The private Catholic boys' school I attended was not an elite institution by any description. Had it been, I might have made something of myself and you wouldn't be reading this.

Bullying, however, was indeed part of school life. I was never the object of the practice. I could run far too fast. But I was certainly there when others were bullied - usually over their appearance or because they did not meet certain adolescent-approved norms.

And for all those cases where I did nothing about it I have often felt regret.

That said, the sort of bullying that went on was not organised or institutionalised in the way it is at many schools. Scratch a King's old boy - particularly former boarders - and the tales of horror start pouring out.


But that was then.

Nowadays, some would have the word bullying replaced by "hazing". Hazing is a fuzzy sounding, amiable kind of word. It sounds so much friendlier than "assault" or "torture".

It is also much more respectable than bullying because it is part of an initiation rite. The victim undergoes an unpleasant experience that the hazers (?) also underwent in their time. He is thus bonded to the larger group through having shared that experience. In other contexts we would call this a cycle of abuse.

Why you would want to be part of a group that engages in this sort of behaviour is beyond me, and it's not clear whether the hazees (?) have a choice. I suspect not.

Hazing is clearly a euphemism, so for the purposes of this column we will give the practice its proper name: bullying.

Just as bad as the bullying is any move to dismiss it because it has always "gone on" or "they actually enjoy it" or "they know it's not serious". This is a form of bullying itself because it makes victims feel even those who should be protecting them are actually protecting the abusers.

It's not hard to make someone into a bully. Dozens of psychological experiments have shown that in certain contexts the nicest people can be made to perform the most horrible deeds. All you have to do is tell people that everyone else is doing it. Which is a slight variation on "it has always gone on".

New King's headmaster Michael Leach may still be finding his way into his role but it seems to me he is already a master of the slippery doublespeak that his pupils will be using to cover up their own commercial and political chicanery in years to come.


He has said King's has not received any "formal" complaints over the most recent incidents. Which is to say he has received at least one complaint the day after the incident.

What distinguished that from a "formal" complaint we can only speculate.

Leach did not believe the parents of the children involved would be going to the police or removing their children from the school.

What does this mean? Surely he should encourage complaints to be made to the police so he can demonstrate how seriously he means to stamp out this behaviour.

He has said: "Bullying can't be tolerated in any form." Apparently his definition of "can't be tolerated" is different from mine.

It's getting away with things at this age that gives young people - whether they are members of the privileged elite or those at the other end of the social scale - the idea that this is how things are done.

At one extreme, the result is adults who see their lot as being trapped in a cycle of welfare dependence, at the other, adults who think they can prosper, with impunity, at the expense of others.