Pupils stage walk out at £22,000-a-year Highgate School in protest over 'toxic rape culture'


Pupils have staged a walk out at one of the best private schools in the country in protest against an alleged ‘toxic rape culture’.

Boys and girls hugged each other outside the £22,000-a-year Highgate School in north London after claims emerged from current and former students.

They were also understood to have stood in front of headmaster Adam Pettitt’s office as a show of strength.

One female demonstrator held up a placard which read: ‘We stand strong, we stand tall and most importantly we stand together.’

Another raised one which said: ‘Sexual violence is not bullying. It is a violation of human rights.

The protest comes after a dossier was sent from former and current pupils to the governors listing abuse and harassment at the 456-year-old school.

Boys and girls hugged each other outside the £22,000-a-year Highgate School in north London after claims emerged from current and former students

Boys and girls hugged each other outside the £22,000-a-year Highgate School in north London after claims emerged from current and former students

They were also understood to have stood in front of headmaster Adam Pettitt's office as a show of strength

They were also understood to have stood in front of headmaster Adam Pettitt’s office as a show of strength

One female demonstrator held up a placard which read: 'We stand strong, we stand tall and most importantly we stand together'

One female demonstrator held up a placard which read: ‘We stand strong, we stand tall and most importantly we stand together’

Another raised one which said: 'Sexual violence is not bullying. It is a violation of human rights

Another raised one which said: ‘Sexual violence is not bullying. It is a violation of human rights

One told the Times a boy had hounded Year 8 girls into send him naked pictures of themselves.

On a different occasion male students were said to have chanted encouragement after another was suspended for abusing a girl who later left.

The ex-pupil said: ‘The boys banded together and would chant his name at parties as if he was the one being treated unjustly.

‘Anyone who spoke against him was talked down they were silenced by this culture of protecting abusers. The boys were allowed to run wild.

‘The culture was so toxic that my friends and I didn’t realise it was so bad until we left to go to university and had normal friendships with men.’

Headteacher Mr Pettitt told MailOnline: ‘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, despite all we do to safeguard pupils, 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.

‘Safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school.

‘Our commitment to action has to be real and deep. 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 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.’   

The protest comes after a dossier was sent from former and current pupils to the governors listing abuse and harassment at the 456-year-old school

The protest comes after a dossier was sent from former and current pupils to the governors listing abuse and harassment at the 456-year-old school

One told the Times a boy had hounded Year 8 girls into send him naked pictures of themselves

One told the Times a boy had hounded Year 8 girls into send him naked pictures of themselves

In a statement, Highgate School Governing Body added: ‘We are deeply shocked and horrified by the allegations that have recently come to light through the ”Everyone’s Invited” website.

‘The Highgate they describe runs entirely contrary to the values of our whole community and we echo what our Head, Adam Pettitt, has already said in apologising to any victim of sexual harassment or abuse who was not properly supported during their time at Highgate. We are truly sorry.

‘The Governing Body has commissioned an immediate external review of the allegations led by a team of professionals with expertise in this field.

‘The review will transparently scrutinise exactly what took place. We will make public its findings when they are available, and we are committed to taking whatever action is required to achieve the necessary culture change at Highgate.

‘We have reassured our parents and carers that safeguarding every child in our care continues to be at the heart of what we do as a school. We are encouraging all of our pupils, past and present, who wish to share their experiences, or to give feedback anonymously, to contribute to the review.

‘Their voices will be heard. We also fully support and commend the actions of our pupils today, standing in solidarity with all victims of sexual harassment or abuse.’

It follows a series of ‘rape culture’ allegations made against other top schools by pupils who claim they were sexually assaulted by their peers.

Sixth Form students at the London Oratory – where Nick Clegg and Tony Blair’s children are among the alumni – were the latest to raise concerns on Instagram.

One post saw the state-funded Roman Catholic school in Fulham, west London, blasted for having ‘the worst rape culture of any school I know’.

Sixth Form students at the London Oratory (pictured) made allegations of rape and sexual assault on an Instagram account

Sixth Form students at the London Oratory (pictured) made allegations of rape and sexual assault on an Instagram account

Its headteacher wrote to parents, staff and pupils saying he had spoken to students who shared their ‘alternative experiences of life at the school’.

But he said parents should take charge on handling the issue as they are the ‘most influential educators on such matters’, the Times reported.

One account by a London Oratory pupil on the Instagram page read: ‘My boyfriend at the time who went to [London] Oratory raped me.

‘He then went on to lie to all of his friends about what happened.’

Another claimed staff left her alone in a room with a boy who she accused of sexually assaulting her.

A third commented: ‘It’s not just the private schools with issues. There is no sex education whatsoever at this school, never mind any talk about consent.

‘There is too much focus on the religion of the school, with little understanding that everyone is still just a teenager that really, really needs to be taught about consent, respecting boundaries. It is appalling and shows in so many things people do and say.’

Its headmaster said in a letter: ‘I would also like to take this opportunity to thank those many pupils, both male and female, past and present, who have approached me to alert me to their alternative experiences of life at the school.’

