Eton’s headmaster: Boarding schools guilty of 'betrayal of trust' over child abuse allegations

Tony Little said they boarding schools were 'in part to blame' for the image of them portrayed in the 1960’s as 'shadowy, strange institutions'

Richard Garner
Thursday 07 May 2015 10:32
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Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton College
Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton College

Boarding schools have been guilty of a “shocking betrayal of trust” in the past over child abuse allegations, Eton’s headmaster Tony Little has admitted.

Mr Little, speaking at the Boarding Schools Association annual conference in London - of which he is president, said they were “in part to blame” for the image of them portrayed in the 1960’s as “shadowy, strange institutions”.

It was only in the last decade that he was confident they would know how to tackle allegations by pupils of abuse, he added.

Parents had turned away from boarding schools since the 1960’s because “there developed a view that sending a child to a boarding school was somehow unnatural, that it perverted family relationships and advocated responsibility for a child to people who ran shadowy, strange institutions,” he said.

“In truth, boarding schools were in part to blame. For all that there were exciting schools, with committed outstanding teachers, there was also complacency, self-indulgence and a remarkable lack of accountability.”

While many adults spoke warmly about their boarding school days in the 1960’s and 70’s, there were also “casualties”. He said he had met some who were “scarred for life” by what had happened to them.

“The fallout of Jimmy Saville and the Yewtree inquiry has revealed shocking betrayals of trust in a variety of contexts, including boarding schools,” he said.

“In some ways more revealing has been how pervasive was the culture of the 70s and 80s that ignored threats to young people.”

He praised the introduction of the Children’s Act which ensured heads had to follow up every concern thus “issues that were once hidden in the half-light are now subject to the full glare of the spotlight”.

Mr Little also warned that the “squeezed middle” earning around £80,000 a year could no longer afford the cost of a boarding school education and argued they should be given help with fees.

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