Gavin Williamson vowed last night to take action over the pupil abuse scandal – and urged all victims of ‘sickening acts’ to report them to police.
The Education Secretary condemned the alleged assaults as ‘shocking and abhorrent’ and indicated any schools implicated could face Government measures.
His intervention came as the Department for Education (DfE) and police made contact with the founders of the Everyone’s Invited website – which was set up by former private school pupils to expose harassment – to provide ‘support, protection and advice’.
It is understood the DfE is poised to instruct Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate to inspect any school that has failed to safeguard pupils.
Gavin Williamson vowed last night to take action over the pupil abuse scandal – and urged all victims of ‘sickening acts’ to report them to police
The Government can then force the school to improve or even close it down.
Mr Williamson wrote on Twitter yesterday: ‘No school – whether an independent school or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place.
‘The allegations that I have heard in recent days are shocking and abhorrent.
‘Any victim of these sickening acts that we’ve seen reported should raise their concerns with someone they trust, whether that’s a family member or friend, a teacher, social worker, or the police. We will take appropriate action.’
Meanwhile, shocked head teachers of girls’ private schools said yesterday they were talking to current and former students over sex allegations at neighbouring schools.
The Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), which represents more than 100 top British girls’ private schools, said that in some cases they are referring incidents to the police.
GSA schools include James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS), attended by some of the girls making accusations about Dulwich College boys. Yesterday GSA chief executive Donna Stevens released a statement saying the ‘deeply troubling’ allegations ‘must not be ignored’.
Pupils stage a protest against rape culture at Highgate School in London
She said: ‘Our schools are taking this issue seriously and talking with current and former students as well as parents to bring about positive change.’
Her words came as a former pupil at JAGS revealed herself to be the co-author of a letter making allegations against Dulwich College pupils.
Eleni Thwaites, now at Oxford University, told her student newspaper that Dulwich boys had a reputation for being ‘entitled and dangerous’. She said that while she herself was not a victim, she was ‘confided in’ by others from the school.
Miss Thwaites told The Oxford Blue: ‘The kind of pack hunting behaviour described here is consistent with many of the testimonies, which describe boys ganging up on girls on the coach or at parties, often with malicious intent.’
Two former Dulwich pupils have been referred to the police after the dossier was presented to the school.
Last week, dozens of pupils also walked out of Highgate School in north London in protest at its alleged ‘rape culture’.
Former law chief Lord Macdonald says Britain could ‘live to regret’ rush to criminalise schoolboys – even if their behaviour IS ‘obnoxious and unpleasant’
Britain could ‘live to regret’ a rush to criminalise schoolboys after an explosion of school sex abuse claims, a former Director of Public Prosecutions warned yesterday.
Lord Macdonald urged police and prosecutors yesterday not to confuse ‘obnoxious and unpleasant’ behaviour with crimes.
He spoke out after the national police spokesman on child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, heralded it as the ‘next big child sexual abuse scandal to hit the country’.
Mr Bailey predicted that ‘rape culture’ claims would engulf the entire education sector, leading to referrals to every police force. So far, more than 100 schools have been named in more than 8,000 harrowing anonymous testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website, which was set up to expose misogyny, harassment and assault in schools.
Lord Macdonald (left) urged police and prosecutors yesterday not to confuse ‘obnoxious and unpleasant’ behaviour with crimes. He spoke out after the national police spokesman on child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey (right), heralded it as the ‘next big child sexual abuse scandal to hit the country’
Soma Sara, 22, founded the website along with Meadow Walker, also 22, the daughter of the late Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker. Miss Sara said yesterday there had been a 33 per cent increase in testimonies from the state sector and a 44 per cent increase in accounts from universities since March 9.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is also an ex-Director of Public Prosecutions, called for an independent inquiry.
He said: ‘There’s got to be an inquiry and it has got to get going very fast, this is serious. There is of course a criminal investigation and I would encourage anybody who can to come forward and give evidence in that investigation.’
But his predecessor Lord Macdonald cautioned against making snap judgments, saying: ‘We may live to regret a headlong rush into criminalisation.’
The top lawyer, who led the Crown Prosecution Service from 2003 to 2008, said serious offences such as rape and sexual assault must be pursued.
But he warned prosecutors not to jump on the bandwagon and be ‘wary of social media campaigns that may draw in all sorts of behaviour that is obnoxious and unpleasant but not criminal’.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘Police and prosecutors will face real challenges where complaints are made anonymously and people will need to come forward if cases are to be built.
‘Victims of crime should be reassured that in doing so they will be treated with respect, care and consideration. But prosecutors will need to distinguish between cases where real crimes have been committed and cases where boys are just being obnoxious and going unchallenged.
Soma Sara, 22, founded the website along with Meadow Walker (pictured), also 22, the daughter of the late Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker
‘And we need to be honest that cases from the past where it is one person’s word against another will be very difficult to prove.
‘Imagine a girl saying, ‘he assaulted me at a party four years ago’, and he’s arrested and says, ‘No, we just had a snog’.
‘That’s a tricky case to prosecute, to put it mildly. We need to understand that what we are talking about here is bringing young people into a court system with judges and juries and the prospect of prison. This is very serious stuff. It is not an easy environment for victims, witnesses or defendants.’
‘The criminal law is a very blunt instrument. Much of this behaviour needs challenging in different ways. By education and communication. By parents as well as by schools. By peer groups. And by moving resolutely away from the complicit notion that ‘boys will be boys’.
‘Pornography, social media, the sexualisation of everything – all these play a part.
‘Girls do need protecting. But do not expect the criminal justice system to do this work on its own.’
Another former top prosecutor suggested the CPS would ‘fall over’ if it were to be inundated with criminal allegations about schoolchildren.
Nazir Afzal, the ex-chief prosecutor for the North West who brought down a Rochdale child abuse gang, said: ‘We can barely cope with what the police are already referring in relation to adults.
‘Trials are taking place maybe two to three years after a rape allegation has made and if we are proposing to take a large proportion of these cases through the justice system, it will just fall over. It could not cope. It would let everyone down. There needs to be some real expectation management here.’
‘I am very much in favour of bringing the most serious offenders to justice, but at the same time we can’t have a situation where we are criminalising a whole generation, particularly when it is our failings that have made it happen. An independent inquiry is needed.’
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, which represents more than 1,300 private schools, backed an inquiry. He said: ‘This is clearly a serious issue which needs to be dealt with across society.’
‘Clearly … there’ll be some things which schools can do or should do which other agents can’t do or won’t do.
‘But if it’s going to be an independent inquiry, you’re going to want to look across the whole spectrum of institutions, and also of time, because we know that this is not a new problem.’