Winchester College could suspend its planned admission of female pupils next year amid fears it could bring about a ‘toxic culture’.
The 640-year-old boarding school had last month revealed its plans to admit girls from September 2022 as sixth form day pupils, with female boarders following in 2024.
But the ‘haste’ at which the change was to be brought about has sparked concern amid the growing scandal of elite schools such as Eton College and Highgate School named in sexual abuse accounts, The Telegraph reports.
The £42,000-a-year Winchester College has not been implicated in the scandal, but it is believed that parents are concerned about the plans to introduce girls amid the accusations.
A source said: ‘Parents don’t understand why they are pressing ahead with it. It seems bonkers, given what we now know has been going on in private schools.
The £42,000-a-year Winchester College has not been implicated in the scandal, but it is believed that parents are concerned about the plans to introduce girls amid these reports
‘It needs to be handled sensitively or it could easily lead to a toxic culture. It is hard to convince the parents that there is a really good reason for introducing girls into the sixth form when we can see how toxic things have become.’
It comes after Gavin Williamson last night vowed to take action over the pupil abuse scandal – and urged all victims of ‘sickening acts’ to report them to police.
The Education Secretary condemned 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’.
Last week it was revealed that a Whitehall inquiry had been launched into the scandal, with Home Office and Department for Education officials leading a cross-Government response.
Headmaster of the college, Dr Tim Hands, said the school had ‘learnt a lot’ from the comments and questions of parents at the information evening, and they will now ‘take the time to reflect’ on what they have heard
Ofsted inspectors along with the Independent Schools Inspectorate are prepared to begin surprise, immediate investigations if concerns over safeguarding are brought up at particular schools, according to Whitehall sources.
Winchester held several information evenings over Zoom last week to discuss the introduction of female pupils, and some parents revealed their scepticism over the plans.
A source said: ‘If we wanted a progressive school we would have chosen Bedales.
‘What sets Winchester apart is that it is a single sex school for very erudite boys.’
The college still aims to go ahead with the change, but it will consider parents’ calls to delay it, it is understood.
Headmaster of the college, Dr Tim Hands, said the school had ‘learnt a lot’ from the comments and questions of parents at the information evening, and they will now ‘take the time to reflect’ on what they have heard.
If Winchester goes ahead with plans to bring in female students it would leave just three all boys secondary boarding schools left in the country – Eton College, Radley College and Harrow School.
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
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.