Why Mum packed Dad away inside a suitcase

There were things about my early childhood that I did not understand. I accepted, but did not really question. I knew the bare bones: that my father had died in the war and that, to enable her to pursue her career in the documentary film industry, my mother sent me to a boarding school when I was nearly three. And I knew that she had married my stepfather in 1947, but it wasn’t until four years later, when I was 10 and she was pregnant with my half-brother, that I finally came home for good to lead a family life.

My childhood before that was a bit unorthodox and rootless, but not unhappy. The schools I went to were well chosen, caring and liberal. I remember long, golden summers on the Sussex Downs spent with friends of my mother and filled with fun and kindness. My paternal grandmother, who often looked after me, was always loving and welcoming – with buttons to sort and cakes for tea.

The Guardian

Tears on my pillow: Secrets, crimes and schooling of a ruling class

Alex Renton examines the disturbing brutality of boarding school life.

Short of prison, what can estrange a child so completely from parental love as boarding school?

Parents are replaced with new and often unsafe attachments; predatory abuse is not uncommon. My own boarding school in south London, called Brightlands (a misnomer for such a dark Victorian-era barracks), traded in beatings. Any of us caught masturbating or talking after lights out was made to strip in the bathroom down the corridor, where a sports master (it was always a sports master) beat us with a slipper. It was a shaming business that fills me even today with impotent perplexity. In some unformulated way, I understood that the punishments were a sexual outrage: the sight of livid marks on our posh white backsides must have excited that master.

At eight, in 1969, Alex Renton was sent to one of the country’s most expensive boarding houses, Ashdown House, a feeder for our most exclusive public schools (he later went to Eton). Young Alex knew nothing about the paedophilia and sexualisation of life at Ashdown, though his father (Tim Renton, later Margaret Thatcher’s last chief whip) must have had an idea: “Remember, if any of the older boys try to take you into a bush, just say ‘No’.” Naturally Alex had an abject terror of parental abandonment. Yet crying after lights out was punished with a beating. The headmaster turned out to be a sadist whose pleasure was to spank bared bottoms until they bled.

Renton, a “self-declared survivor” of sexual abuse, was frequently caned at Ashdown but, as he writes in this grimly absorbing account of British boarding-school life, it was not done to “sneak” on one’s tormentors. Boys had to take their punishment like men – like the men who meted it out. Life at Ashdown is so tear-jerking and brutal that Dickens might have invented the place. One maths teacher, Mr Keane, liked to offer sweets in return for a “rummage inside our shorts”. Renton told his mother about the fumblings but the headmaster’s wife managed to convince her that a formal complaint “would cause unpleasantness” and, anyway, “children made these things up”. Thus Renton was taught early on to expect disappointment.

The New Statesman

Dealing with homesickness

Australia has a different reason to the UK for providing boarding education. One of geographical distance. But homesickness is no respecter of reason.

“”In the UK, the popularity of boarding is less of a geographical factor and is much more of a realisation of what a boarding education can do; that it is more wholesome, well-rounded and incorporates making ‘better people‘ as opposed to just academically strong or sporting excellence – it’s much more holistic than that.”

[…]

Silcock, who began boarding aged seven, often speaks with parents worried about homesickness before their child begins boarding.”

We are not sure how Boarding School Syndrome, homesickness and abandonment  makes former boarders “wholesome, well-rounded better people”…

Australian Financial Review

Boarding schools miss the point on the mental health crisis facing young people

Pressure on private school pupils to get top grades is leading some to self-harm, a clinical psychologist has claimed.

Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist and broadcaster, told headteachers at the Boarding Schools’ Association conference in York this afternoon that “it’s not an exaggeration to say there’s a mental health crisis in children and young people”.

She said colleagues in London were seeing “amazing young people” who are “coming in chopping into their arms because don’t get enough A*s, but their mate does, and they are not thin enough and they are not hench enough and they haven’t got the right six pack. It’s all about perfection.”

She added: “And I would say in the independent sector you see more of that than anything else because often these kids come from families that are very aspirational.

“With respect to you all, because I understand you are businesses, you have to protect your brand and you have to get the grades, but at what cost? That’s all I’m asking you.

“What are we doing for children young people? Are they rounded? Are they resilient? I would argue no.”

