Leaders: Cult of a sick personality must be unravelled | True test for private education
SOME things are almost too sickeningly horrible to contemplate.
About 450 people have claimed to have been victims of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile; 214 criminal offences cover a period of half a century; they occurred over most of England (and some parts of Scotland) and in 13 hospitals, including a hospice for the dying, with 14 offences in schools; more than half of victims were under the age of 16, with the youngest being an eight year-old boy … the catalogue of disgusting, nasty, appalling horror goes on and on.
Yet this was a man known, surely, to almost every household in the country, if not for his appearances on the BBC (on whose premises 23 offences occurred) as a disc jockey, but for his work raising big sums of money for the worthiest of causes such as Stoke Mandeville spinal injury hospital (24 offences) and Leeds General Infirmary (16 offences).
To most people this work, coupled with Savile’s apparent willingness to perform humdrum duties as a hospital porter despite his evident wealth, made him something of a saint. But now we know that this aura of saintliness was one of the things that protected a man from discovery as the country’s worst paedophile and sexual abuser. Celebrity conferred power, and he used it ruthlessly to exploit the vulnerable.
How can it have happened? Part of the answer is already obvious – that despite being in charge of next to nothing and having no employees, he had the power of his public image which no-one cared to challenge. From that, the explanation slides all too easily into arguments that these were different times with a different culture which, in some grotesque fashion, merged ideas of sexual freedom and permissible promiscuity and established male dominance to say, either that male sexual exploitation of minors and innocents was acceptable, or that it was not worth challenging.
Both explanations – if that is what they are – for police and prosecutorial inaction over the few allegations that were made by those willing to hurdle the fear of ridicule or worse, leave a vile taste and the nagging worry that it might still be happening. That is why an inquiry, even though the perpetrator is dead and cannot be brought to book, is the right thing to do.
It is still astonishing that the same failure to recognise and to act on serious allegations afflicted so many different institutions – police, hospitals, schools, and the BBC. These places have nothing to do with each other and yet the same failure afflicted them all. The public needs to know why.
This is not about shutting stable doors after horses have bolted. This is about learning why cornerstones of respectable society could somehow collectively have possibly tolerated, or turned a blind eye, to one person’s dreadful crimes.
And it is about using those lessons to make sure that other people of Jimmy Savile’s noxious inclinations cannot flourish as he did.
True test for private education
If people who have the wherewithal choose to spend some (or all) of it on educating their children, then of course they should be able to do so. It would be a strange totalitarian state that outlawed that choice.
Most people want to do the best for their children, and private schools, by and large, are very good educators. But some people are opposed on principle to what they see as a perpetuation of an elite – an argument that has merit.
What undoubtedly fans the flames of this argument is the charitable status commonly given to schools that receive fees for their pupils. For those who feel private schools exclude the majority and their very existence harms state education by denying it bright teachers, bright pupils and committed parents, it can be viewed as adding insult to injury: a state subsidy for elitism.
Institutions and people who do not pay their full share of tax are now a hot topic of public concern, and quite rightly so as the public is being asked to pay more tax and receive less public services.
But the best way that society as a whole can benefit from private schools is not by turning them in to a place only the very rich can afford – that would simply re-inforce an elite and make change even harder. The way to spread the benefits is to ensure that schools which do receive charitable status really do benefit a broader community. This is why the regulator has to be absolutely firm in applying the law.
It is to be applauded for doing so. And the schools should realise that it is in their best interests and they should aim, as many do, not just to pass the regulator’s test, but to go for an A.
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