Highgate school told to draw up new rules after pupils report peer sex assaults

Retired senior judge files report following hundreds of allegations by teenagers

Thursday, 27th January — By Harry Taylor

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More than a dozen improvements have been recommended by Dame Anne Rafferty

A TOP Highgate private school has been told to rewrite its safeguarding policies by a senior retired judge after an investigation into hundreds of reports of pupil-on-pupil sexual assaults.

The recommendation is one of 16 made by Dame Anne Rafferty, who was asked by Highgate School to lead an independent review last year.

The most serious of the 392 allegations included rape. Many of the worst incidents took place off school grounds at parties or in parks, with alcohol or drugs involved.

They came amid an outpouring of testimonies from pupils across the UK last year in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder in south London.

The accounts said that girls and young women felt sexual assault in schools between pupils was common and going unpunished.

Many were posted on Everyone’s Invited, an anonymous website.

Pupils at Highgate also wrote a letter to the school detailing incidents. The review asked for victims to come forward. It said the school, in South Grove, had unclear policies to deal with harassment, bullying and safeguarding, making it harder for victims to submit reports or to know what outcomes to expect.

Dame Anne said: “Highgate should rewrite its suite of safeguarding policies, taking a ‘blank piece of paper’ approach with the aim of making them less repetitive, more consistent within and between policies, and more user-friendly.”

Other recommendations include being better prepared for safeguarding situations, taking more prompt disciplinary responses to cases, and reviewing its uniform.

Dame Anne added that Highgate had taken too long to deal with some incidents, had occasionally rewarded perpetrators and that its sexual education teaching was failing.

However, she praised the speed of the school’s response after the allegations were made last year, as well as its transparency and willingness to change. Staff said it had “shaken them” out of complacency. Last March, headteacher Adam Pettitt apologised and said systemic change was needed.

Dame Anne identified 29 incidents that Highgate was aware of from the Everyone’s Invited website. This led to “detailed consideration” of 11 cases, including three of “serious misconduct and assault out of school”.

However, the school’s response had been inconsistent. One perpetrator, who was the subject of a number of reports, was only given a warning, rather than sanctioned.

The 62-page report published on Tuesday, said that some Highgate pupils and parents rejected the picture painted by the online allegations.

It said that while many agreed with a Ofsted national report on sexual abuse that found it was common, it added: “Our conversations with the school community show that pupils at Highgate feel safe and parents feel comfortable sending their children there.”

The school had also been criticised for an assembly following Ms Everard’s death, which some girls felt talked about how “men weren’t monsters” rather than a focus on the impact of murder on women and safety in public. Some wrote to the school to complain, and a protest took place in the playground which saw red ribbons tied to its gates.

Bob Rothenberg, the school’s chair of governors, said: “We would like to thank the review team for their recommendations, which impact all of us: leaders, teachers, pupils, parents and carers. We would also like to thank our school community for their generous input and uncompromising bravery. This has been an essential period of learning for Highgate.

“No school is alone in combating sexism and sexual violence, but we believe that the independent review’s thorough analysis of the reality at Highgate will help to change the climate for good in our community.”

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