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Are the English getting worse?

People who find criticism of the boarding habit rather challenging often say to me, “but surely the schools are much better now and the horrors are a thing of the past?”

Well, of course the conditions are better – the schools operate in the holy ground of ‘the markets’, so if they were still Spartan and dominated by the cane, their customers wouldn’t buy their services. Its a simple as 1, 2, 30 thousand a year!

Of course, brutal physical punishments are no more. Bizarre hierarchical practices such as ‘fagging’ have been stopped. Some schools have even shed the plethora of pointless rules that used to dominate school life. Many children now have access to mobile phones, email and social network sites. Dormitories have posters on the walls, photos and teddy bears. Boarding is sometimes not full-time with ‘weekend-boarding’ or ‘flexi-boarding’. Hooray!

But there are still no parents.

The trauma of separation and loss of family is the same. Attachments are still deliberately broken; the ‘settling-in period’, in which parental contact for the new boarder is discouraged, is frequently still maintained.

People never ask me, however, the other question, the really important one, that I am afraid even to voice.

Could it be that actually the parents are getting worse? Is it the case that we as a nation are becoming so obsessed with money and success that we’ll do anything to be winners?

Certainly many I knew were shocked at the recent election – not that Labour hadn’t mismanaged it, or the LibDems were going to be punished, but that so many people seemed to so full of self-interest with so little empathy for those in other circumstances.

I never thought I would find myself in agreement with the headmaster of Eton. But in an article entitled Pushy parents stress out children, Eton head says,  Abigail Simmons, BBC Education reporter, quotes Tony Little, who said most parents had been “supportive” but there were now “more pressures on young people than ever before”. And if his pupils failed to conform to parents’ “outcome template”, it could “add to the stresses” in their life. So the school employs a full-time psychologist to promote “good mental health”.

Obviously they haven’t yet heard that boarding is bad for mental health. Besides, it turns out that Headmaster Little speaks out at the moment he is leaving the school!

What really is a shame is that in our land people only seem to think they can speak the truth when they are leaving a post, rather like Keith Starmer QC (latest Labour hopeful)  who said there should be mandatory reporting for abuse days after quitting the job of director of public prosecutions.

Maybe there is something wrong with us?


  1. Nick,
    I share your frustration and anger at the middle class –but remember it was they who monopolised the then Public (ie state) schools back in the 16th century as their way of getting on in the world. Thus state schools were turned into private,fee paying schools which were monopolised by said middle classes. They know which side of the tracks they want to be on and it will be VERY hard to get them to see what they are doing because this has been going on for a very long time.

    But there has been progress—a 41 per cent drop in boarders in the last 30 years and growing awareness with boarding concern and the courses you have done. Not even the Establishment can defy economic and social reality forever. We will, sooner or later have to come to terms with our post-imperial situation and adjust accordingly–and the Scots can help us do this.

    Comment by Henry Lawson on 25/05/2015 at 1:15 pm
  2. Nick,

    Further comment to add onto the last one. A lot of the upper middle and Upper classes are in DENIAL about this and need to come out of it! Problem is that if they do then they will have to question almost everything about their lives, including the fact that they’ve been lied to—and that’s scary.

    Comment by Henry Lawson on 27/05/2015 at 8:07 pm
  3. Nick – Hope this summary is of interest. I would love to compare notes with you!



    National Association For Therapeutic Education
    Patrons: Graham Allen MP Sir David Amess MP Gregory Barker* Bishop Paul Bayes Richard Benyon MP Gerry Bermingham* Clive Betts* Nicola Blackwood MP Tom Blenkinsop MP David Borrow * Dr Peter Brand* Julian Brazier MP Steve Brine MP Helen Brinton* Annette Brooke* Robert Buckland MP Paul Burstow* Bishop Paul Butler Alex Carlile QC* Neil Carmichael MP Lord Chidgey* Tom Clarke CBE* Vernon Coaker MP Rosie Cooper MP Brian Cotter* Lord Cotter John Cryer MP Alex Cunningham MP Sir Tony Cunningham* Cynog Dafis* Bryan Davies* Philip Davies MP Rt Hon David Davis MP Jim Dobbin* Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP Brian Donohue* Mark Durkan MP Rt Rev Lord Eames OM Bill Esterson MP Bill Etherington * Nigel Evans MP Mark Fisher * Robert Flello MP Howard Flight* Barbara Follett * Michael Gapes MP Rt Hon Sir Edward Garnier QC MP Dr Ian Gibson* Stephen Gilbert* Lord Glentoran CBE DL Mary Glindon MP Sir Richard Glyn BT Thomas Graham* Professor Sir Denis Pereira Gray OBE Baroness Greengross OBE Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP Fabian Hamilton MP Mike Hancock CBE* Sir Nick Harvey* Lord Haskins John Hemming* Sharon Hodgson MP Adam Holloway MP Paul Holmes * Baroness Hooper CMG Bishop Alan Hopes Rt Hon Lord Howarth of Newport CBE Rt Hon George Howarth MP Baroness Howe of Idlicote CBE Dr Kim Howells * Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP Andrew Hunter* Dr Brian Iddon * Cathy Jamieson* Brian Jenkins* Jon Owen Jones* Dr Lynne Jones * Martyn Jones * Nigel Jones* Fraser Kemp* Andy King* Rt Hon Lord Knight of Weymouth Pauline Latham OBE MP Professor Lord Layard Andrea Leadsom MP John Leech* Sir Edward Leigh MP Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP Professor the Baroness Lister of Burtesett CBE Bob Litherland* Elfyn Llwyd* Andy Love* Karen Lumley MP Dr Wendy Lynas PhD Rob Marris * Baroness Masham of Ilton DL Patrick Mercer OBE * Norman Mikardo Penny Mordaunt MP George Mudie* Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor Bishop James Newcome Mark Oaten * Lembit Opik * Diana Organ* Sandra Osborne* Bob Parry* Rt Hon Priti Patel MP Peter Pike* Bishop Stephen Platten Chris Pond* Mark Prisk MP Bishop John Pritchard Lord Rana MBE Syd Rapson BEM* Bishop John Rawsthorne Bishop Dr Lee Rayfield Lord Rea Of Eskdale MD FRCGP Bishop Edwin Regan Margaret Ritchie MP Dan Rogerson* Sir Bob Russell* Christine Russell * Martin Salter * Adrian Sanders* Laura Sandys* Barry Sheerman MP Henry Smith MP Archbishop Peter Smith Peter Snape* Gerry Sutcliffe* Lord Taverne QC Simon Thomas* Baroness Thornton John Thurso* Dr Desmond Turner * Dr Rudi Vis * Baroness Walmsley Mark Williams MP Roger Williams* Lord Willis of Knaresborough ( * formerly Member of Parliament ) 59 Birdham Road Chichester PO19 8TB 07984654503 /15

