Modern safeguarding measures in prep schools make it “almost impossible” for staff to sexually abuse pupils, a private-school leader has claimed.
David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, spoke out after it emerged that there has been a surge in investigations in to historic sex abuse at many of Britain’s top private schools in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
The Times newspaper reported this week that in the past 20 years, teachers at 130 independent schools – many of them well-known institutions – had been implicated in sex crimes against hundreds of children.
The story has raised concerns about the damage it could do to the reputation of the whole of the private-school sector and its image in the lucrative overseas market, which is crucial to boarding schools.
Mr Hanson said in a statement: “The culture of silence and denial has quite rightly been replaced by an era of openness and disclosure with regard to sexual offences against children.
“While we are confident that such appalling breaches of trust that took place during the 1960s, 70s and 80s could not happen in today’s prep schools, we welcome the fact that such historic crimes are now being exposed and offenders brought to justice.
"I would like to applaud the bravery of those stepping forward to make this possible.
“Today there is a high level of emphasis on safeguarding and pastoral care in our prep schools, which is reinforced by inspection regimes that were not in place during the era when the abuses currently coming to light were committed.
"These safeguards make it almost impossible that the kinds of abuse being reported from decades ago could be repeated in the current culture and climate at our schools."
Mr Hanson said that parents should be “reassured” to know that schools finding themselves linked to allegations “will work tirelessly with police to investigate them, and see that justice is done for the victims of such inexcusable offences”.
But Pete Saunders, director of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, which is calling for “mandatory reporting” laws that would mean failing to report suspected abuse would become a crime, insisted that it was not all in the past.
He said: “It’s all well and good to say things have changed, and some schools have definitely got their act together.
“However, this is an ongoing problem and schools are hardly going to throw their hands up and say it’s still a problem when they will be throwing plenty of school fees down the drain.”
In response to speculation that prep schools could be closed as a result of large compensation payouts, Mr Hanson said he was unaware of any schools being in financial difficulty over claims and did not expect that to happen.
Hilary Moriarty, director of the Boarding Schools' Association, added that schools had now become very "child-centred" and problems were more likely to be reported.
She added: "Today’s children are easily able to tell someone if they are unhappy for any reason, and today –as may not always have been the case – they will be believed.
"Regulations, legislation, inspection, expectation, scrutiny and the continuing dedication of UK boarding schools to student welfare have transformed [them]."