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School CP - February 1986

Corpun file 3730

The Mail on Sunday, London, 2 February 1986

"Please Rescue me from School"

Analysis by Sue Reid
Education Correspondent

"I HATE this school I got six whallops pants down. Tell Mum I shouldn't belong here. Get me out, I'm scared."

THE AUTHOR of this letter and many others of a similar sort is ten-year-old Duncan Ampleford. They speak of the eight long weeks last autumn he was at a school called Dalesdown in Horsham, West Sussex. What makes these letters so important is because they talk about the treatment he says he suffered at the hands of a headmaster against whom very similar allegations have been made in the past.

Derek Slade, a 36-year-old bachelor and Oxford graduate, left another private school four years ago after being accused of abusing boys there.

Before that he resigned from one of the country's most respected prep schools, The Dragon, Oxford, because his headmaster said: 'He and I have a difference of opinion on corporal punishment. This came to light from a parent's complaint. He was using corporal punishment to instil a knowledge of Latin.

But it was in 1982 that the spotlight really fell on Mr Slade.

A responsible BBC radio programme Checkpoint had conducted a series of interviews with pupils and nine former teachers at his former school, St George's. It is alleged that he:

  • Set essays for pupils entitled 'Whackings I have had'.
  • Beat boys with a jokari bat, stick and gym shoe.
  • Kept a full record, in Greek, of children's reactions to punishments.
  • Threw Christmas parties where forfeits were demanded and some boys ended up naked.

After this report there was a Department of Education inspection which gave a clean bill of health to St George's and, his supporters say, cleared him.

The inspectors said that they were unable to substantiate the more serious allegations.

AT THE TIME the BBC said "We are standing by everything we said in the programme. We know the inspectors visited the school after the programme when the disciplinary procedures had been modified. We also know the inspectors are critical of discipline arrangements at the school."

Whatever the rights and wrongs of all this, within 24 hours of this report Mr Slade resigned as headmaster. And two years later he set up business again, this time in Horsham.

Astonishingly, in this country anyone can advertise for pupils and establish a school, with only a cursory check from officialdom. They don't even have to be trained as a teacher.

The only people who are barred from teaching are those with a criminal record. They are named on a notorious list 99 at the Education Ministry. To cut costs, private schools are no longer recognised as efficient by Her Majesty's Inspectors, a rigorous check that once made them the envy of the world.

Today they are simply registered, which tells the man in the street little more than they exist. And it is only after a new school is actually in operation that the inspectors call in to have a look.

Mr Slade's new 575-a-term school with its board of governors, and its motto - Rectus Constat (Standing Firm) - its sober grey uniforms, white sun hats in summer and days out called exeats, is everything a traditional English prep school should appear.

There may only be 32 pupils at. Dalesdown but it seems to be thriving. Duncan Ampleford's letters, if taken on face value, show a rather different picture however.

They are written by a boy who could have known nothing of Slade's past history and was only six when Mr Slade left St George's, saying he had done so because to remain would make him "the potential victim of any irresponsible crank who chose to invent new allegations".

Duncan Ampleford's letters hardly come into this category, yet this ten-year-old's stories of bare-bottom spanking, essays on beatings and tape-recorded punishment, have an eerie echo of similar allegations made against Mr Slade at St George's.

As his fear mounted he wrote a letter to his mother saying; 'I want to come home!!!!, I need you, I'm I am scared of anything happening. We discovered that Sladey (Mr Slade) tapes our whackings. And for detention you have to write about them. I must come home, I'm scared.'

In another letter Duncan sent to his mother: I just want to be rescued. Write and tell me whether or not you will come and WHEN! Please ... come in the car and get me out of here. 'I don't want to be whacked for losing my RE book. And I only left it on my desk.'

In a further letter he wrote: 'Dear Mum ... Don't phone Mr Slade up just get me out of this dump. It's the worst school you could have picked. I want to come home...'

Finally he threatened to run away and wrote home: 'I've tried to convince you that this school is terrible, I've just about given up so you better hurry up and change your mind because I may have to run away. HURRY UP!!!!! For your sake and my sake.'

DUNCAN'S mother is Maureen Ampleford, an Army officer's daughter and 33-year-old librarian with the international Wheat Council in London. She was pressed into signing a form permitting Mr Slade to use corporal punishment on Duncan. 'I did so most reluctantly because I wanted him settled quickly into a boarding school as I was having to commute to London from my house in Billingshurst, Sussex, because of my job,' she said. 'I thought corporal punishment would only be used for really serious offences like stealing or bullying.

'I was told by Dalesdown boys how they had been spanked for failing desk inspection, not getting 100 per cent in a French test or tearing their exercise books. Trivial things.'

When a worried Mrs Ampleford went to collect Duncan and take him home in November, she stood in a dormitory while her son packed his trunk for the last time. She recalled: 'One boy called Alex came in and I asked him, "Is it true that yesterday you were spanked by Mr Slade who taped it?" He replied "yes".

'But other boys started telling Alex not to talk about it. They told me that Mr Slade had warned them not to mention about the beatings to parents. He said it was spreading rumours.'

The Dalesdown prospectus says authoritatively: 'It is inevitable that boys will misbehave from time to time. Boys will accept this discipline as long as it is seen to be fair and to have their own best interests at heart. 'As well as minor sanctions, the school may use extra work, detention or corporal punishment. We do not subscribe to advanced psychological approaches, and we do believe that children are responsible for their own actions.'

But at the beginning of last September, Mr Slade apparently changed his tune. He wrote to parents promising corporal punishment would be replaced on an experimental basis by detention.

OMINOUSLY, he added: 'Incidentally, ceasing to use corporal punishment, as the ultimate deterrent does not mean we have abolished a "good smack" with the hand.' Duncan Ampleford has made a full statement to the police, who have told The Mail on Sunday the matter is under active investigation.

Mr Slade has been presented by us with the same statement. When this happened he put his head in his hands and said: 'This is terrible. I cannot comment on any of it.'

He added: 'The school is being run in a reasonable way and no action of mine has been anything but proper.

'This is a happy thriving school. The boys are not threatened or illtreated. There are inaccuracies and innuendo in this boy's story:

The chairman of the Dalesdown governors, Andrew Steel, told us that the allegations are being fully investigated by the school. The governors have just received a full report from the headmaster.

Mr Steel said: 'The boys here are lively, happy bunch of kids. I am disturbed by the allegations made against Mr Slade and we are treating the matter very seriously. But the Department of Education's inquiry into St George's did exonerate him.'

Yet very similar allegations were made at St George's where Mr Slade's name first came to prominence.

It is, of course, always difficult exactly to pin down accusations made by some boys about their teachers.

Of Mr Slade, it may therefore be said that he is either extremely unlucky -- or extremely careless.

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