“Nobody ever, ever, ever questioned any of this stuff…”

On the tenth anniversary of John Peel’s death, Sam Barber reflects on Peel’s experience of boarding school. Please be aware that this account contains material some people might find triggering or upsetting.

Ten years ago John Peel died. His boarding school education was very much a part of his taciturn, stoic and, of course, ‘self-depreciating’ charm. You can hear it in his Desert Island Discs interview from January 1990 from 10 – 12 minutes. It’s a fairly positive account of boarding in the 1950s  with his housemaster, his ‘in loco’ parent, RHJ Brooke, being particularly influential. He does say, however, ‘I’m always astonished that nobody ever, ever, ever, questioned any of this stuff’ and talking to his kids about it: ‘You sound as though you are describing something that happened at least 100 years ago’.

Published in 2005, his posthumous autobiography is more hard-hitting. He reveals sexual abuse – boy on boy, pupil on pupil – at boarding school:  ‘Another study monitor obliged me to perform an even more unwelcome service during what was supposed to be a period of doing homework. This period, during which we were confined to our studies, was called ‘top schools’, but for my study monitor it was ‘hand jobs’. If for some reason my tormentor didn’t require a hand job, possibly because he had already compelled another small boy to give him one, he loaned me to one of his two friends and I was obliged to service them instead. This man – and although it is tempting to name him, I’m not going to – was, I think, the only genuinely amoral person I’ve ever met [apart from Jimmy Saville, we imagine]. Towards the end of our time together, he compelled me to agree to meet him in a public toilet in the cemetery on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, where he raped me. Oddly enough, much as I hated the experience, I think I had become so accustomed to systematic sexual abuse that I wasn’t especially traumatised by the experience. However, it was many years before I could bring myself to tell anyone what had happened to me, and when I did tell Sheila, my wife, one afternoon in the eighties as we drove through Shrewsbury and past the cemetery toilet block, she found it, I think, more upsetting than I ever did. We have not spoken of it again.’

Yet the pupil-on-pupil abuse Peel describes is an inherent danger in boarding schools where kids are living for two thirds of each year in the absence of love.  Even if outright abuse doesn’t take place, we know and feel the cost of this emotional isolation. John Peel felt it too.

Sam Barber.

“Not perhaps the kind of breadline, soup-kitchen need…”

This is interesting. Private schools have charitable status because they provide bursaries. But you can claim for bursaries even if you earn £80,000 per year, and you can pay a consultant £120-£240 pounds a pop to hunt out bursaries for you. Nauseating article in the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationadvice/11167178/Paying-for-private-school-what-you-need-is-a-bursary.html

I want to go home for my tea…

One of the arguments I often hear when I say I am against boarding school is ‘but what about island communities?’. Here children from Shetland speak out against the closure of their local school because they don’t want to go to boarding school. Please read their messages, and maybe we can think about how to support them… https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/islands/shetland/369473/heartbreaking-messages-shetland-children-bid-avoid-boarding-school/

seven boys’ stories

I have just happened upon this rather grim collection of boarding school experiences from the Guardian in 2005, so I am sharing it for those of you who might not have seen it. I have waded through an all manner of accounts like this and something which always strikes me is the lack of distinction between consensual and non-consensual activity, as if it is all placed in one big box marked ‘sex’ and left there. In these particular stories there is at least some distinction, but the lines “I think rapes certainly wouldn’t have been called rapes” as well as ” these things are so difficult, and its not unusual for people to exaggerate after the fact” paint a worrying picture.