Dear Parents, Colleagues and Students,

I was going to write at the end of the first ten days of school about some of the things the boys and teachers have been doing and share the sense of business and excitement that comes in this term. We are looking forward to the inter-house Art Competition, to hosting the MUN, to the football match with the Old Boys, to getting to know our exchange students from around the world, to starting the preparations for Founders as well as all the myriad activities that make up the weeks ahead.
That our school provides so much opportunity, one of the reasons you have chosen it for your sons. We try to make this the most exciting learning environment for them and the masters here, and in turn we expect that they will do as well as they possibly can and will be happy and safe and kind to each other.

While this is the experience for many of the boys in this school, and in many other outstanding schools around the country, it is not the case for every child; sometimes bad things do happen in schools and not everyone has the good experience that they were expecting.

I am sure that most of you have read about or seen the news reports, particularly the NDTV Reality Check show, about the alleged sexual assault of a student at another boarding school in India. Like the murder of a child at the Ryan International School in Delhi last year, this is a story in which the truth will come out as the investigation moves forward. The case is being investigated by the police in accordance with the POCSO act and, like almost everyone else, we are in no position to comment on it. There will be those who know the truth, those who speculate and those who seek to control the narrative. 

What I think is worth saying is that as a school we believe we are in a relatively strong position to identify and address issues ranging from anti-social behaviour to the various forms of bullying that people, not just children, subject each other to. Whether it be physical, verbal, social or cyber bullying, each type has an emotional and a psychological effect that harms a person’s wellbeing. If allowed to continue, either unintentionally or deliberately, the harm can remain into a person’s adult life.

As well as a Child Welfare Committee which includes our Deputy Head Pastoral (our Child Welfare Officer), our Doctor and our Counsellors, we have an external consultant on Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Sexual Development, our nursing staff, Dames, Lifeskills teachers, Housemasters and tutors working together to share information and support children who are struggling. These staff undergo regular and specific training in Duty of Care that covers many aspects of Child Protection and Wellbeing. We also have 24 hour security on the campus to watch over the physical safety of the community.

Supervision by tutors and house staff is planned by the housemasters so that during the non-teaching part of the day there is always vigilant adult presence close by. The prefects and senior students have also been made aware of their roles in creating a safe environment for juniors, as well as their peers, through workshops and the ongoing programme of assemblies and talks.

Over the last two years all of our staff have completed a Duty of Care course that some countries require as a qualification for working in boarding schools. We did this to help our school and the houses become centres of best practice in the country for the care, support and pastoral development of the boys. By raising the collective level of skill and awareness we have set the foundation for a culture and protocol of active and professional pastoral care. Other schools in the country are now following this approach.

All of this being said, we know that bad things still happen in school and for some, the experience of being at school is one they endure.

I know a child who is isolated by the boys around them who are more concerned with conforming and what other people think with connecting.

I know a child who is more talented and able than their seniors, but who is kept in his place to wait his turn, unable to shine.

And I know a young man in who is still at the receiving end of name calling that his peers started five years ago who cannot wait to leave.

This may be the experience of three students in the school, but it is three too many and over the years I know that they have not been alone. 

The culture in which this can happen is a concern for us because it allows these things to happen to some boys at the hands of others; the worst possible outcome of this may be what has happened in that other school.

Putting systems and people in place to support our children and to respond in the event of a situation or crisis is one thing, but what has become a barrier to improving the lives of some children is the belief by students that asking for help is the same things as sneaking. This means that, too often, children have to reach breaking point before anything comes to light and everything that comes out is a nasty surprise.

Even with all of the people and systems we have in place we are still limited by a culture in which openly talking about experiences that erode the wellbeing and happiness of students is shut down. Children stay silent instead of calling others out on behaviour that everyone knows is wrong.

We need to recognise that children stay silent because they believe the consequences of speaking up are worse than what they are experiencing; the consequences of challenging the conspiracy of silence are worse than the suffering they endure.

We all, teachers, parents and prefects, need to help our intelligent, reasonable and articulate boys learn to act differently because the harm that this culture creates and perpetuates can last a life time. If they don’t learn to do things differently they will have to struggle with the contradictions and the silence all the way into adulthood. 

Our school’s mission has always been to prepare exceptional boys to serve, to be just and ethical citizens and to be wise and principled leaders; we have to help them be this in school to prepare them for life. Knowing it is one thing, doing it is another and they need our help and encouragement to practice kindness, or at least not being unkind and help it become normal. No boy wants to be unhappy or treated unkindly and no parent wants this or would find it acceptable for their child. No teacher in school sees this any differently. 

We will keep taking opportunities to help people act and to talk about what we can do to help drive the conversation. In the meantime, if any of you would like to share any ideas or concerns then please write to me, DHM, or DHP directly; our lines of communication are always open. For the boys, there is a Headmasters message box in the main building, just as there is for the school captain, Counselor and the Weekly.

Matthew Raggett
The Doon School
Mall Road
Dehradun-248 001
Uttarakhand, India