Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ruled by Boarding School Survivors

What does the Cabinet know about the lives of ordinary people? The majority are millionaires, two thirds of them were educated at public schools (attended by only 7% of pupils); the queues at hospitals are bypassed courtesy of Bupa; as for social housing, no need for that, there's the inherited mansion; public transport is, as Margaret Thatcher commented, 'for life's failures'; they never frequent council run leisure centres; lending a book from a library is unheard of and I'm sure that none of their friends or relatives have ever had to live on welfare benefits.

Eighteen out of the twenty eight members of the Cabinet attended public schools and in the main it's a roll call of the most expensive and exclusive. Fees tend to be around £28,000 per year for boarders and at least nine of the Cabinet were boarders. To put that in perspective, the average wage is around £24,000, so to pay for a year's boarding school you would need to receive around £45,000 before tax. Or to put it bluntly, only the super-rich could afford to send their children to Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, etc.

According to the Independent Schools' Council (ISC) only 13% of their 508,234 pupils are boarders, however, in the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) schools the percentage is 20% and at the age of 16 the percentage for ISC schools is 30%. Also most of the really expensive and exclusive schools are overwhelmingly boarding – Eton, Charterhouse, Wellington, Harrow, Rugby, Cheltenham Ladies' College.

According to the ISC 8,000 children under the age of the 11 are boarders. David Cameron was sent away at the age of seven to Heatherdown Prep School and from there to Eton.

Many of the most exclusive schools are single-sex, or only admit girls in the sixth form – Eton, Rugby, Harrow. It's interesting to note that this kind of environment – single sex, living away from your family at an early age – has not been extensively analysed or investigated. Royston Lambert conducted extensive interviews with pupils in 1968, Joy Schaverin wrote 'Boarding school: the trauma of the 'privileged' child' in 2004 and there has been the work of Nick Duffell with the Boarding School Survivors.

A boarding school education involves a rupture in their attachment to their mother which can lead to a distrust of women. The worst features of male sexuality are often developed – detachment, obsessionality, alternately idealising and devaluing women and misogyny. As a result young boys can be impeded in their progress towards manhood and they may find it difficult to form meaningful relationships.

Attachments to siblings are disrupted and family is replaced by many, same sex strangers. As Joy Saverin noted

'The familiar position and role in the family, for example, as eldest or youngest, or only child – is substituted by a new role as the smallest person in a huge hierarchical institution. Brothers or sisters sent to the same school often lose touch with each other in the vast institutional dynamics.
'When the boy is sent to school and his sister or sisters remain at home the unspoken message that the girl receives is that her brother is valued more than she. Inevitably this produces envy and idealization, splitting the sibling group along gendered lines.'

In a boarding school pupils will have to negotiate the archaic codes, language and dress. Eton is still run by the school boy members of 'Pop' who are allowed to wear spongebag trousers and their own waistcoats. Other schools still have bizarre rules about how many buttons you can undo on your waist coat.

The English boarding school tradition is to inculcate conformity and unquestioning loyalty, for stoicism as opposed to emotion and humanity. There are those contradictions – modesty and courtesy opposed to icy formality; kindness against derisiveness and fair play compared to contempt for 'outsiders'.

Many children at boarding schools have an overwhelmingly feeling of abandonment, of loneliness and isolation. Child rearing is left to nannies and the school matron. As they grow up their peer group imposes conditions of belonging and in some instances this may include conformity and bullying. As they reach puberty identity and belonging is identified with a group outside of the family unit.

Some children exhibit a 'survivor mentality', a sense of shame at being privileged, their parents have made sacrifices, it is for 'their own good', they may feel like ungrateful failures. In response they construct a 'false self' due to extreme psychic wounding. They may become completely institutionalised where they cannot function outside of a closed environment. In that sense Oxbridge, the Army, the Civil Service, the City or the Gentlemen's Club may serve as an extension of their boarding school experiences. They have no sense of the world outside.

There was an interesting article in 'The Times' on September 14, 2007 it was entitled 'What were their parents thinking?', it was written by Julia Noakes who has worked as a psychologist in the City of London for thirteen years. She noted that a fifth of her 500 clients had attended boarding school. Being sent away at an early age often bred 'distrust of women and a fragile, insecure sense of sexual orientation'. Some of her clients felt that they had been abandoned by their mothers, this rupture of early attachments led to a deep distrust of loving relationships. She concluded,

'The irony is that for all the aspirations and hopes of the parents who send their children to boarding school, it does not prepare young people to be our future business leaders. Leadership requires an ability to relate to others as well as yourself and create dependable relations across the firm. Taught to count on himself alone from as young as five or six, the boarding school survivor does not depend on anyone but his fragile self and his often odd views about relationships. This makes building a business community of trust rather than brittle relations almost impossible.'

Boarding school does prepare children to be part of a self-perpetuating elite, it helps them to foster those all important networks and acquaintances that will help them to navigate their way through medicine, the legal profession, the media. A vital introduction into many careers is through unpaid internships and the Old Boys' and Old Girls' Associations are an excellent conduit for these positions.

The English ruling class don't expect to suffer any check, control or questioning on their actions or decisions. It's startling to observe the arrogance and disdain as bonuses for bankers are questioned or the kind of contempt that surrounded the issue of MPs' expenses – Duck houses? Cleaning the moat?

So we are left with that part of the unreconstructed ruling elite – repressed, emotionally stunted and unable or unwilling to consider other people's lives away from their enclosed cosseted environment.


  1. Good Article. Like Nick Duffell, who sent me an email a couple of days ago, I am a former inmate of Radley College.

    Thirty years ago today, I was in the process of being abused and bullied into a suicide attempt in my study in G Social. That was on 6th December and was largely the responsibility of the Chaplain, David Coulton and "Doctor" called Deenesh Khoosal.

    I shall shortly be publishing my letter on November 5th 1982 on my blog and I have "A Message to David Cameron" on utube. Radley have had the evidence for years and have been conspiring to pervert the course of Justice; please help me expose them.

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