    The Underlying Crisis in Childhood – The Nation’s Most Critical Social and Institutional Failures

    The nation’s most critical social failure is the inability of successive generations of adults to resource the formative emotional development of many children.* This is the underlying cause of profound and intractable social issues which confront the UK.

    Symptoms of this failure are diverse and include low levels of a sense of wellbeing among children and young people ** and a significant incidence of mental ill health. *** But the long term effects of emotional delay and suspense in infancy are complicated by the fact that many psychologically undeveloped children are able to mirror adult expectation and can make a superficial social adjustment at least. A proportion of these eventually emerge as conditioned, socially functioning adults who experience varying degrees of emotional delay or suspense. This has potentially devastating implications for individual lives and for the collective ability of the nation to function socially and to live sustainably. Much self seeking, self defeating, deviant and disturbed behaviour stems from this source. The direct and indirect long term effects of early psychological deprivation in adult society are complex and far reaching and have potential to influence key institutions and fuel the nation’s most challenging social and economic problems.

    Amid disturbing statistics and growing disquiet from national and international organisations concerned with Human Rights, Government is becoming aware of the failure of many children to achieve formative emotional growth. As understanding deepens at national level there has been ambiguity from Ministers and their initial response has predictably been to focus State intervention in Early Years. But the preschool sector is not fully subject to statutory constraint and cannot be easily controlled from Westminster. Partly for these reasons the success of Government policy has been limited and much confusion remains.****

    As national leaders work to improve the effectiveness of State intervention in Early Years, a further potential key strategy has yet to be considered by Government . Since 1995 – amid the nationwide collapse of therapeutic education for severely disturbed children – the National Association for Therapeutic Education NATE has consistently drawn attention to the nation’s most critical institutional failure. This is the continuing general failure of the school system to resource formative emotional growth. Child education exists to realise the emotional/spiritual, social, intellectual/creative and physical potential of each individual. In theory it is an integral function of primary education and the infant sector in particular, to provide conditions for formative psychological development. Because infant schools are statutorily regulated they could and should be equipped to assist in resolving the underlying crisis in childhood by resourcing formative emotional growth. But in practice they are generally prevented from doing so by Government constraint. Progress is slow but it is anticipated that the full potential of the infant sector will eventually be recognized by the State and its advisers and infant schools will become a uniquely effective intrinsic part of an Early Years progression of 0-7 years at least.

    A central purpose of the National Association for Therapeutic Education is to persuade senior Government leaders to restore a specialist therapeutic school service for severely emotionally disturbed children nationwide but more importantly to address the continuing general failure of the UK school system to resource formative emotional growth. NATE has defined in simple terms the circumstances for formative emotional development in childhood. These include protection, control, consistency, acceptance, guidance and insight within the context of secure individual relationships between children and adults. The potential means to assimilate these conditions in infant education have also been identified but they have yet to be implemented. Efforts are continuing to engage the interest of senior national leaders in the proposed solution outlined here. For more information please contact

    John Tierney Director National Association for Therapeutic Education NATE
    * ‘As many as 40% of children lack secure bonds with adults.’ (Baby Bonds – Sutton Trust 2014)
    ** ‘…in 2007 placed the UK at the bottom of 21 developed countries for overall child well-being.’ (United Nations 2013)
    *** ‘It is calculated that, at any one time, 20% of children and adolescents experience psychological problems.’ (Bright Futures -Mental Health Foundation 1999) – ‘Given that one in four people (and growing) will experience mental health problems this is an issue that affects us all.’ (Mental Health Foundation 2014)
    **** Government intervention in Early Years is a ‘confused mess’. (Principal Social Worker 2014)
    ‘There are serious and deeply ingrained problems with the commissioning and provision of Children’s and Adolescents’ Mental Health Services.’ (Health Select Committee Report 2014)

    Comment by john Tierney on 31/05/2015 at 11:17 am

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