest, or a judge suspected of child abuse, it was so much easier for these public school educated “authorities” to turn a blind eye and keep the institution, of which they were guardians, on track.

There were few women in the ranks of those “authorities”, even fewer in the public schools. It was a different age, but I believe there are reasonable grounds for arguing that the public school system may have played a significant role in what Lord Tebbit last Sunday called “the culture of the time”.

It is no wonder that the majority of public schools have now at least moved to a mixed intake of girls and boys. Eton and some other prominent institutions, have yet to do so. Oh, and the rugby player, last time I looked, he’s still something in the city.

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