When challenged by one head, she said said she “totally agreed” there was similar pressure in the state sector caused by league tables and the need to protect brands.

However, she added that the biggest group of problems that are growing are “amongst children of families that you see”, and added: “I would argue the mental health difficulties within the independent school sector is huge“.

Julie Robinson, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, said: “I think our schools are particularly good on pastoral care and support. There is very good tutoring. Particularly in boarding, you’ve got house parents, you’ve got tutors, you’ve got layers and layers of pastoral care. And that’s one of the benefits – the wrap around care for the whole child.”

[This is the same Julie Robinson that failed to understand Boarding School Syndrome on a recent C4 News interview…]

TES

Boarding schools should be forced to report child abuse following John Smyth scandal

Boarding schools should be forced to report child abuse, a leading headmaster has said, following revelations that Winchester College students had suffered horrific beatings during summer holidays at the hands of John Smyth, a leading QC, in the 1970s.

Leo Winkley, the chair of the Boarding School Association (BSA) has urged the Government to make the mandatory reporting of abuse a legal duty for all teachers and youth club workers.

Addressing headteachers at the BSA annual conference, he said that institutions must “face up to the failures of the past” adding that there have been “too many times when our schools have failed to keep children safe”.

[But do the boarding schools get to decide what is “child abuse”, missing the point about Boarding School Syndrome created by abandonment, emotional abuse, sending young children away to board, homesickness? All are forms of child abuse and have no place in the 21st century….]

The Telegraph

UK Boarding: the decline continues

New figures released today by the Independent Schools Council (the umbrella association for UK fee-charging/private schools) show that boarding in the UK continues to decline.

Another year of battering for the beleaguered boarding school industry with historic and current abuse allegations and prosecutions. Failures in safeguarding and child protection. Failures to comply with the minimum standards for boarding. On top of the growing awareness of the harm caused by Boarding School Syndrome. Batterings from the usually pro-boarding news media. And the publication of Alex Renton’s damning book, showing nothing has changed in boarding.

Largest decline is in girl boarders: -1.46% with those in single sex girls’ schools (GSA) down -4.0%. And a -2.4% decline in girls at boarding prep schools.

For boys, the drop is -0.3% overall with prep school boy boarders down -0.2%.

Shocking to see in the ISC’s figures that 6 year olds are still being sent away to boarding school.

More analysis to follow…

All figures from the ISC Annual Census 2017.

The Tunbridge Wells headmaster of an ‘excellent’ rated school says it is not a ‘pushy hot house’

A headmaster has tried to reassure parents his Tunbridge Wells school is not apushy hot house” after it was rated “excellent” in all areas in its latest inspection.

Holmewood House School is a private day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 to 13 in Langton Green led by James Marjoribanks.

It was awarded the Independent Schools Inspectorate’s top rating for both “the achievement of pupils, including their academic development” and “the personal development of pupils”.

Kent Live

Time to Mind: Prince Harry’s candid interview about mental health will be an inspiration to many

For centuries the royal family has been a bastion of the “stiff upper lip”, eschewing public displays of emotion and seldom betraying any personal vulnerability or inner strife. Prince Harry’s recent interview on mental health and his battles with his own demons is a brave and welcome departure from that tradition. “There may be a time and a place for the stiff upper lip,” he said, “but not at the expense of your health”.

The Times

It’s still not home, is it?

As boarding schools in the UK tart themselves up and rearrange the deckchairs, they are just pricing themselves out of the domestic market. Why not just convert these schools to day schools to cater for local families. And no need to export Boarding School Syndrome around the world?

“That’s what they go to boarding school for! The VERY luxurious five-star dorms that boast sea views, gourmet food and gold taps in the loos

  • UK boarding schools have been enlisting the help of cutting-edge designers
  • Parents are paying up to £40,000 a year for their children’s education
  • …but facilities include luxury dorms, yoga rooms and designer furniture

But it’s still an institution…

Daily Mail

UK government commissioning research to help schools identify which mental health approaches worked best.

We wonder if this “research” will examine Boarding School Syndrome or the Strategic Survival Personality?

Both of these issues are well established, with Nick Duffell identifying the latter back in the 1990s and Professor Joy Schaverien identifying the former more recently. And the mental health issues of boarders and former boarders so often raised in the media?

Don’t hold your breath!

BBC News