'Rape is normal at Highgate School' - headteacher 'truly sorry'

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

Highgate School - Credit: Archant

Highgate School's headteacher has been forced to announce an independent investigation into "rape culture" at the school.

This comes after current and former pupils sent a document with 170 testimonies criticising the school's conduct, its handling of rape allegations and its care for pupils making these allegations. 

The document, featuring first-hand accounts of sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Highgate pupils or on Highgate property was sent to the school's governors and has now been published online.

It highlights "systemic" issues including the policing of the school's dress code, and suggests casual sexism is "rife" within the student body.

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Current and former pupils said when reporting rape and sexual assault to school staff they had been "silenced".

The allegations include: 

  • That "rape at Highgate School is normal".
  • That one pupil was raped by one boy, sexually assaulted by two others and repeatedly sexually harassed to the point that she attempted suicide.
  • That victims reporting rape and sexual assault have been "failed" by members of the school's pastoral team and in some cases students were kept in classes with those they had accused.
  • That pupils have been assaulted by boys during classes.

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The school has denied a claim it asked a pupil to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

"We have never used an NDA with a pupil and it would be wholly inappropriate to do so," a spokesperson said.

One woman wrote in the document of testimonies: "When I was 13 a boy sexually assaulted a girl and multiple other testimonies from other girls were sent in alongside this to evidence the threat posed by him.

"He came back to school with little consequence or precaution. This is not about one boy though. This is about all the people around him."

Another said: "I have to walk around school seeing the guy who raped me every single day and pretend nothing happened."

The document also highlights instances of offensive - and in some cases racist - jokes about rape among male students. 

One pupil wrote: "The way some boys treat girls is horrific. They rank them, compare them, and use them as trophies.

"They seem to coerce them into having sex so that they can lose their virginities before their friends, because they see it is a competition. This is particularly bad in the final years of middle school." 

She went on to say she didn't think it was a coincidence, that at one stage "this is a school for rapists and racists" on the school gates. 

In response to the allegations, Highgate School's headteacher, Adam Pettitt, said: "Sexual harassment, abuse, intimidation and violence against girls and women are abhorrent, and we condemn them utterly.

"The testimonies are devastating and it is clear from the passionate voices of our young people that we haven’t done enough to tackle the issue of peer on peer sexual violence and harassment against girls.  

"I want to apologise to the girls and women at Highgate for the ways you have been made to suffer. I am truly sorry." 

Mr Pettitt added that "safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do" and said the school must now have a "real and deep" commitment to "action".

He continued: "We will be commissioning an independent review of the issues raised in the testimonies following a listening exercise with our pupils, alumni, staff and parents; we will be working with external partners to enhance our PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) and to improve staff training to challenge and eradicate sexism and sexual harassment.

"We recognise the urgent need for systemic change and we at Highgate are fully committed to playing our part."

Schools across the country have been hit by similar accusations in recent weeks with an online campaign - Everyone's Invited - highlighting instances of sexual abuse and its normalisation across schools and universities. A further criticism of Highgate made in the document given to governors is that the school's response to the website was an "outrageous email" sent to pupils. 

Pupils have criticised a school decision to turn off comments on Instagram posts when pupils began to draw attention to sexual assaults and the school's handling of this. 

If you have been affected by sexual abuse at Highgate School and wish to speak to the Ham&High about this and how it may have been handled, contact us in confidence at editorial@hamhigh.co.uk.

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