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'Ban initiations' call at suicide school

AN INQUIRY into bullying at Pangbourne College, Berkshire, following the suicide of a 16- year-old boy, recommends checks on the disciplinary activities of senior pupils and an end to 'initiation' ceremonies for new pupils.

Mark Maclagan, a sixth-form pupil, hanged himself from a tree at his home in Camberley, Surrey, in January. An inquest was told that bullying might have been a factor in his death.

The report, by Dr Roger Morgan, chief inspector for Oxfordshire's social services, found that bullying at the pounds 10,000-a-year boys' boarding school was no worse than at other schools.

But it notes that bullying is serious and frequent for 1 in 20 of the school's 400-plus pupils, with some senior boys using punishments excessively. The worst form of physical bullying, according to Dr Morgan, was punching to give 'dead arms' or 'dead legs'.

Senior pupils, says the report, which was instigated by Berkshire's area child-protection committee, unlike those in most independent boarding schools, are more concerned with disciplining younger children than with their welfare. Some created punishments: one involved a run, sometimes at 6.30am, which caused some pupils to vomit.

The report's 22 recommendations include better staff supervision of new pupils to stop 'initiation' ceremonies, such as a cold bath or shower.

Dr Morgan found that 4.9 per cent of pupils claimed to be bullied 'often or most of the time', compared with an average of 6.1 per cent in other schools.

The inquiry received some evidence of occasional incidents of types of bullying: 'bog-washing', where boys' heads were stuck down lavatories, and 'divisional scrubs', in which pupils were covered in boot polish and then showered.

Most parents were happy with the school, although some were critical of its 'macho' image and some gave 'disturbing accounts of bullying which they described their sons as having received'. Others were clear that bullying and teasing were a good preparation for later life.

A majority supported the headmaster's efforts to reduce militarism and ancient traditions by abolishing, for example, fagging by junior pupils.