What are you looking for?

5 March 2021 | Podcasts | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Abuse in Education

itunes listen on apple podcastlisten on spotify podcastslisten on google podcasts e1686741324453

Over the years we have heard many accounts of children being abused in the Education sector. By now, it would be hoped that lessons had been learnt and sufficient safeguarding procedures would have been put in place to prevent history repeating itself.

It must be pointed out that abuse in a school environment could include any staff member, teacher or even a pupil. Abuse takes place in all types of schools including public, state, faith and special schools. Abuse can include physical, emotional or sexual and can be committed by both male and female perpetrators.

Public boarding schools take the focus of this blog. Here, many children are away from home from potentially a very young age, placed in the trusted hands of the school for long periods of time, monitored by adults who are deemed safe and responsible to look after them.

In November 2020, former teacher Matthew Mowbray from Eton College hit the headlines when he was charged with sexually assaulting three boys. Eton is a prestigious public school with formal pupils such as Prince William and Prince Harry, Hugh Laurie and David Cameron, to name just a few.

Mowbray was dismissed from Eton after his arrest in May 2019. He appeared at Slough Magistrates’ Court in November 2020 charged with offences including sexual assault, voyeurism and taking indecent photographs.

The abuse period is understood to stem over 10 years. Mowbray would visit the students late at night when they were in bed. The abuse only came to light when another pupil told a housemaster what he had seen. Mowbray pleaded guilty to eight offences of the eighteen brought against him. In December 2020, Mowbray was found guilty of eight charges and was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

At the time of writing this blog, Clifton College in Bristol also issued a public apology after a former teacher was jailed for taking indecent images of pupils in 2015.

Sadly, yet again this is another school to add to the list where sexual abuse has been disclosed. In 2018, ITV broadcast documentary Boarding Schools: The Secret Shame’ which revealed the true extent of abuse in UK’s boarding schools.

Journalist and presenter, Alex Renton, was sexually abused as a young boy by his teacher, Mr Keane, at one of the country’s top boarding schools, Ashdown House in East Sussex. The broadcast investigated some of the private schools where paedophiles groomed and assaulted young boarders repeatedly, sometimes over decades.

Schools which featured in the broadcast included;

  • Sherborne Preparatory School where headteacher Robin Lindsay abused pupils over three decades between 1970s -1990s
  • Loughton School Herefordshire where headmaster David Panter abused pupils
  • St Aubyns East Sussex where teacher George Pilgram abused pupils

In preparation for the documentary, ITV’s Exposure made Freedom of Information requests to every police force in the UK and 24 responded. The results from 2018 showed:

  • Since 2012, 425 people have been accused of carrying out sexual attacks at UK boarding schools
  • At the time there were at least 31 ongoing investigations.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) are finalising a report into the exploitation of children in residential schools. A public hearing on the second phase of the investigation took place in November 2020. The investigation is to explore how children and other agencies respond to allegations of sexual abuse by school staff and address broader questions of school culture governance, leadership, training and recruitment.

IICSA has an Inquiry Information Line you can contact on 0800 917 1000.

In December 2020, drama ‘A Teacher’ was released on BBC iPlayer. The drama played out the sexual relationship of a female teacher and male pupil. The 10-part series explored the significant impact on the pupil in later life and how it impacted his studies, relationships, and friendships. Importantly it focused on how the pupil did not realise he had been abused until years later. It is important to see such documentaries in the media to highlight that females in a position of power can abuse too.

All schools are expected to have sufficient safeguarding procedures to prevent abuse. If a school employee has committed abuse, it is possible to make a civil claim against the individual’s employer under vicarious liability if it can be established the abuse occurred during the course of employment or in a relationship akin to employment.

Schools and local authorities are insured against claims for childhood sexual abuse and therefore are more likely to be a viable Defendant in comparison to the individual abuser who may face multiple claims and have limited assets.

The Defendant will depend on whether the school is a state or private school. The Local Authority is responsible for state schools and in a private school setting, responsibility lies with the owner or the governors of the school.

The following organisations are available to contact for support:

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins or Danielle Vincent.

Author bio

Alan Collins


Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


Next steps

We’re here to get things moving. Drop a message to one of our experts and we’ll get straight back to you.

Call us: 033 3016 2222

Message us