Sunday 19th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WSP: Caedmon ‘Incident’

WSP: Caedmon ‘Incident’

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering an opinion on developments in the days following the public Consultation meeting held at Whitby Pavilion on Wednesday 8th March 2023.

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Regular readers may recall my article reporting on the Consultation meeting regarding the proposed amalgamation of the Whitby secondary schools:

Many of those present were shocked by the testimony of several pupils who offered their comments, with commendable courage and unquestionable credibility, on the subject of bullying and substance-abuse at both Caedmon and Eskdale schools.

Before moving on, let me offer a personal opinion on the subject of bullying in schools.

It is six decades since I experienced bullying at school. It was my understanding then, as it is now, that bullying is endemic in education (primary and secondary). It takes many forms and degrees. It can comprise one-on-one bullying in the form of physical violence or threats of violence, as well as a more insidious form – euphemistically called “peer pressure” – in which one pupil (or group of pupils) uses threats and/or derision to coerce one or a number of other pupils to commit acts which they would otherwise strenuously avoid and vigorously resist.

There is a sense in which bullying can be viewed as an inevitable concomitant of young people finding themselves in a competitive environment, seeking to establish some spurious supremacy over others who are perceived as weak or isolated. It is never pleasant and never acceptable. But however distasteful, bullying may be regarded as an inescapable manifestation of a particularly unattractive aspect of the human condition; the urge to dominate – a show of ‘strength’, perhaps even a ‘rite of passage’.

In my day, bullying attracted heavy punishment. Sometimes, this punishment took the form of canings – “six of the best”, as it was known – detentions and other forms of censure (prohibition from participation in sporting activities, attending outings or other ‘treats’, etc) or, in extreme cases, expulsion.

Present-day teachers tell me that expulsion is rare indeed – a last resort that deprives the school of funding, which is allocated on a per capita basis. Corporal punishment has been prohibited in all state-supported schools in the UK since 1986.

It is my recollection – and I have since checked this with others who were present – that, at the evening session of the Consultation meeting, the Executive Head Teacher who presides over the operational conduct of the Whitby Secondary Partnership, Mr Jamie HENSHAW, sought to deny (truthfully or otherwise – I cannot know which) any awareness of these issues.

I understood him to have undertaken to investigate the reality behind these allegations “tomorrow” (meaning Thursday 9th March 2023).

Two school days elapsed (Thursday and Friday) before, on Monday 13th March at 4:50pm, Caedmon College issued the following statement concerning an “incident” which had taken place that morning:

This followed reports made to me, starting at around midday on 13th March, that a pupil had collapsed in the toilets and since been rushed to hospital in Sheffield and placed on a ventilator. Reliable parent-sources  informed me that this horrendous “incident” involved a pupil having apparently been bullied or coerced into an act of substance-abuse, with life threatening consequences.

Nothing in this Caedmon statement offers any reassurance that the Executive Head Teacher had taken any steps to prevent an “incident” of this sort since his undertaking last Wednesday evening.

I would emphasise that no good can come from social media speculation about the identities of those involved.

Let us rather direct our thoughts and compassion to the victim, family and friends, who can only be distraught in the extreme.

The Yorkshire Post has already covered this, under its Crime section, here:

The report concludes:

I have stated elsewhere that, in my view, the circumstances which have led to the WSP Board of Governors requesting the Education Authority to conduct a Consultation on the subject of the proposed amalgamation of the two schools are fundamentally financial circumstances predicated on the sustainability of the schools – in particular, the viability of the continued existence of Eskdale School. I have characterised these circumstances as a failure of management – a failure of the Board of Governors.

What is now abundantly and lamentably clear is that a failure of management of tragic magnitude has now played out. It has already been publicly stated that toilets at both schools are kept locked during lesson times as a preventative measure. This seems to belie the Executive Head Teacher’s protestations of being unaware of the prevalence of substance-abuse and bullying. The “incident” described above as having taken place in the toilets can surely have arisen only in direct consequence of a lack of supervision or monitoring, with unforgivable consequences.

In my view – and many may disagree – the “incident” which I have outlined above represents another management failure of a far higher degree of importance than “financial issues”.

In my day, it was considered a matter of honour that a Head Teacher presiding over a failure of such magnitude had available to him (or her) only one ethical course of action – to accept full and ultimate responsiblility for the failures and resign forthwith, in the best interests of the pupils, the parents and the school as a whole.

This reinforces my opinion that the Governors must:

1). Write to the Education Authority c/o County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON, withdrawing the request for “amalgamation”;

2). Write to the Education Authority c/o County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON, requesting the appointment of an Interim Board of Directors;

3). Resign, en bloc, immediately thereafter.

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