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.”