This is not what boyhood should feel like…

This is not a diatribe about violence in boys’ boarding schools. Rather, it is a call to recognize that boys pay a heavy cost when we choose to perpetuate ideas of masculinity that refuse to recognize these children’s vulnerability to violence and exploitation. ” Here is a fascinating and insightful article about attitudes to children and exploitation from Atiya Bose

“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.

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.



A few words on developments in the #CSA enquiry:

A number of prominent abuse victims are unhappy with Fiona Woolf’s appointment. There is indeed a petition. At first the simple objection seemed to be that she was too ‘establishment’ , but then links with Lord Brittan as shown in the Mail on Sunday

In the Guardian MP Simon Danczuk questions Theresa May’s intentions, suggesting that this enquiry may have more to dow with protecting the status quo than helping victims:

There appears to be greater faith in other panel members, Barbara Hearn OBE seems to inspire genuine confidence from many, and Graham Wilmer MBE is a victim himself, and founded the Lantern Project . However, some are raising concerns that there is no victim of organised child abuse on the panel, and therefore perhaps no one who can understand the experience of cover-ups by institutions and powerful people.

There are of course many arguing that changing the chair would just take more time and that its best to get on with the enquiry. MP Tom Watson ( who for those unfamiliar with all this was pivitol in bringing to light the Elm Guest House scandal in which Brittan is implicated) wrote on his blog last night that his prepared to broadly support the Woolf inquiry, but at the time of writing I cannot access it ( Another helpful blog showing the possible issues surrounding the kind of enquiry which is to be held, i.e. whether it is a statutory inquiry or not can be found here:

 Meanwhile, ever more abuse in boarding schools comes to light: there has been a second arrest at ashdown house:

breaking or broken?

Newsweek has the headline “broken system” and this article from Louise Tickle. Sadly for so many of us the information on abuse and suffering is not the shocking part of the article, for me certainly it is the following: ““My view is that the various abuse convictions and scandals have done absolutely no harm to schools in terms of their waiting lists,” says Tom Buchanan, media consultant to a number of independent schools. “I can’t think of any school I’ve advised that has had a drop in numbers. This speaks to a generalised acceptance of there being a risk that goes with the territory. And of course parents always think it won’t happen to their child.”



“Hurt people hurt people”

In this excellent New York Times article Laurie Penny explores the role boarding schools might play in the culture of covering up abuse in Britain : “a culture of bullying and sexualized violence has been understood for more than a century as part of the process of training young men to be leaders”. Penny quotes Alex Renton: “That’s how you get the elite we’ve ended up with.”


big day…

hello. its been a big day for us hear at the other BSA. Alex Renton’s article on the effects of boarding has brought many new visitors to us, and I just wanted to say that you are very welcome here. I meant it when I said something has to be done about this, that it isn’t right, and if you think so too then you are in the right place. All best wishes, Sally.