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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Neil went to a private school. He describes it as extremely competitive, with a ‘lonely and sad’ atmosphere.

He was sexually and emotionally abused by a teacher, which caused him great distress. He felt able to speak out about what was happening after his father warned him about the possibility of abuse by teachers.

The headmaster prided himself on the pupils’ results and classes were ‘high pressure’. He was also an extremely violent man who could not control his impulses. Neil says the school ‘belonged to him’ and he created a tension in it. He would browbeat the most intelligent pupils or grab pupils by the head, and there were rumours that he sometimes threw them down the stairs.

Neil remembers the atmosphere of the school as ‘lonely and sad, especially if you were not into sport’, which the headmaster was also very competitive about.

 When Neil was about 10 years old, he was sexually abused by a teacher called Mr Halford. On the first occasion of abuse, Neil was in the school’s photography dark room when Mr Halford thrust his hand into Neil’s underpants.

After this the teacher regularly sexually abused Neil, often in his room at the school where he would lie down on the bed with Neil and then ‘fondle’ or ‘interfere’ with him, touching his private parts.

Neil describes this abuse as extremely upsetting, and says he was frightened as he knew there was more that could be done to him sexually. And even more distressing, he says, was the ‘romantic attachment’ that Mr Halford held over him, making comments such as ‘Your parents have dumped you, you’re mine to love now’, and ‘I love you more than your parents’.

Neil explains how vulnerable he felt because of the environment that the headmaster had fostered. The sexual abuse continued for about six months and, in the summer holidays, Mr Halford wrote to Neil. He says the letters did not overtly signal anything but the fact that the teacher wrote to him was ‘spooky’.

He describes how apprehensive he felt over the summer and how going back to school after the holidays was a ‘complete wrench’. On the first day of term, Neil’s father had a conversation with him, saying that there may be teachers ‘who want to do certain things’ to him. At this point, Neil says he ‘blurted it all out’ and disclosed the sexual abuse to his father. He adds that in later years, he discovered his father had also been sexually abused at school.

Neil’s father reported the abuse to the headmaster, who simply responded: ‘This teacher must go’. When Neil went back to school, he was interviewed by the headmaster but says he felt he was treated as if he ‘was the one to blame’.

The official line from the headmaster was that Mr Halford was ill and had left the school. Neil says as the term went on, he was increasingly troubled by this and struggled to deal with what had happened. He became ill and the matron put him to bed. The headmaster visited him and said that Neil was ‘playing ill’ and that he was ‘a pansy’.

The headmaster refused to call a doctor for him and he was made to go back to class, but the next day the matron, who Neil says was ‘a heroine’, disobeyed the headmaster and drove Neil to a hospital, where he had surgery.

He went home to recover before returning to school, where his illness recurred, and he had a nervous breakdown. His doctor said Neil had depression and his parents decided not to send him back to school. Neil says that by that time he was paranoid about people knowing about the sexual abuse.

Neil’s parents complained to the governors about the headteacher’s treatment of him, but Neil says they were ‘yes people’ who blamed him and did not sanction the headmaster.

He adds that he knows more stories about this school. He does not want to tell other people’s stories but says he felt duty bound to come to the Truth Project and found the process helpful. He says ‘I’ll always have some emotional moments’.

Neil thinks that supervision of all schools is essential. He believes that Ofsted have a growing insight into private schools, but he is not convinced it is as thorough and comprehensive as it should be and believes that ‘someone needs to audit children’s emotional state’.

He would like governors to have the power to exclude even the owner of a school and for there to be better oversight of the emotional state of children, particularly when they are very young and away from home.

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