Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Guns, drugs and beatings – I loved boarding school

My son and various well-meaning friends have been advising me to abandon writing history books and cash in on the trend for boarding school misery memoirs. On the face of it, as someone who was sent away aged seven and remained in these institutions until I was 18, I am well qualified to add my

James Heale

Can private schools survive Labour’s VAT raid? 

As Labour edges closer to power, any hindrance to that goal is being ruthlessly removed. The £28 billion pledge in green spending has been dropped; plans to elect the House of Lords delayed. Bankers’ bonuses will remain uncapped. City financiers are subjected to prawn cocktail offensives at £1,000-a-head soirées to hear Rachel Reeves preach fiscal

John Connolly

The remarkable example of the JCB Academy

If you’re into diggers, the JCB world headquarters must look a bit like paradise. The factory sits in the rolling green hills of the Staffordshire countryside, bordered by three lakes and its own golf course. As you drive there you pass a giant spider-like sculpture made entirely out of digger claws, and inside the building,

The elite coach taking school football to a new level

On a wet and windy afternoon at Repton School, technical director of football Luke Webb is putting his first team through their paces. At first glance this training session looks much the same as any other, but I soon start to spot some subtle yet significant differences in his approach. Webb keeps his distance, there’s

Lara Prendergast

The day my self-defence classes paid off

Marlborough College has developed something of a reputation for churning out wives for the great and the good. It is wrong, though, to assume the place operates like a ‘girls in pearls’ finishing school, where everyone practises their deportment or learns how to arrange flowers, while waiting for their prince to arrive. Instead, Marlborough girls

Why are all female teachers called Miss?

You could be forgiven for thinking you’d inadvertently turned back the clock. Cross the threshold into the majority of British schools and what appears to confront you is a workforce of unmarried women. Surely it’s 1904 not 2024, and teaching is still a spinster’s business? For, in the average 21st-century school, each and every woman

How to make the new natural history GCSE worthwhile

Teaching for a new GCSE in natural history looks likely to begin next year. It’s part of the Department for Education’s ‘flagship sustainability and climate change strategy’. Apparently this subject is intended to teach pupils ‘how to keep the world safe’. Baroness Floella Benjamin, for instance, suggests it will show them how they can ‘save

Let children learn our best verse

My daughter is in Year 1 at our local C of E school and my son will start Reception this autumn. I grew up in America, so my children’s introduction to the British primary education system is mine too. I was pleased to learn that my daughter spent her first term studying the Battle of

School portraits: snapshots of four notable schools

Queen Ethelburga’s, York Set in 220 acres of beautiful countryside between Harrogate and York, Queen Ethelburga’s College is an award-winning day and boarding school that welcomes girls and boys aged from three months to 19 years and boarders from Year 3. It is known for its high-ranking academic performance. College, one of its two senior

Sam Leith

Russia lives on in my mind

My kids, at our local comprehensive, go on school trips to Leigh-on-Sea. I went to a much fancier school, so I went on school trips to Leningrad and Moscow. The first time must have been in 1990. We were all going through dramatic changes; and so was Russia – not that as cossetted, self-absorbed 16-year-olds

Private school isn’t worth it

In the end, it was the sports kit that persuaded us to pull the plug: two technical training tops at a cost of £90. A directive had come down from the senior school that all pupils must be in new gear from Kukri (official supplier to county cricket clubs and Commonwealth Games England) by the

Gareth Roberts

My favourite, ferocious teacher

In 1979, I was 11 years old, and I had a quite remarkable teacher. Don’t worry, though – this isn’t going to be one of those anodyne paeans to an inspirational educator that the Department for Education use in their ads to lure people into teaching. In fact, if the lady I’ll refer to here

My fight to get screens out of schools

It was gratifying to see the recent Unesco report recommending moderation on the topic of tech in the classroom. I do hope the Department for Education, Ofsted and every school head in the country has read it. Britain seems to have submitted to the tidal wave of digital learning without so much as a minnow

Matthew Lynn

Can private schools survive Labour’s tax grab?

The latest headmaster of Eton has been recruited from a major private equity firm to help drive the brand’s growth in China. The consortium of hedge funds that own Winchester has been involved in a bitter takeover battle with Rugby, centred mainly on the redevelopment value of its playing fields. Westminster has been acquired by

The Oxbridge Files: which schools get the most pupils in?

Oxford and Cambridge have released figures showing how many offers they gave to pupils from schools in the 2022 Ucas application cycle. We have combined the figures in this table. It shows how well state grammars and sixth-form colleges compete with independent schools. Over the years, both universities have increased the proportion of acceptances from

The hidden private school fees

Are you totting up the cost of school fees? Are you turning your piggy bank upside down, white-faced? Yes, the cost of private education is the ultimate first-world problem. But even among the ‘haves’, some are luckier than others. The global super-rich pay school fees from lavish earnings or trust funds. The rest of us,

What’s in a school nickname?

‘Have you met Sperm?’ a friend from Westminster School asked me at a teenage party once. Sperm was a charming, pretty, confident girl but, still, I didn’t feel quite ready to use her startling nickname on our first meeting.   My own nickname – Mons, Latin for Mountain or Mount – seemed unadventurously fogeyish by comparison.

Why are cathedrals cutting ties with choral schools?

There’s worrying news for all who care about the incomparable cultural phenomenon that is the singing of choral evensong in British cathedrals every day of the week. Canterbury cathedral announced in March that it’s cutting ties with its local independent choir school, St Edmund’s, ending a happy relationship that has lasted for 50 years. St

Lisa Haseldine

The crisis in language teaching

The British are, on the whole, rather rubbish at languages. We all know people who live up to P.G. Wodehouse’s description of the ‘shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French’. As more of the world speaks English, our monolingualism is getting worse. According to the British Council, only one in

Melanie McDonagh

Teaching children mindfulness is a waste of time

A friend from Lewisham, south London, reports occasionally on her children’s state school, which has a reputation for being strife- and strike-prone. However, the children themselves – nursery and reception – are engaged in more calming activities. They are doing mindfulness. ‘My son loves it,’ she says. They sit down cross-legged at least once a

Is Labour right about the power of oracy?

It is no surprise that a speechwriter and a barrister-turned-politician would think the art of speech-making should be taught in schools. It’s like pig farmers at a barbecue eulogising the nutritional value and superior flavour of pork.  The speechwriter in question is Peter Hyman and the former barrister is Sir Keir Starmer, Britain’s presumptive next

School portraits: snapshots of four notable schools

Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex Hurstpierpoint College – or ‘Hurst’ – aims to provide an ‘excellent all-round education’ that enables every child to ‘achieve their own personal bests’. The school is located in the West Sussex countryside, is co-educational and for pupils aged four to 18 years. Its 140-acre campus is impressive and, having abandoned full