Boarding School Action was a blog set up by me, Sally Fraser, some years ago. I spent a lot of time campaigning against boarding schools but I am no longer active in this field. Contact Boarding Concern or Boarding School Survivors if you are interested.

I leave this blog up as I think its helpful to see lots of information gathered together in one place.

You can also watch a debate about this here:




37 thoughts on “

  1. I whole heartedly agree with anyone who wishes to ban boarding schools – children need their education but essentially need their families, & caring environment to ‘grow’ in. If I was in a position to be able to I would outlaw any form of boarding school. I speak only as a parent not as an ‘ex’ boarder.

    • I totally agree. Having spent ten years in the 60s and 70s experiencing this curious British practice that amounts to parents discarding their children, unwanted, to part time orphanages, I would ban them in a heartbeat. They are a despicabe anachronism and are little more than socially sanctioned child abuse.

      • great to hear from you Jim and Barry, please consider signing up to become supporters of BSA if you haven’t already done so, we have lots of plans as to how we will be ramping up our efforts over the coming months. SF

      • I’M ALL IN!

        I have suffered since the age of 7 and have naturally become an addict to drugs and alcohol because of it.

        I’ve been a loner living in fear and anger and been to hell and back like a yoyo ever since.

        Finally I have surrendered, am clean and sober and working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous but also accepted treatment at last, for my buildup of many years of depression and mood disorders.

        Boarding School ruined my life and I will do anything to help others in the same situation and to see the ban on under 15’s boarding schools come into action!

    • I agree: just read Don’t Come Crying Home to see the happenings and effect of institutional life on young boys.

  2. Nick Duffel says that the emotional neglect follows the children in their adult life. This can lead to suicide. His argumentation isn’t good because he generalizes.

  3. I have lost count of how many people we have heard from who suffered abuse at their boarding schools. This ranges from sadistic physical and sexual abuse to the psychological impact of feeling abandoned by the very people who are supposed to nurture and love their children……..parents.
    Why, when we have a country dotted everywhere with good schools, do we have to put so many children into the care of others?
    Pete Saunders
    National Association for People Abused in Childhood

    • I’m not a boarding school survivor, I’m actually have the proud story that I refused to go to one, when a giftedness advisor recommended one at age 8. My mum knew I would not deliver academically if sent to it unhappily.But despite that I, still eventually became a victim of the wishful thinking gifted movement by pressure abuse – and that resulted in a forced weekly-boarding experience in a teenage psychiatry unit for 6 months, just because they were dogmatic for separation from mothers. A bodily offence happened as part of the treatment…

      No, I’m posting just to respond to the mention of NAPAC. They have become able to shoo you off their phone helpline with interrupted sentences and saying “unfortunately”, exactly what any nervous phoner most fears and will most shatter their confidence, and of ignoring you when you complain about it and publicly blog sbout it. And have shown a double standard of not wanting to tell TV channel S4C to open up the past like BBC has had to.

  4. I’m fifty shades of fucked up. Mother suffered post natal depression when I was born, and I was taken away from her, so she never bonded with me, nor I with her.

    I was taken back to the UK by my grandmother, a woman who years later would later admit on her deathbed, to her two daughters (my mother and aunt), that she never loved my mother.

    During my childhood, I constantly wanted to “catch up” with my younger brother in terms of getting hugs and affection from my mother, but never could. You never can.

    Then I was sent away to boarding school completely unprepared for socialization, weak, needy, terrified, angry.

    I escaped when rumours (probably untrue) of sexual abuse reached my parents. Dumped back into a mixed comprehensive school in the middle of adolescence, I was asocial, terrified of girls, though of course fascinated. My schoolwork went downhill. I failed “A” levels, and left early into vocational education.

    I’ve never had a good intimate relationship in my life. I’m 53. I’m broken. Children MUST NOT be separated from their mother.

    • Wow! I thought I had a difficult childhood in orphanages (read that in Don’t Come Crying Home) but yours seems more torture all round. And it’s a struggle to sort out an identity and a life of friendships and bonds.

    • I agree, children must not be separated from their mothers. But at the 2014 G20 summit, the political and economic leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies agreed unanimously that ‘women have to go back to work’. But the only women who are not working, or not working full-time are mothers. What they meant was “Mothers have to go back to work”. But mothering is the most productive work in the nation. Good enough mothering prevents the suffering you describe and creates new citizens who are able to learn, make and keep friends, work effectively, find lifelong love, and become good parents.

