MI6 and early boarding: A moment that changed me: finding out at 15 that Dad was a spy


The Firm, as Dad called it, knew that agents’ children were a liability so they dangled the carrot of free private boarding school in front of them to keep us out of the picture. Mum and Dad were the first generation in my family not to go down the mines or become skivvies, they knew what lay behind them. My parents were desperate that their offspring should come to see themselves as confident, entitled, well-educated and to have social capital and opportunities that had never been extended to them. The upper-class MI6 leadership was made up of people my father respected and wanted to emulate.

The state exploited this longing and so my brothers were shipped away at six and seven years old, never to return. Later – until I managed to escape – I spent a year in what was essentially a prison for posh children. A growing body of evidence has shown that these institutions inflict deep psychological wounds, and this has indeed been my lasting experience. My eldest brother died at 24, and I wonder whether things would have been different for him had he been allowed to stay at home. I now understand that my childhood and family were shaped by state intrusion and secrecy.

The Guardian

Boarding School Syndrome: now available during the school hols too?

Would you send your child to summer boarding school?

Would you send your child to summer boarding school? The thought first crossed Kiloran Heckels’s mind four years ago when her eldest, Katie, was 10. Looking for a way her daughter could spend the holidays enjoying activities – without wasting time in traffic jams, ferrying her from sports games to arts workshops to play dates around their south London home – the company director sent her to Uppingham, the Rutland boarding school founded in 1584, which counts Stephen Fry as one of its old boys.

The Telegraph

Private schools to save £522m in tax thanks to charitable status

Private schools [including boarding schools] are set to get tax rebates totalling £522m over the next five years as a result of their controversial status as charities, according to a study of local council records.

Charitable organisations in England and Wales are entitled to relief of 80% on the business rates payable on the buildings they use, and some of the country’s best-known private schools qualify under the rules.

Business rates firm CVS sent freedom of information requests to councils, and responses from 132 showed that 586 out 1,038 private schools held charitable status and were granted the mandatory relief.

Its analysis of government data suggested that on 2,707 properties classified as private schools there would be a business rates bill of around £1.16bn over the next five years. Extrapolating from the data received from councils, it forecast that £634m would be paid, with £522m saved through the schools’ charitable status.

CVS said Eton College, whose former pupils include David Cameron and Boris Johnson, would have faced a bill of £4.1m for business rates over the next five years without its charitable status, but instead it would pay just £821,040.

Dulwich College in south London, which educated former Ukip Leader Nigel Farage, will only pay £786,752 out of its £3,933,760 five-year bill under the tax regime.

The Guardian

The Brits and their fetishistic obsession with boarding schools, wherever they are…

Channel 4 in the U.K. has ordered Himalaya High, a tentatively titled three-part series, from Naked Entertainment.

Himalaya High will look on as a group of British boys—who have all struggled academically—spend five months at an Indian boarding school in an attempt to help them reach their potential. The 3×60-minute show was commissioned for Channel 4 by Kelly Webb-Lamb, head of factual entertainment, and factual entertainment commissioning editor Sarah Lazenby. Naked Entertainment’s Simon Andreae and Tom O’Brien are executive producing.

Lazenby stated: “Evidence suggests that where white working-class boys are taught alongside peers with different ethnic backgrounds they perform better. We’re supersizing this notion in the hope that a summer of education in India can turn some teenagers’ academic lives around and give them a better start in adult life.”

O’Brien added: “The Doon School has a rare kind of magic. The Himalayan backdrop, a fascinating school history, all tied together by a genuine passion and track-record for transforming its pupils’ lives. We can’t wait to start filming.”

World Screen

Financial Times endorses Alex Renton’s exposure of boarding school abuse

“Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison,” observed Evelyn Waugh. But in the journalist Alex Renton’s polemical new book about boarding schools, the stories of institutionalised humiliation and endemic physical and psychological abuse are worse even than what an inmate might expect in jail.

Financial Times

Boarding from 16+? Australia seems to have got the balance about right…

We in Boarding Concern feel that 16 year olds who choose to board should be able to do so. So long as it their fully informed choice and not made to please parents or others.

We challenge the practice in the UK of sending younger children away to boarding school. They are unable to give their informed consent, which is why in the UK we set the age of consent for certain activities at either 16 or 18. Certainly they cannot consent with full awareness at ages 6, 7, 10 or 12. However grown up or mature some children today may seem to be.

The Australian boarding school industry are targeting the benefits of boarding at older teens. And promoting “urban boarding” for city teens as well as those from rural areas.

Perth Now

Boarding school charities in ‘merger of equals’

The Royal National Children’s Foundation and the SpringBoard Bursary Foundation will merge legally on 1 July but will work together from today.

Two boarding school charities have announced they are merging in order to support more children.

The Royal National Children’s Foundation and the SpringBoard Bursary Foundation, which both offer bursaries to help children attend boarding school, are coming together in a “merger of equals” with a new name and branding, according to a spokesman for the RNCF.


“The aim is to increase the number of children currently supported by the RNCF and SpringBoard, taking the figure from 600 to 1,500 within the next five years. In doing so, the new charity will transform many lives and fulfil the boarding sector’s ambition to play a leading role in enabling social mobility.”

Or merely fill up empty boarding places with children who don’t have to be flown around the world? Surely they should be living in their “strong and stable” families in their “strong and stable” communities? Rather than acquiring Boarding School Syndrome in a loveless institution? Or worse?

Third Sector

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