An open letter to the Gordonstoun community about the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

from Lisa Kerr, Principal

Keeping children safe is the most important thing we do in education. Pupil safety, happiness and wellbeing is at the heart of everything that happens at Gordonstoun. Our robust policies and procedures were developed and approved by leading child protection experts, and undergo regular review to ensure they remain at the forefront of best practice.

As a result of our commitment to continual improvement and the positive working relationships between staff, pupils and families, our pastoral care is consistently highly rated by inspectors and regulators, including our most recent inspection which rated our care as ‘outstanding’ and ‘sector leading’. In our latest survey, an overwhelming majority of parents said their child is happy and safe at our school.

However, very sadly, the excellent care provided by schools and other residential establishments today was not always the case, and, like England and Northern Ireland, Scotland has established its own Inquiry into the abuse of children in residential care in the past. Over one hundred institutions, including Gordonstoun, are reporting to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. We are fully committed to helping the Inquiry as part of this important project to understand how children were looked after in the past and to learn lessons for the future.

We are very sorry that any former student suffered abuse in their time at the school and we admire the courage of those who have come forward. When reports came to our attention in 2013 we were shocked and extremely concerned for those affected. Since then we have repeatedly reached out to our alumni both directly and through the press expressing our sadness and concern, offering our support and encouraging anyone affected to contact the police and, latterly, the Inquiry itself.

We have also become aware that historic abuse occurred at Aberlour House, a prep school situated 20 miles away, which sent many children to Gordonstoun. Although separate legal entities with separate Headmasters, the two schools had links, sometimes close ones, until they merged in 1999 and, in 2004, a new Junior School building opened on the Gordonstoun campus. Although Gordonstoun cannot answer formally for Aberlour House before 1999, we are providing as much information as we can to the Inquiry and have already taken the opportunity at the Inquiry of offering an apology to anyone who suffered abuse there.

We know that great care must be taken in responding to and supporting those affected by abuse. To that end we consulted widely with expert organisations and commissioned the Centre for Excellence in Looked-After Children In Scotland (CELCIS, part of the University of Strathclyde) to ask affected alumni how we could best respond to them and support their needs. Their recommendations have informed how we have acted in supporting survivors.

We know that nothing can take away the hurt and damage caused by abuse in the past. But we can take three important steps. Firstly, we apologise to anyone who suffered abuse of any sort whilst in our care; we do so wholeheartedly and unreservedly. Secondly, we must ensure that those who suffered abuse have a voice; their stories and experiences must be heard. And thirdly we must learn from those experiences as part of our commitment to ensuring that the very best possible care is taken of children today and in the future.

We are glad that the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is giving an opportunity for survivors to be heard and for us, and everyone in Scotland, to have the opportunity to listen to and learn from its recommendations.

Lisa Kerr, Principal