      I am sorry for the suffering you have experienced. I’ve experienced some of these events too, so I have quite a good idea of what you have been through. It’s hard for people who have had good mothering to understand, but some do. have you tried therapy? I found psychoanalytic therapy helpful.

      Just based on stories I have come across there seems to often be a pattern when mothers have post-natal depression. Often the mother’s own mother had severe PND, or was separated from her baby shortly after birth or during early childhood. Or the mother was rejecting of her baby/child. Has anyone else noticed such a pattern? If others have noted this pattern, then it seems strange to me that I have never heard of a research study into PND that explores the intergenerational history. Is there an intergenerational pattern of depression, separation, rejection?

      • Hi Moira
        Yes, therapy is fine but how many of us can afford it? I am a practising Buddhist (who went to a Quaker boarding school – ugh!) and have written about depression and Buddhist training. Mindfulness, while not easy to stick with, is a way of understanding our minds. My own therapy is self-therapy! (Some more about this on my blog.)

        • Hi Erikleo,
          Yes, therapy is expensive. I was just replying to someone in pain and telling him what I found helpful–and expensive.
          I think the only solution is prevention. Which of course is no solution for those of us who suffered boarding school.
          I am concerned about the pressure parents, especially mothers, are under to place children in childcare. this can be even worse than boarding school, but people seem to shut their eyes to the suffering of many children, and of their parents.
          government childcare benefits should go straight to the parents to use either for childcare or to enaable a parent to be a full-time child carer. which is what most parents think is best for children.

  5. NATE
    National Association For Therapeutic Education
    Patrons: Graham Allen MP Sir David Amess MP Gregory Barker* Bishop Paul Bayes Richard Benyon MP Gerry Bermingham* Clive Betts* Nicola Blackwood MP Tom Blenkinsop MP David Borrow * Dr Peter Brand* Julian Brazier MP Steve Brine MP Helen Brinton* Annette Brooke* Robert Buckland MP Paul Burstow* Bishop Paul Butler Alex Carlile QC* Neil Carmichael MP Lord Chidgey* Tom Clarke CBE* Vernon Coaker MP Rosie Cooper MP Brian Cotter* Lord Cotter John Cryer MP Alex Cunningham MP Sir Tony Cunningham* Cynog Dafis* Bryan Davies* Philip Davies MP Rt Hon David Davis MP Jim Dobbin* Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP Brian Donohue* Mark Durkan MP Rt Rev Lord Eames OM Bill Esterson MP Bill Etherington * Nigel Evans MP Mark Fisher * Robert Flello MP Howard Flight* Barbara Follett * Michael Gapes MP Rt Hon Sir Edward Garnier QC MP Dr Ian Gibson* Stephen Gilbert* Lord Glentoran CBE DL Mary Glindon MP Sir Richard Glyn BT Thomas Graham* Professor Sir Denis Pereira Gray OBE Baroness Greengross OBE Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP Fabian Hamilton MP Mike Hancock CBE* Sir Nick Harvey* Lord Haskins John Hemming* Sharon Hodgson MP Adam Holloway MP Paul Holmes * Baroness Hooper CMG Bishop Alan Hopes Rt Hon Lord Howarth of Newport CBE Rt Hon George Howarth MP Baroness Howe of Idlicote CBE Dr Kim Howells * Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP Andrew Hunter* Dr Brian Iddon * Cathy Jamieson* Brian Jenkins* Jon Owen Jones* Dr Lynne Jones * Martyn Jones * Nigel Jones* Fraser Kemp* Andy King* Rt Hon Lord Knight of Weymouth Pauline Latham OBE MP Professor Lord Layard Andrea Leadsom MP John Leech* Sir Edward Leigh MP Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP Professor the Baroness Lister of Burtesett CBE Bob Litherland* Elfyn Llwyd* Andy Love* Karen Lumley MP Dr Wendy Lynas PhD Rob Marris * Baroness Masham of Ilton DL Patrick Mercer OBE * Norman Mikardo Penny Mordaunt MP George Mudie* Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor Bishop James Newcome Mark Oaten * Lembit Opik * Diana Organ* Sandra Osborne* Bob Parry* Rt Hon Priti Patel MP Peter Pike* Bishop Stephen Platten Chris Pond* Mark Prisk MP Bishop John Pritchard Lord Rana MBE Syd Rapson BEM* Bishop John Rawsthorne Bishop Dr Lee Rayfield Lord Rea Of Eskdale MD FRCGP Bishop Edwin Regan Margaret Ritchie MP Dan Rogerson* Sir Bob Russell* Christine Russell * Martin Salter * Adrian Sanders* Laura Sandys* Barry Sheerman MP Henry Smith MP Archbishop Peter Smith Peter Snape* Gerry Sutcliffe* Lord Taverne QC Simon Thomas* Baroness Thornton John Thurso* Dr Desmond Turner * Dr Rudi Vis * Baroness Walmsley Mark Williams MP Roger Williams* Lord Willis of Knaresborough ( * formerly Member of Parliament ) 59 Birdham Road Chichester PO19 8TB 07984654503 /15

