Highgate School ‘rape culture' inquiry calls for testimonies

Review looks to hear from pupils, alumni, parents and staff on peer-on-peer sexual assaults

Friday, 30th April 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Highgate School

Highgate School in North Road

THE review into peer-on-peer sexual assault at Highgate School is calling for pupils, staff, parents and ex-pupils to come forward with information as part of its investigation.

Dame Anne Rafferty, who is leading the review, is asking the groups to come forward with testimonies as part of her independent review.

The former appeal court judge will look at whether current procedures and policies are strong enough. The school was hit by claims that a “rape culture” was prevalent with incidents of peer-on-peer sexual assault and abuse between pupils, and inadequate action being taken by senior members of staff.

Some current students and alumni detailed their experiences online on the Everyone’s Invited website and in an open letter to governors, since also posted online, which has received 250 submissions. Accounts included pupils being assaulted after having too much to drink or taking drugs at parties.

Pupils held a protest outside the school in the aftermath of publication of the complaints, and headteacher Adam Pettitt apologised to victims.

“I want to apologise to the girls and women at Highgate for the ways you have been made to suffer,” he said. “I am truly sorry. Safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school. Our commitment to action has to be real and deep.

“We recognise the urgent need for systemic change.”

The review will examine historic reports made to the school and how they were dealt with, and looking at whether the response was sufficient. A report will be produced and submitted to the school’s governing body by the end of July 2021.

The school said any of the groups who had not yet been contacted by the inquiry could contact the school for details. This is despite the school saying the probe would be independent of the institution, after it had acknowledged failings in how it had handled previous complaints.

Dame Anne has appointed two advisers as part of the review; Alexandra Colclough and Lando du Plooy.

The duo are both heads at state primary schools, Ms Colclough of Scott-Broadwood Infant School in Surrey, and Mr du Plooy of Dersingham Primary School in Newham.

Before Easter a draft of the school’s anti-sexism and sexual violence plan was circulated to current pupils and staff for consultation. A statement by the school said it wanted cooperation of the groups to “deliver meaningful, sustained changes in attitudes and behaviours”.

It added: “The review is seeking to analyse and understand the anonymous testimonies relating to Highgate submitted through the Everyone’s Invited website, an open letter to governors and the school’s listening exercise with pupils, former and current, parents and carers, and staff.

“[It] sits within a suite of actions by the School, including engagement with statutory agencies.”

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