Alleged sexual misconduct ‘is not boys being boys’

ALLEGATIONS of sexual misconduct at Jersey schools must not be dismissed as ‘boys being boys’, the children’s commissioner has said after testimonies from pupils led to the headmasters at Victoria College and JCG writing to parents earlier this month.

Children's commissioner Deborah McMillan. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30640204)
Children's commissioner Deborah McMillan. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30640204)

Deborah McMillan said pupils should be ‘applauded’ for speaking out and every allegation should be taken seriously. Jersey College for Girls has been exploring and recording its own students’ experiences, following the reaction to Sarah Everard’s death and sexual assault allegations in schools in England.

JCG and Victoria College wrote to parents at the beginning of the month following concerns over the ‘experiences of some students’ whose stories were described as ‘difficult to hear’. Both colleges said it was ‘clear that we must take action’.

The government has said it continues to make support services available for any student who needs them over the Easter break and is ‘considering carefully what further actions are required’.

Mrs McMillan said: ‘It is not acceptable to write off an underlying culture of a school as merely being “banter” or “boys being boys”. Schools must take each and every allegation seriously, and follow established safeguarding guidelines at all times. They must also provide support to anyone affected, and serious concerns must be escalated to the police and the Education Department.

‘The bottom line is that pupils must feel reassured that they will be listened to. And they should be applauded for speaking out.’

Anonymous and confidential contributions at JCG were discussed at a meeting on 31 March with senior education safeguarding representatives.

This was followed by joint discussions between JCG headmaster Carl Howarth and Victoria College headmaster Alun Watkins before the joint letter was sent to parents of pupils at both schools.

A spokesperson from the Children, Young People, Education and Skills Department said: ‘Following the recent experiences shared by some students at Jersey College for Girls, the Government of Jersey is continuing to ensure that support services are available for any student who needs them over the Easter break. We are working closely with Jersey College for Girls and Victoria College, the Safeguarding Partnership Board and States police to monitor the situation closely.

‘We will continue to work with all of our schools to encourage any further concerns to be shared and routed through the most appropriate channels depending on their nature and seriousness. This includes through the schools, the Children and Families Hub, which includes the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, and the police.

‘Working on behalf of the Children’s and Education Minister, senior officials are advising the minister and schools and are considering carefully what further actions are required to ensure a full understanding of the extent of these issues in Jersey’s schools and, most importantly, to ensure the safeguarding and wellbeing of the Island’s children and young people. Details of next steps will be shared as and when they are agreed.’

In the joint letter, seen earlier this month by the JEP, both colleges said they were committed to a ‘zero-tolerance stance’ on sexist, misogynistic, demeaning and offensive language and behaviour, which was ‘unacceptable and wrong’.

The schools said they had increased the number of staff on duty in spaces shared between the two colleges to oversee ‘appropriate behaviour’. Students will also receive a presentation after Easter from Dewberry House and the States police about public sexual harassment.

Commenting at the time, Chief Minister John Le Fondré said young people affected would be supported by government officers.

Ofsted announced at the end of March that it was undertaking an urgent review of sexual harassment and assault among pupils in English private and state schools, and the safeguarding policies schools had in place to prevent this.

The inquiry follows thousands of anonymous testimonies being posted on the website Everyone’s Invited, a movement committed to eradicating ‘rape culture’, which has drawn attention to unreported sexual assaults and rapes that have taken place at schools.

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