Open Letter to the Gordonstoun Community

from David White, Chair of Governors & Lisa Kerr, Principal, 19 June 2024

We have today written directly to our staff, parents, former pupils and other members of the Gordonstoun community.  But we know our messages might not reach everyone, so we are publishing this Open Letter.

Safeguarding children and supporting their wellbeing is at the heart of our work in education and care. From rigorous staff recruitment and training to robust regulatory oversight, comprehensive protections are in place and, crucially, children’s voices and views are heard within our schools.

Sadly, this was not always the case, and investigating that in Scotland has been the important work of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.  Over 100 institutions have been called to hearings by the Chair, The Right Honourable Lady Smith, including religious orders, local authorities, foster and independent care providers, healthcare establishments and boarding schools. Parallel inquiries have taken place for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, which reported in 2022 and 2009 respectively.

As one of the institutions asked to respond, Gordonstoun has been fully committed to helping the Inquiry in its important work to understand how children were looked after in the past and to learn lessons for the future.  Today, the Inquiry published its findings into Gordonstoun stating that “There have been periods in Gordonstoun’s history where the vision and ethos that formed the basis of Kurt Hahn‘s founding of the school was allowed to wither” and that abuse resulted, mainly in “the period from the 1970s to the early 1990s”.

The report is upsetting; it is shocking to read of the abuse that children in the past experienced and the enduring impact on their lives; we respect and thank those who have spoken up about their experiences.

We offer a heartfelt and sincere apology to those who suffered here.  The lack of care and the abuse they experienced neither honours the compassionate founding ethos of Gordonstoun, nor reflects the care offered today. They deserved better, and we are sorry they did not get it.

Aberlour House

The Inquiry’s report also separately covers abuse that took place at Aberlour House, a prep school in the village of Aberlour which sent many children to Gordonstoun.  Although separate legal entities with separate Headteachers and Boards of Governors, the two schools had links, sometimes close ones.  In 1999, Aberlour House became part of Gordonstoun and, in 2004, a new Junior School opened on the Gordonstoun campus.  Although Gordonstoun cannot answer formally for Aberlour House before 1999, we are very sorry for the abuse that took place there.

An open approach

Since reports of historic abuse came to our attention in 2013, we have taken a proactive approach, addressing matters openly and offering whatever support possible.  We have reached out repeatedly to our alumni expressing our sadness and concern, offering our support and encouraging anyone affected to contact the police and, once it was set up, the Inquiry. Lady Smith acknowledges Gordonstoun’s “recognition of the need to avoid putting its head in the sand, to acknowledge the reality of past abuse, and to respond”. We attended every day of the Inquiry hearings into Gordonstoun and were humbled and distressed by the testimony of survivors.

Gordonstoun was one of the first schools to implement mandatory reporting, now a requirement of all Boarding School Association members; we commissioned independent research which saw academics working with survivors to shape our response approach, and this led us to develop policies and procedures which have since been adopted by other schools.

The modern Gordonstoun 

The publication of the Inquiry’s report may mark the closing of a chapter, but we will never forget those whose courage in coming forward led to this important report.  

Gordonstoun today offers what independent inspectors have described as ‘sector-leading’ and ‘outstanding’ pastoral care.  Our comprehensive approach to wellbeing, safeguarding and child protection means that the safety, support and nurture of the children trusted to our care is paramount. 

The improvements which were introduced at Gordonstoun so decisively in 1990, and which have continued since then, are recognised throughout the report, and the “good and effective school leadership” since 1990 is described as “committed, enlightened and child focused”.  We are, however, never complacent, instead always seeking to learn and improve.

If you have any questions about the Inquiry or Gordonstoun’s care of children and young people, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

David White, Chair of Governors

Lisa Kerr, Principal