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?