Highgate School to overhaul safeguarding after sexual abuse review

Highgate School's plans are subject to a supplementary planning document which is out for public consultation. Picture...

Highgate School independent report into peer-on peer abuse released. - Credit: Archant

An independent school has been given 16 recommendations to overhaul and improve the safeguarding of its pupils.

Highgate School, in North Road, launched an independent review into an alleged "rape culture" in and outside its premises following allegations on an a website called Everyone's Invited.

In March last year the Everyone's Invited movement and an open letter alleged peer-on peer abuse and instances of sexual abuse being normalised across schools and universities.

Bob Rothenberg, chair of governors, said it had been an "essential period of learning" for the school.

Dame Anne Rafferty DBE

Dame Anne Rafferty, a former appeal court judge and the first female chair of the Criminal Bar Association, was asked to investigate allegations against Highgate School - Credit: Highgate School

Led by Dame Anne Rafferty, a former appeal court judge and the first female chair of the Criminal Bar Association, the review worked in parallel with Haringey Council's own safeguarding reviews and heard from pupils, staff and parents.

Dame Anne said: "It is striking that no one in the school community recognises the Highgate on Everyone’s Invited as the school they attend or to which they send their children or at which they work.

"This led us to reflect both on the prevalence of abuse at Highgate and in society generally and at how that prevalence can be established."

She added: "The written reports make it certain that there has been sexual misconduct at, and outside, the school by and to Highgate pupils, but our conversations with the school community show that pupils at Highgate feel safe and parents feel comfortable sending their children there."

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Among the recommendations was the urgent appointment of a director of safeguarding, which the school has done.

Policy documents were seen as "long and unwieldy" with bullying, behaviour and safeguarding policies running to 55 pages.

"Highgate’s policy documents are too long, and they are unwieldy, but we recognise the difficulty in reducing content to really short policies given the mandatory elements," said Dame Anne recommending the school "rewrite its suite of safeguarding policies" to make them "user-friendly" .

There should be a review of sixth form and out of school discipline, she said.

Dame Anne said the school's position over abusive incidents between older children outside school "lacks clarity".

"There are cases when steps are taken against perpetrators but, more often, the girl is asked to give her account and offered support and counselling without it being clear whether steps might be taken against the perpetrator."

Highgate should undertake a series of "dry runs" to manage particularly complex safeguarding situations and devote a whole or half day to an incident if there's a crisis within the school. 

Haringey Council also gave the school recommendations to update and bolster the Code of Conduct, which sets out general principles of behaviour that pupils are expected to apply at school.  

It recommended research with pupils in the senior school regarding a “no snitch culture” and to consider how to develop more restorative justice practices in the senior school. 

The school said it has been "working hard" to act upon the serious issues and implementing changes.

In March 2021 it drafted its Anti-Sexism and Sexual Violence (ASSV) Plan to tackle misogyny, sexism and sexual violence in all its forms. 

A second update to the plan will be available in March. 

An anonymous peer relationships survey will be conducted with senior school students next month.

The school has expanded its safeguarding team with a new director to join a director of inclusion, a director of pupil wellbeing and a pupil wellbeing practitioner  and three safeguarding governors to oversee the work. 

Workshops are being held with year 13 pupils involving external experts on safeguarding, the law and rape myths.

Sixth form uniform is also being reviewed in consultation with pupils.

Staff received training with two 75 minute sessions on anti-sexism and sexual violence taking place last August. 

Mr Rothenberg 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 realist at Highgate will help to change the climate for good in our own community."