The chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has said schools are “deeply concerned” by testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website and are taking the issue “very seriously”.
Everyone’s Invited has over 8,000 testimonies of people’s experiences of “harassment, abuse and assault” in schools and universities, mainly about the behaviour of other students, including accounts from people as young as nine.
Many of the accounts in schools concern independent schools, but DS Laremore, the Metropolitan Police lead for rape and sexual offences, told the Today programme she believed the issue was “more widespread than private schools”.
The ISC has 1,374 schools in its membership, which accounts for around half of all independent schools in the UK.
Chief executive Julie Robinson said: “The Everyone’s Invited movement has helped to raise awareness of what is clearly a hugely distressing social and cultural issue that cannot and must not be ignored. We know that schools are deeply concerned and taking this issue very seriously.”
Robinson detailed the steps independent schools are taking in light of the allegations. She said schools are having “meaningful conversations” with students who have spoken out, as well as alumni and parents, and are encouraging anyone else who has been affected by incidents of abuse to speak to them.
Some schools are commissioning external, independent reviews in areas including policies, procedures, training and curriculum, and revisiting peer on peer abuse procedures so pupils know how to report incidents and can be supported.
Schools have also expressed their wish to work together to share best practice in relation to delivering relationships and sex education, and health and wellbeing initiatives.
While it is difficult for schools to act effectively on anonymised allegations, they are making referrals to external agencies where appropriate, including reporting incidents to the local authority and the police, said Robinson.
“The ISC is clear: harassment and abuse of any kind cannot be tolerated. We would encourage anyone who has experienced such behaviour, or who is suffering because of it, to report it so they can be supported and steps can be taken to address the issue,” said Robinson.
Dr Simon Hyde, general secretary of the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents nearly 300 independent school heads, said: “We are deeply saddened to read these distressing accounts. All schools are a microcosm of the society in which they operate, and gendered violence, harassment and abuse have no place in either.
“The welfare and safety of young people is the primary concern of all HMC schools, evidenced by the growth of and investment in provision for pastoral care and support.
“Our members are listening and willing to act, but it is more difficult to act effectively on anonymised allegations, and we urge those affected to seek support and redress through their schools.”
The Met has been reviewing the content of Everyone’s Invited and has contacted schools it could identify. A police helpline is to be set up to report incidents.
The chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, has called for an independent inquiry to be launched into allegations of a “rape culture” in schools.