Yesterday after welcoming the new head of St Bede’s and offering him my best wishes in a posting entitled Salve Richard Robson, a prospective parent wrote a comment asking why I am so vindictive about the school when he on inspection found it so warm and wonderful. He asked me for my thoughts and so I sat down early this morning to answer and my thoughts turned into so many words I decided to make another posting on the subject. And to get one thing clear before we start I have no “beef” with the school, I wish it well, my “beef” is with the management and governance of the school. It is this lack of good management and governance that the ISI report picked up on in its report early this year and unfortunately this problem has been apparent for some time and has created untold damage to its history, tradition and ongoing performance.
So Alun, for it was Alun who asked me about my “beef” yesterday, I think I should set out my history with the school. I attended Bede’s from September 1957 until July 1963 at which time, disheartened and dejected by my experiences but never abused sexually, Monsignor Duggan asked me to leave, my one and only interview with the man. I did not appeal, I was happy to leave. I had started in the top ten of the class in Upper thirds and slowly but surely worked my way down to the bottom three or four. I was in the Classics stream and achieved six O level passes out of seven subjects, the maximum taken in Classics. It can be said that except for games I did not enjoy my time there.
However when it came to educate my children I firmly believed the school had changed, a new head with good staff and they had just started to go co-educational and better still it was just round the corner from where we lived. Four of my children went there and a fifth would have except we moved to Ireland and he received his secondary education in that country.
Three girls and one boy attended, the three girls did well eventually moving on to Jesus College, Oxford, Goldsmiths College in London and University College in Dublin. The boy did not settle, although intelligent, the school was not for him and after moving on to Xaverian 6th form, he went to Liverpool University. They attended Bede’s between 1986 and 2006, when it would be fair to say that the College was at the height of its powers, led by a head who kept a tight grip on most things.
Everything so far reasonably good but in November 2009 the Murphy Report was published in Ireland dealing with the clerical abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the subsequent cover up of this abuse by the Church Authorities. This was my Damascene moment, I was appalled by this cover up and started to realise how corrupt the Church really was. I ceased to call myself a Catholic after being a reasonably good one, I had always followed the teachings and practices of the Church all my life.
At this same cathartic moment but not because of, I decided to start a blog, writing about everything and anything, whatever took my fancy when I awoke each morning, really to improve my writing skills and I enjoyed the practice. One day in February 2010 I started to write on a Bedian theme. I wrote of my experiences at the school and one day I wrote about a friend of mine, Michael, who had been sent up to Monsignor Duggan and from being a very bright boy he started to immediately go down hill until eventually he was thrown out of the school at the end of the Easter term in 1963. Ten years later on a visit to Manchester he told me of his abuse at the hands of Duggan, he would have been 13 or 14 years old. I was staggered and from that day in 1973 until 2010 I naively thought he was the only boy to have suffered. He never had a job and eventually died in a crack den in Gorton in his early fifties.
So you can imagine my surprise when I started receiving e-mails from all over the world from former pupils at Bede’s telling of their experiences and the abuse they suffered from Duggan and others. this outpouring of grief made me weep at times because of the wasted lives of the individuals concerned. Tales from Australia, New Zealand, China, The Ukraine, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, England, Ireland, America and Canada. It was as though they were all trying to get as far away from Bede’s as they could, running from the awful experiences they had suffered. Stupidly I approached the Safeguarding Commission of the Salford Diocese. My experiences with these people are well chronicled, all they want to do is keep a lid on any abuse but it ended up with the half-hearted apology from the bishop in March 2011 and will conclude with a case to be brought before the High Court in London in probably late 2015.
My experiences in dealing with the Salford Diocese during these last four years have proven to me how deceitful, conniving, divisive and non-tranparent the Church is on this and other issues. They are a most un-christian organisation.
So up to this time my grievance was with the Diocese, I had no interest with the school but I had been made aware of further publicised abuse at the school caused by the activities of William Green. By 2012 I was in regular contact with about 70 or 80 former pupils who were telling me of abuse that had taken place at the school from 1950 into the turn of the century, 50 odd years of mainly abusing priests. The court case next year concerns the abuse by Duggan and others in the period 1950 – 1966, the Green case covered the period from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. Through correspondence I have learnt of other instances outside of these periods with other members of staff.
One day about three years ago I was talking to Sarah McDonald, the well known documentary maker who has specialised in this subject of child abuse. She told me from her experiences in institutions that once it becomes active in a location, it is almost impossible to eradicate it and certainly Bede’s have never confronted this problem, preferring to ignore its dangers and this philosophy showed itself clearly to the inspectors on their ISI visit to Bede’s late last year. Whatever meaning and thought you put into words historic abuse is unfortunately now in all cases. It will not go away until confronted and dealt with properly. Bede’s have never done this.
In June 2011 I was handed a note, for that is all it was, from Monsignor Michael Quinlan, then Chair of Governors, to all parents informing them that the present head Michael Barber had left the school and a new head had been appointed, Daniel Kearney. Getting rid of one head and appointing another in a matter of hours struck me as a very odd way of doing business and I started taking an interest in proceedings at the school. People started writing to me about incidents that had happened in College, the turnover of staff, the lack of morale amongst the staff and the dissatisfaction of parents under this new regime. I could see there was something seriously wrong, so I started taking a real interest.
All I can say is that in six years Bede’s has now had four heads and one acting head and more changes in the Board of Governors than you would consider reasonable. I fear there is a cancer within the management and governance of the school which will take some considerable effort to remove, if it is at all possible and I have given Richard Robson, the new head, my best wishes and hope that he can retrieve the situation. He will need all the help he can get.
My intention is not to sway you one way or the other regarding your child’s education, there are clearly some decent teachers still at the school but over the next 18 months the outside pressures about to be brought on the place in terms of historical clerical abuse will be devastating for all concerned. Behind this facade of “a genuinely warm atmosphere, with every person to a man, woman, boy and girl being friendly, respectful and welcoming” there is a lot of dirt under the carpet. After all Bede’s is a business and the brave and welcoming face will always be put forward.
Academically the school has dropped in six or seven years from one of the high achievers in the North West to no better than a decent comprehensive school. It is only a shadow of what it was when my children were there and the verbal abuse I have had from present pupils suggests it aint going to improve in the short term.
The suggestion by Jimmy J in a comment on yesterday’s posting that the school “has had its fair share of difficulties” recently is possibly a massive understatement. So Alun those are my thoughts and I wish you well with yours. As far as I can see you will have a lot easier ride elsewhere.