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)
How a Chinese mother’s dream of an English education for her son placed him at the mercy of a tyrannical ‘discipline master’, who was accused of both physical and sexual abuse during his time at the Grace Dieu Manor House, in England
Next month, thousands of Chinese children from Hong Kong and the mainland will head off or return to boarding schools in Britain for a prized education, but it was not always so.
When I arrived at my English prep school in 1953, having been raised in Shanghai and Bangkok, I was the only Eurasian out of the 100 or so boys at Grace Dieu Manor House, in the Leicestershire countryside. Asians would remain a rare sight at the school for a few decades more, until I was followed by a stream of Hong Kong Chinese in the run-up to the handover of the British colony to China, in 1997.
South China Morning Post Magazine
Boarding schools have long been considered ‘psychopath factories’ in which abuse and humiliation are a fixture of daily life. Yet it is from these very institutions that many of our rulers have been selected.
At an event last week called “The Dark Side of Business,” held at the Corinthia Hotel in London, neuroscientist Tara Swart spoke about why psychopathic traits were so common in high-powered people.
She said many signs of psychopathy were also synonymous with those of strong leadership, such as callousness, impulsivity, aggression, and showing little emotion.
With more men in CEO positions than women, Swart says, boardrooms are severely lacking female characteristics such as empathy, intuition, and creativity. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and Swart acknowledged that some women were bad at empathy and some men were good at it — but as a general rule, she said, these tend to be female traits.
Some of Swart’s male clients were sent off to boarding school at a young age and had horrible experiences of bullying, institutionalised violence, and humiliation. But women experience these things too.
Business Insider asked whether the ways men and women coped with these feelings of shame and rejection had an impact on more men ending up with psychopathic traits.
[But no mention of Boarding School Syndrome?]
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
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
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.
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…
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!
Inside Ireland’s boarding school for seven-year-olds
Film shines light on trials and joys of pupils and teachers at unique Headfort school
The Irish Times