A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph:
Even though it has not been implicated in the ongoing ‘rape culture’ scandal, parents are said to be concerned about the move to admit girls
Winchester College may reconsider the introduction of female pupils next year, amid concerns that it will create a “toxic culture” in the wake of the private school abuse row.
The 640-year-old boys’ boarding school announced last month that it intends to admit girls as day pupils in the sixth form from September 2022, followed by female boarders two years later.
However, these plans could now be put on hold after parents raised concerns about the “haste” with which the change was being implemented, The Telegraph has learned.
“Parents don’t understand why they are pressing ahead with it. It seems bonkers, given what we now know has been going on in private schools,” a source said.
“It needs to be handled sensitively or it could easily lead to a toxic culture. It is hard to convince the parents that there is a really good reason for introducing girls into the sixth form when we can see how toxic things have become.”
Last weekend it emerged that a Whitehall inquiry has been launched into a growing scandal that has seen some of the most elite schools in the country including Eton College, St Paul’s Boys’ School, Dulwich College, Westminster School and Highgate School named in accounts of sex abuse.
Officials from the Home Office and Department for Education are leading a cross-Government response with senior officers, who have been urged to take claims seriously.
Inspectors from Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate are ready to launch immediate and surprise investigations if safeguarding concerns are raised at particular schools, Whitehall sources said.
Winchester College has not been implicated by the growing scandal, but parents are understood to be concerned about the planned introduction of girls against this backdrop.
The £42,000-a-year school held a series of information evenings last week on Zoom about the introduction of girls and day pupils to the school, where a number of parents voiced their misgivings.
“If we wanted a progressive school we would have chosen Bedales,” a source said. “What sets Winchester apart is that it is a single sex school for very erudite boys.”
Winchester College is still aiming to press ahead with the move to introduce girls but will take into consideration parents’ calls for a delay to the plans, The Telegraph understands.
Dr Tim Hands, headmaster of Winchester College, said: “As part of last week’s Information Evenings regarding the school’s modernisation agenda, we learnt a lot from the comments and questions from our parents.
“The Parent Information Evenings form one of a range of discussions which will engage the views of our community, so that we can bring together informed opinions about how best to deliver the ambitious programme of modernisation announced.
“We will now take the time to reflect on all that we heard, as we take forward our plans for the future.”
Winchester College’s decision to admit girls means that there will be just three secondary schools left in the country – Eton College, Radley College and Harrow School – which operate solely as all boys’ boarding schools.
In recent decades, a spate of institutions have broken with centuries of tradition to admit female pupils including Rugby, Charterhouse and Westminster.
There has also been a trend for boarding schools to become more flexible and offer places to a mixture of full boarding, weekly boarding and day pupils, in keeping with the tastes of modern families.
Dr Hands pointed out that a survey conducted by Quelle, a satirical magazine produced by students, found that the majority of the boys who responded “were either in favour of the changes or were undecided”.
He said that the “vast majority” of current pupils will not be impacted by the introduction of girls in the sixth form.
“Those boys currently in the first year will be in their last year when girl boarders join the Lower Sixth,” he said.
“We took the decision to move to a co-education and day provision in the Sixth Form in the context of a wide and ambitious vision for modernising the school which will take place over the course of several years.”
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