    The Underlying Crisis in Childhood – The Nation’s Most Critical Social and Institutional Failures

    The nation’s most critical social failure is the inability of successive generations of adults to resource the formative emotional development of many children.* This is the underlying cause of profound and intractable social issues which confront the UK.

    Symptoms of this failure are diverse and include low levels of a sense of wellbeing among children and young people ** and a significant incidence of mental ill health. *** But the long term effects of emotional delay and suspense in infancy are complicated by the fact that many psychologically undeveloped children are able to mirror adult expectation and can make a superficial social adjustment at least. A proportion of these eventually emerge as conditioned, socially functioning adults who experience varying degrees of emotional delay or suspense. This has potentially devastating implications for individual lives and for the collective ability of the nation to function socially and to live sustainably. Much self seeking, self defeating, deviant and disturbed behaviour stems from this source. The direct and indirect long term effects of early psychological deprivation in adult society are complex and far reaching and have potential to influence key institutions and fuel the nation’s most challenging social and economic problems.

    Amid disturbing statistics and growing disquiet from national and international organisations concerned with Human Rights, Government is becoming aware of the failure of many children to achieve formative emotional growth. As understanding deepens at national level there has been ambiguity from Ministers and their initial response has predictably been to focus State intervention in Early Years. But the preschool sector is not fully subject to statutory constraint and cannot be easily controlled from Westminster. Partly for these reasons the success of Government policy has been limited and much confusion remains.****

    As national leaders work to improve the effectiveness of State intervention in Early Years, a further potential key strategy has yet to be considered by Government . Since 1995 – amid the nationwide collapse of therapeutic education for severely disturbed children – the National Association for Therapeutic Education NATE has consistently drawn attention to the nation’s most critical institutional failure. This is the continuing general failure of the school system to resource formative emotional growth. Child education exists to realise the emotional/spiritual, social, intellectual/creative and physical potential of each individual. In theory it is an integral function of primary education and the infant sector in particular, to provide conditions for formative psychological development. Because infant schools are statutorily regulated they could and should be equipped to assist in resolving the underlying crisis in childhood by resourcing formative emotional growth. But in practice they are generally prevented from doing so by Government constraint. Progress is slow but it is anticipated that the full potential of the infant sector will eventually be recognized by the State and its advisers and infant schools will become a uniquely effective intrinsic part of an Early Years progression of 0-7 years at least.

    A central purpose of the National Association for Therapeutic Education is to persuade senior Government leaders to restore a specialist therapeutic school service for severely emotionally disturbed children nationwide but more importantly to address the continuing general failure of the UK school system to resource formative emotional growth. NATE has defined in simple terms the circumstances for formative emotional development in childhood. These include protection, control, consistency, acceptance, guidance and insight within the context of secure individual relationships between children and adults. The potential means to assimilate these conditions in infant education have also been identified but they have yet to be implemented. Efforts are continuing to engage the interest of senior national leaders in the proposed solution outlined here. For more information please contact

