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“Boarding schools develop true grit!”

After the Observer backed our letter in protest against boarding the Boarding School  Association, assembling their arguments at their annual conference,  return fire:

“Rising numbers of children should be sent to boarding schools to develop “true grit” and vital social skills, according to a leading headmaster, Ray McGovern,” announces The Telegraph proudly. This comes hours after telling us that the BSA conference, chaired by the said  McGovern declared that “historic abuse at boarding schools is ‘shaming’.”

“Incidents of abuse have ‘cast a long shadow’ but should not continue to taint schools, says  McGovern, in a new drive to deny that boarding’s  problems are in-built, which would of course not be good for attracting the £30,000 or so per year it takes to put a child in boarding.

Presumably a publicity genius working for the BSA has decided that today’s parents want nothing more than for their 8 year old child to develop “true grit”, famously the title of one of John Wayne’s best tough guy movie. It must be progress!


  1. So is this what it feels like after the dam bursts?

    It feels as if something has changed, I hope irrevocably. Maybe, since Alex Renton’s courageous article describing his own boarding school abuse last week ( it’s now alright for adults who were harmed by the casual brutality of their own boarding experiences to share something of what they endured. That’s quite apart from those who, like Alex, were sexually abused by the men – the abusers are nearly always men – who were meant to be ‘in loco parentis’.

    I’m moved by many of the 650+ below the line responses to Alex’s article, and to the heart-breaking accounts here among the 700+ posts. What particularly touches me are the large numbers of women and relatives of boarding school survivors – people who didn’t go to boarding school but who, in reading these articles – are compassionately identifying with their fathers, brothers, husbands – people who’ve been dreadfully marked by their experiences, and who’ve come forward to express their concern, particularly on Facebook. Thank you.

    The shame and silent suffering, often for decades, is a characteristic of childhood abuse. I honour the courage of those who, like Alex Renton, are now stepping forward to share their own experiences, and to denounce the teachers who abused them or hurt their souls and psyches. Teachers? They discredit the profession. What precisely did they teach besides humiliation and its silent history; despair; objectification, and the science of sado-masochism?

    Listen here to Ian McFadyen describing his own appalling experiences at boarding school:

    And here’s the response from some listeners discussing it on mumsnet:

    Tracy McVeigh’s Observer article on the newly launched campaign to name the damage inflicted on children by early boarding ( is sober, balanced and matter of fact, quite unremarkable in many ways. Yet the truths she’s describing are like an elephant in the room, observations that the British media has struggled to acknowledge for decades past.

    No longer.

    Let this be a sea change.

    Let there be a Truth and Reconciliation-style Commission into British boarding school abuses, just as there is now underway in Canada for the generations of North American Indians who were torn away from their own families and communities and sent to residential schools:

    The comparison is a revealing one. The British first hurt their own children before exporting the idea to the Colonies, not just to Canada, but to New Zealand and Australia as well. Where a journalist has, like Alex Renton, this week stepped forward to name his own experience of boarding school:

    Let’s see boarding schools for the damaging and anachronistic centres of privilege that they are. Anti-democratic and unaccountable places which have long fostered misogyny and a fragile sense of superiority, whilst at the same time damaging those apparently privileged children. Hothouses that have shielded and nurtured child abusers.
    Let’s bring an end to all that.

    It’s shocking to realise that British boarding schools are currently not obliged to report any incidences of sexual abuse to the police.

    Let’s change that.

    Please consider signing this petition:

    And yet these places – for the meanwhile at least – enjoy all the tax free benefits of having charitable status.

    A bitter kind of charity they purvey.

    That, too, needs changing.

    A little bit of light is now being shone into some very dark corners.

    There’s a whole lot more disturbing testimony and truth to be heard yet.

    This is just the beginning.

    I look forward to the publication in a couple of weeks of Nick Duffel’s book, ‘Wounded Leaders’. It boldly challenges the hegemonic power that boarding schools have enjoyed for too long.

    This too is changing.

    Not before time.

    True grit? That’s the quality of those who’re courageous enough to name the malign legacy of boarding schools.

    Comment by Mark Smalley on 13/05/2014 at 8:25 am
  2. My parents sent me off to Shawnigan Lake School at age 12 when it was a toxic culture of bullying,beatings, and lashings. Scabs, my Ripley’s House housemaster made us drop our pajama bottoms and lashed us with his “ropes end” for minor dormitory infractions. He was homosexual and I suspect it was so he could see the object of his desire. If true grit means withdrawing from any kind of social connection and turning into an isolated workaholic it certainly worked.

    Comment by Bernard Garner on 20/05/2014 at 8:44 pm
  3. My old boarding school, Christ’s Hospital, is unusual in being a public school with a high intake from less well-off backgrounds. Now 70, I have become an activist with the direct action group UK Uncut. I recently accessed my old school discussion website and innocently asked if there were any fellow activists out there – the comedian Mark Thomas is also an old boy of this school and has done direct action in the past. My post was met with a response of scorn, cynicism and apathy. I was stunned as this particular school has always prided itself on not being Eton or Harrow and has produced three Labour MPs. I have since mischievously upped the ante by posting more politically angled comments and these have garnered a selection of lordly non sequiturs, rambling sophistry and comments telling me to “just give up”. I am reminded of David Cameron’s “Calm down, dear”.

    Comment by David Redshaw on 23/06/2014 at 11:36 am
  4. Don’t give up David!Oceans are full of drops!

    Comment by Nick Duffell on 06/08/2014 at 4:48 pm

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