He then took a quote from another letter collectively signed by the group, with read: ‘If anything good comes of this, let it be a clearer understanding amongst all the pupils of the physical and spiritual dangers of present day cultural norms […] and the necessity of chastity and sacraments, in particular regular confession, holy communion and the sacrament of marriage.’

Former Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg’s eldest son Antonio is understood to have attended the school.

Former PM Mr Blair also sent his two eldest sons, Nicky and Euan, to London Oratory with daughter Kathryn believed to have joined in sixth form.

Meanwhile, former-prime minister Tony Blair sent his two eldest sons, Nicky (far left) and Euan (second left), to London Oratory with daughter Kathryn (far right) believed to have joined in sixth form

Meanwhile, former-prime minister Tony Blair sent his two eldest sons, Nicky (far left) and Euan (second left), to London Oratory with daughter Kathryn (far right) believed to have joined in sixth form

A spokesman for London Oratory said: ‘The school was made aware of a number of concerning but unspecified allegations of sexual harassment and assault amongst its pupils, via a social media platform.

‘We have encouraged affected pupils to refer any matters to the police as these are criminal matters. 

‘On hearing the news, we aligned our established and extensive counselling team.  Last week we swiftly opened a solution focused dialogue to address the full spectrum of pupil concerns.

‘To support and extend the work parents do in their role as first educators, we have also brought forward the delivery of our (recently consulted on) RSHE programme. 

‘This emphasises developing caring and respectful dispositions. 

‘This is one element in the School’s strategy to continue to address contemporary issues pre-emptively, creatively and faithfully, in partnership with parents and parishes.’

The claims were just days after pupils at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, west London said their school has a ‘rape culture’.

It contacted pupils and alumni to offer support after youngsters reported a ‘toxic environment’ within the £20,000-a-year co-educational school.

Nick Clegg's eldest son Antonio is understood to have attended London Oratory. Pictured: The former deputy PM

Nick Clegg’s eldest son Antonio is understood to have attended London Oratory. Pictured: The former deputy PM

Headteacher David Goodhew said he was ‘troubled’ by the anonymous allegations made online.

They included claims female students had been assaulted by their male counterparts and coerced into sex acts.

Social media campaign Everyone’s Invited has received hundreds of anonymous claims of sexual abuse.

They involve pupils from some of Britain’s leading private schools including Eton and St Paul’s Boys School in Barnes, south-west London.

Pupils at Latymer said it had a ‘serious and ongoing problem’. A second website has since been set up to demand the school tackles its alleged ‘rape culture’.

The school, where alumni include actor Hugh Grant and model Lily Cole, said it had alerted parents and the local council’s child safeguarding officer to the allegations.

One shocking account claimed some ‘rich, white, privileged boys’ at the school were ‘predators’ who forced girls into performing sex acts.

Girls alleged boys made ‘sexual comments’ to them in the classroom, compared nude photographs of them and ranked them based on their faces and bodies.

Pupils said they were bullied and sexually harassed during lessons and that teachers had ignored the behaviour.

Parents who complained to the school were also ignored, according to some of the accounts on the Everyone’s Invited website.

One anonymous writer said they had been repeatedly sexually harassed in a classroom by a boy.

They said: ‘The teacher could also see this happening every lesson and the other boys laughing and chose to ignore it.’

Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, London, contacted pupils and alumni to offer support after youngsters reported a 'toxic environment' at the £20,000-a-year school (file photo)

Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, London, contacted pupils and alumni to offer support after youngsters reported a ‘toxic environment’ at the £20,000-a-year school (file photo)

Latymer said: ‘It was deeply disturbing reading the accounts by young women, and men, of alleged incidents that have occurred, both on-site and outside of schools or university campuses across the UK.

‘We are full of respect and compassion for all of those who shared their harrowing stories.

‘We were troubled to see a number of the stories and experiences attributed to Latymerians.

‘The welfare of our students and alumni is of the utmost importance to us and we take any report or allegation made by a member of our community extremely seriously.

‘Sexual harassment and abuse have no place at Latymer or in the wider world. Such behaviours are completely incompatible with Latymer’s values and contrary to our ethos of respect for others.

‘Our policies around safeguarding and anti-bullying stress a zero tolerance approach to behaviours that foster the prevalence of misogyny, sexism, harassment, abuse and assault.

‘All staff at the school undergo regular safeguarding training, including a unit on Sexual Violence and Harassment between Children and Young People.

‘When an allegation is reported to us, we follow the appropriate processes, including referral to and involvement with outside agencies and the police if appropriate, and work with our young people to ensure they feel empowered and supported.

‘If an allegation were to involve a member of staff, we would always follow our safeguarding procedure which requires us to take any disclosure extremely seriously, notify the LADO and carry out a thorough investigation.

‘We take all such issues very seriously and have encouraged anyone affected to come and talk to us directly. 

‘The welfare of our students and alumni is of the utmost importance to us and we will be listening carefully to our students and alumni and reflecting on what further steps we should take.’ 

Condemning the actions described, St Paul’s Boys School said it had also reported the website allegations to its local council’s safeguarding team.

Eton said it took any allegations ‘extremely seriously’, would investigate thoroughly and take appropriate disciplinary action.

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