    John Tierney Director National Association for Therapeutic Education NATE
    * ‘As many as 40% of children lack secure bonds with adults.’ (Baby Bonds – Sutton Trust 2014)
    ** ‘…in 2007 placed the UK at the bottom of 21 developed countries for overall child well-being.’ (United Nations 2013)
    *** ‘It is calculated that, at any one time, 20% of children and adolescents experience psychological problems.’ (Bright Futures -Mental Health Foundation 1999) – ‘Given that one in four people (and growing) will experience mental health problems this is an issue that affects us all.’ (Mental Health Foundation 2014)
    **** Government intervention in Early Years is a ‘confused mess’. (Principal Social Worker 2014)
    ‘There are serious and deeply ingrained problems with the commissioning and provision of Children’s and Adolescents’ Mental Health Services.’ (Health Select Committee Report 2014)

    • Wow! A strong indictment of lack of Government commitment. It is so stupid and dangerous, not to take care of childhood; apart from individual suffering, often life-long, this results in massive costs to society and so to the nation. training and the neceassry financing will be, and is, the commonsense way to go: invest in childhood to reap the benefitss in adulthood. William.

    • Dear John,
      I agree on the need for Formative Emotional Development in childhood.

      I am a bit concerned at what the NATE envisions. Am I wrong to think you envision an extension of schooling down to infancy years?

      I’m concerned that you do not mention mothers or mothering.

      Government and other bureaucracies seem to automatically seek solutions in some bureaucratic structure and to overlook the natural persons, mothers and fathers, who are most committed to children’s welfare.

      “It is the emotional availability of the [mother] in intimacy which seems to be the most central growth-promoting feature of the early rearing experience” (Emde, 1988, p. 32). 1.

      ‘And in her soothing and calming functions, the mother is also regulating the child’s oxytocin levels. It has been suggested that oxytocin, a vagally-controlled hormone with antistress effects, is released by “sensory stimuli such as tone of voice and facial expression conveying warmth and familiarity” . 2.

      In regulating the infant’s vagal tone and cortisol level, . . . [the mother] is also influencing the ongoing development of . . . the child’s developing coping capacities.’ 3

      1. Cited in Schore, Allan N. 2003. Affect Dysregulation & Disorders of the Self. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, p. 79.
      2. Uvnas-Moberg, Kerstin. 2003. The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping The Hormone Of Calm, Love, and Healing: Da Capo Press; A Merloyd Lawrence Book, p. 2.
      3. Schore, Allan N. 2003. Affect Dysregulation, p. 81-82.

      I ask NATE to research how government policies make it difficult for mothers to mother their children.

      for example, you oould consult with Mothers At Home Matter.

      Yours sincerely,

      Moira Eastman, PhD

  6. I am an ex-boarder from India. And my parents sent me to an English missionary type boarding school at the age of eight.
    I am now 55, married, with a ten year old son, and going through a slew of marital and career problems: so complex and confusing that I just feel so utterly helpless!
    It wasn’t till just a few days back that a school friend of mine shared an article that spoke about the ‘boarding school syndrome’ that I got to know about this ‘condition’. And, after reading up further, all I can say is that whatever has been said is so uncannily true!
    I fully endorse the action you plan to take to bring about a change in the system.

      • Thank you for the link.
        Damage was done within institutions, even if there were good intentions right from the beginning.Poor houses were a place of shame and dreadful abuse. Many people were locked behind closed doors and the key was thrown away. Lord Shaftesbury did much to reform ‘lunatic asylums’ and improve education for the poor, but there was plenty of abuse within the systems he set up. Dr. Barnardo did amazing work for vulnerable children; orphans, immigrant children, the destitute etc. By today’s standards what was provided was terrible, but it was an improvement to the prior experience. THere is a huge question about whether we should judge yesterdays actions by today’s standards and ethical principles.
        There was and is always a tension between the power and control of the philanthropists who may have had the vision to see where social needs existed, but they were from a level of social standing that meant that decisions were made by them, not the workers or the children themselves. Their good Christian, Jewish or other moral views tended to push them forward into making lives better, but the quality of children’s lives did not always improve; the abuse of the system could involve an overwhelming abuse of power – one that was often justified. The child would be made pure through hard work or being physically punished because of their own sin (or the sin of their mother – the sins of the father’s are visited unto..? generations), or whatever. Bitter low-level workers lacked – and still lack skills to nurture the broken spirits of orphans or emotionally broken young children. Even today the government run or supported provision, or charities supported by secular societies or the churches, offer their services on a top-down power system; the bottom rung and receivers of the services have absolutely no say in what they are to receive. Service providers are rarely trained sufficiently well; their own childhood abuse surfaces when they become stressed and their lack of strategies to cope means that they commit abuses on their charges.Paternalism is part of the problem in almost all social services, institutions, shelters for the homeless, boarding schools, residential school for indigenous children, orphanages/children’s homes/group homes, homes for the elderly, and student accommodations. Until more democratic systems can be in place abuses will continue.

