My son is about to start boarding school and he can’t stop crying

My son is 13 and due to start boarding school. This year he has started to show a lot of anxiety; first around his exams this summer, convinced he would fail (he didn’t); then around going to a boarding school 40 minutes from where we live. This anxiety has led him to cry for hours, so much so that I can’t comfort him. He is a sociable person, makes friends easily, is good at sport and popular. However, he is also entering puberty.

The Times (subscription)

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

Alex Renton: Fear, lies and abuse: the private school cover-up

When Alex Renton wrote about being abused at boarding school, he didn’t anticipate the huge response. Or that he’d end up breaking down in a police station

It is, they say, good to tell the story. Let it out: nightmares are best cured by daylight. But what do you do next? Three years ago I decided to come out as a survivor of abuse, physical and psychological, at boarding school. I’m a journalist, so I did what comes naturally: I published an article in a magazine. I went back to my famous prep school, where a police investigation had begun. Ashdown House had made the front page of the Daily Mail because Boris Johnson, Damian Lewis and the Queen’s nephew David Linley had been there.

The Times (subscription required)

Longer article on Alex Renton’s blog.

How I came to terms with the horrors of my boarding school abuse

Mark Stibbe, a former vicar who lives in North Yorkshire, is among those to claim to have been abused by youth worker John Smyth, who ran Christian holiday camps. As other victims waive their right to anonymity, here he tells his story in full.

iNews

Social workers avoid inflicting boarding school syndrome on disadvantaged children

It seems that social workers can see through the flogging of failed boarding as some sort of salvation for disadvantaged or vulnerable children.

There have been so many of these trendy almost fetishistic projects to give disadvantaged children “a taste of the boarding” in recent years. All have failed.

Boarding School Syndrome does not discriminate across social class. It affects us all. We need good day schools, with children and teenagers raised at home, not in loveless institutions. If families need support, provide it without sending the children away.

In the meantime, let’s blame the social workers for being perceptive…

“A scheme to offer free boarding school places to vulnerable children has failed because social workers thought they ‘wouldn’t fit in’ and refused to make referrals, charities say.

Many assume for ideological reasons that boarding is ‘not right’ for children from certain backgrounds, those leading the project claim.

It would have provided free places at leading private and state boarding schools for those at risk of ‘poor social and emotional outcomes’ because of family difficulties.”

Daily Mail

The Telegraph

A letter to … My parents, who abandoned me to boarding school

I can understand why you did it. In theory. I understand that you wanted to give me the best education money could buy. I don’t blame you for sending me away to an extremely strict boarding school when I was very young. I think you genuinely thought it was best for me – and for my younger brother, who you also sent away, to another boarding school in another part of the country, miles away from me.

Read the full letter in The Guardian

Are boarding schools… Really a home from home?

They are keen to distance themselves from the bleak educational gulags of the past, but parents’ confidence in boarding schools has been severely shaken by recent reports of an alleged [sexual] assault at the King’s Hospital school. Do these institutions offer a suitable environment for young people to grow up in?

So asks the Irish Independent in an analysis of boarding.

The broadcaster Ivan Yates once said of his boarding school experience that “terror mixed with homesickness” led him to cry himself to sleep, night after night.

The modern Irish boarding school is keen to present a more humane image than that of the bleak educational gulags suffered by Yates and many of his contemporaries in the late 1960s and early 70s.

The advocates of modern boarding institutions insist that they are ideal places for young people to grow up in. Often situated in fine rambling country houses or castles along tree-lined avenues, boarding schools supposedly offer their students the opportunity to spend all of their time with friends, playing games and taking part in spiffing Harry Potter-style adventures.

In this idealised world, presented in some of the school brochures, living in one of these institutions is like having a five-year sleepover – the only difference being that you are not at home.

Their apologists will tell you that they teach children independence and self-reliance.

The children may be homesick at first, but the parents are reassured that the offspring will get over it.

Most of Ireland’s 29 boarding schools have gone to strenuous lengths to present a more homely atmosphere: the cold, spartan dormitories with row upon row of steel beds have been thoroughly revamped, and the modern-day resident can expect much more than a breakfast of lumpy gruel.

The article goes on to quote Prof Joy Schaverien at length:

To hand over your boy or girl to the care of teachers or other supervisors, who are often complete strangers, for most of their teenage years, requires a remarkable level of trust, according to critics of the boarding-school environment.
Read more: Panti Bliss on his boarding schools experience: ‘Abusers were probably wary of mouthy kids like myself’

“You send a child to boarding school and they are left to the vagaries of whoever happens to be taking care of them, and the group of children they are with,” psychotherapist Joy Schaverien tells Review.

“They might be lucky and have a lovely group of children and kind adults; or they could be exposed to highly disturbed people, and there is nobody there to protect them.”

Schaverien, a therapist based in England, came up with the term ‘Boarding School Syndrome’ to describe a set of lasting psychological problems that are observable in adults who, as children, were sent away from their home to boarding schools.

Symptoms, according to Schaverien, may include problems with anger, depression, anxiety, failure to sustain relationships, and fear of abandonment.

“The child learns not to cry because they don’t get a normal response.
“Usually, when they are at home, a child gets a loving response, but that may not happen, so they learn not to show emotion. In later life that can show up in a lack of empathy.”

Much of the therapist’s work is based on younger children going to boarding school, but she believes it can also have a dire effect when a child is 12 or 13.

“It depends how vulnerable the child is. At puberty, children still need to have loving adults around them and education in emotional relationships.”

Irish Independent

Boarding Concern at the Independent Schools Show 2016

No, we didn’t have a stand but we have been to this year’s event in London.

We went to hear what the boarding industry had to say. We also spoke with parents to hear their thoughts on boarding.

We heard the usual platitudes about “modern” boarding. How boarding has changed from what “we” went through. “Modern” boarders tell us it hasn’t changed, boarding is still boarding. Trauma, separation, abandonment and bereavement of homesickness are still the same. Some things never change. And boarders are not sick of home. It is boarding school that makes them sick. They are schoolsick.

We attended this talk in the Education Theatre. We will post a write-up shortly. But we never did find out who these “experts” are who claim boarding “can strengthen the family unit“…

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