“cold and unpleasant place”

another one of these “someone famous says they wished they hadn’t been to boarding school” articles, this time its Earl Spencer. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2894655/Diana-s-brother-Earl-Spencer-says-wishes-d-gone-state-school-instead-cold-unpleasant-boarding-school-boys-regularly-caned.html

No massive surprises here, though we might wonder why this story is classed under ‘femail’, as if the merest mention of Princess Diana renders this a lesser female-only interest article…

“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.

breaking or broken?

Newsweek has the headline “broken system” and this article from Louise Tickle. http://www.newsweek.com/britain-elite-boarding-schools-facing-explosion-abuse-allegations-267201. 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.”



a (remarkably sexist) view from the inside…

I have just discovered the concept of in-house boarding blogs. These are recommended by the folk at the Interactive Schools Blog as “Not only does it provide your current parents and pupils with great content to consume, but it also helps with marketing your school”. Blimey. Give me that content to consume.

Alas I thought I would peruse a few of these blogs, telling myself ‘they won’t be as bad as you think, keep an open mind’, but in the first one I have looked at I have discovered such an astonishingly sexist diatribe I can’t work out whether it is a parody or not. To quote from The Windlesham blog  :To all parents who have mixed gender off spring, I’m sure you have will have clearly noticed the differences between the children in their everyday behaviours, manners, routines, socialisation and their play.  I apologise before I go on but I am about to outline stereotypical gender differences.  Girls are mostly noted for talking excitedly and yet adore sitting quietly and colouring, dressing their dolls, playing dress up and making things pretty (whilst obsessing on what pair of shoes they are going to try on from their Mummy’s collection).  Boys on the other hand love action, watching it and being part of it.  They love things that move and taking things apart to see the mechanical insides.  They are far more into their physical being and research shows male babies prefer to look at a mobile with a collection of items and colours over a single face (team mates?).  It is common knowledge that girls are keen to communicate and enjoy one on one chat full of emotion and feeding their dreams but when they fall out, they fight silently:  Boys will fall in and out friendships and reconcile with a punch followed by a hand shake. It is all of the above that makes serving their environments even more so appropriate and important.  It is these two different environments and the result of the gender differences that are what creates a talking point amongst visiting colleagues and prospective parents at WHS.  

And so it goes on…

Now fair play to the young person who has written it, it is well written and they are clearly young and so can be forgiven anything, but can we really forgive an institution for leaving this kind of madness unchecked?