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Principal: ‘Astonishing’ autonomy of housemasters allowed Gordonstoun bullying to go unchecked

Gordonstoun school in Moray. Picture by Andrew Smith/Shutterstock
Gordonstoun school in Moray. Picture by Andrew Smith/Shutterstock

The amount of trust placed in house masters at Gordonstoun in the sixties and seventies allowed bullying to take place, the Moray school’s current principal has told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

Lisa Kerr said the faith placed by the school in its house masters was “astonishing and completely unacceptable” by modern standards.

The abuse panel heard that the private school has uncovered 11 alleged incidents of abuse as well as 82 claims of bullying between students there.

Ms Kerr told the inquiry: “I think the level of autonomy that was granted to the house masters in that era is at a level that these days we’d find astonishing and completely unacceptable.

“And it’s not hard to draw a line between that and, particularly, the peer-on-peer bullying that some students experienced.”

She added: “There are, to be candid, there are individual incidents, some of them particularly serious.

“But there is a period of particular concern where some houses were clearly not well run and if that was known about, nothing appropriate was done about it.”

‘It went too far’

Gordonstoun is among Scotland’s most prestigious private schools, and counted the Duke of Edinburgh among its first pupils.

His three sons Charles, Andrew and Edward also attended.

Andrew Brown QC, the senior counsel to the inquiry, questioned Ms Kerr on the autonomy given to house masters.

He asked: “Does the school accept that that sort of set-up can allow a code of silence, where things are kept in-house?”

Gordonstoun principal Lisa Kerr. Picture by Peter Jolly

Ms Kerr responded: “I’ve reflected a great deal on why that culture might have existed. It wasn’t a universal experience.

“There was one house where there were not significant issues.

“I think there were a couple of possibilities for this. That amount of trust and autonomy went wrong, it went too far.

“The second is it was during a period of time where people were of the completely unacceptable view that these things just happened.

“Staff moving from other schools, or even some pupils, coming from a culture where these things just happened.”

Hearing from survivors

A child protection policy was adopted by the school in 1995, the inquiry heard, and Ms Kerr said survivors were able to get in contact with the school.

She said: “We have set up an alumni response team who are trained to speak to survivors of abuse. Switchboard operators are trained on how to hear survivors.”

The reported incidents are to be explored in the autumn, when former Gordonstoun pupils will give evidence.

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