    • I was sent to a boarding school before I turned four, and this followed two extended prior separations from my mother.
      I feel I have a pretty good idea o the kinds of difficulties and problems you are facing.
      I urge you to get good therapy, from a good attachment therapist.
      I had about ten years of psychoanalytic therapy. But not by an attachment therapist. I think an attachment therapist would have got further quicker. But the therapy had a profoundly helpful effect.
      Good luck and best wishes,
      Moira Eastman PhD

  7. I was sent to Catholic boarding school in 1963, aged 8 1/2, stayed for just over a year, was abused by a priest whilst there, but managed to persuade my parents to extract me before I imagine the priest would have moved towards penetration, so I was luckier than some!! My older brother and sister were sent to board, my 2 younger sisters went abroad with the parents, which effectively split the family. I thought that I had dealt with the experience, although did not tell my parents the real reason, who would believe it? I had many sexual partners in my 20-30’s, all very intense but short lived, Married at 30, and divorced at 38, married again at 43, and currently being divorced, I am now 61. I have always struggled with a sense of identity, find it difficult to make lifelong relationships, do not trust easily, have low self esteem, live generally in denial, and fear, and I imagine, a deeply hidden sense of shame and maybe even guilt, and having read the numerous postings on these sites, I clearly fit the general descriptions, I feel that I have ‘coped’ with the issues rather than dealt with them, and have no doubt that my earlier experiences have created problems in my current marriage, although I am wary of confusing my issues with normal meaning of life issues. It is a relief to find so many similar stories, we are not all mad!! and perhaps on reflection, we have not spoken up on the issue, because we would feel we are making boarding schools a scapegoat for our insecurities, or perhaps there has never been suitable outlet

    • Hi – Shropshire! Now in Manchester but I still have family there: I went to the Old Hall School Wellington, then Shrewsbury 1963 – 1973. Only now at the Recognition and Acceptance / Change stages after about 8 years of therapy and various other adventures that have been helpful – especially Men’s groups. I now see it as a form of complex PTSD that added to earlier trauma… but have had pretty much all the features of BSS. I haven’t met many round here who recognise themselves as BS survivors – but I’m sure there are plenty!

    • re Shropshire. Interestingly enough, my 3rd? Barnardo Home was, as a toddler, in Shropshire, at Aqualate Hall. I think from there I had a month in hospital with scarlet fever. (And was under observation, for health reasons, for several years after, by Barnardos in another of their Homes, my 4th, before I was seven years old!) Details of this Barnardo life are in my book Don’t Come Crying Home.

  8. I just came on this quote from Sir Richard Bowlby, the son of the eminent British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and developer of attachment theory, John Bowlby. The quote is not recent, 2008, but I think, coming from such an esteemed source, is relevant to Boarding School Action.

    I am against the British habit of sending 6 year old children to boarding school. They are not ready for it: it is overwhelming and harmful for them. Secure attachment is attained when the attachment figures provide the child with a sense of safety and protection at all times. It is typically the mother that provides the emotional security and the father that provides the physical security. Today in the UK 50% of co-habiting couples (40% of all couples) split up before the child is 5 years old.

    To my knowledge, no one has found a “magic bullet” for instantly switching insecure attachment into secure attachment. The most common origin of children’s insecure attachment is the intergenerational transmission of insecure relationships. Most of the effective interventions (such as attachment based family psychotherapy) aim to resolve old attachment issues from previous generations.

    Changing from insecure to secure attachment is slow, expensive and takes very skilful therapists, and the cure is never complete – at times of stress, “ghosts from the nursery” return to haunt people. Prevention is infinitely preferable to cure.

    Sir Richard Bowlby, Bt, ‘Attachment Theory: How to help young children acquire a secure attachment’, presentation to the Quality of Childhood Group in the European Parliament on 8th January 2008.

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