Boarding school

Dieting to death: a black comedy of boarding school life

It sounds in bad taste, but Scarlett Thomas has written a riotously enjoyable novel about a boarding school full of girls with eating disorders. It’s not that Thomas doesn’t take eating disorders seriously; she takes them so seriously that one of the girls dies. But there are few more vivaciously original novelists around today, and surely none of them is having as much fun while making serious points. Elsewhere, Thomas has written compellingly about her own orthorexia (or obsessive desire to control her diet); but this doesn’t mean that she is above lampooning the hysterical pronouncements of the diet-obsessed — not least that fruit, unless you pick it in the

The rise of the flexi-boarder

Spend a night at Woldingham School in Surrey — with its wellness room, indoor tennis dome and a menu offering cod steak with prawns and tarragon, all just an hour’s drive from London — and you may feel like you’re on an upmarket mini-break. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the number of ‘flexi-boarders’ — pupils who stay the night at school just once or twice a week — has grown three-fold since it was introduced three years ago. ‘It’s the perfect solution for us,’ says Siobhan Burgess, who works for the Cabinet Office and whose 14-year-old daughter boards up to two nights a week at the school to fit

School houses provide camaraderie, challenges – and a healthy dose of ruthless competition

‘Come on Burghley! That’s it Porter, you can do it!’ It was sports day 2008, and we were winning. Of course we were winning — weeks of tactical diagrams had gone into making sure of it. The runners crossed over the line and a cheer went up from the blue side. ‘YESSSSSSSSSS!’ screamed a gaggle of teenagers, their faces painted blue. An hour later, the house cup was ours, paraded back to school by triumphant sixth formers. They say your school days are the best of your life, but I’d go one further: the days you spent competing for house points — those are the best of your life. I’ve

School portraits | 6 September 2018

    Bath Academy   Based in the beautiful city of Bath, this tutorial college is one of very few in the south-west to offer flexible academic programmes for a wide range of students. As well as being a sixth-form college, Bath Academy also offers GCSE courses, revision courses and resits in a wide range of subjects. The Academy’s University Foundation Programme was the UK’s first independent foundation programme. Equivalent to A-levels or the International Baccalaureate, it is designed primarily for international students who want to study at a British university. The focus is on a personalised approach to learning, with small class sizes and regular meetings between students and

School portraits | 15 March 2018

Ludgrove There aren’t many traditional all-boys, full-boarding prep schools left in the UK, but Ludgrove in Berkshire is one. ‘Our boys speak for themselves and it is them that make Ludgrove special. They are full of spark and never short of things to say,’ according to the school. There are two mantras of Ludgrove life, ‘Be kind’ and ‘Be the best you can’, while the school motto is: ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Ludgrove has a strong academic record — around 70 per cent of the top year go on to Eton, Harrow, Radley or Winchester — but sport and tradition

Box of delights | 7 September 2017

No mother, wrote Roald Dahl in his childhood memoir Boy, would send her son off to prep school without, at the very least, the following in his tuck box: a home-made currant cake, a packet of squashed-fly biscuits, a couple of oranges, an apple, a banana, a pot of strawberry jam or Marmite, a bar of chocolate, a bag of Liquorice Allsorts, and a tin of Bassett’s lemonade powder. To these, a boy would add ‘all manner of treasures’, such as magnets, pocket knifes, balls of string, clockwork racing cars, lead soldiers, tiddlywinks, catapults, stink bombs and Mexican jumping beans. One boy in Dahl’s class at St Peter’s in Weston-super-Mare

School portraits | 7 September 2017

  Walhampton School   The ethos at this prep school on the edge of Hampshire’s New Forest is very much one of living life to the full; history lessons involve re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings on horseback or the Battle of Trafalgar on a lake. Every year pupils go to ‘camp’ for a week at the end of the summer term; activities include day trips to RNLI stations, visits to local historical sites and a week on the Isle of Mull. Horse riding is also part of the curriculum, with a stable-full of ponies available for lessons. Walhampton describes itself as encompassing the ‘Swallows and Amazons spirit’, and aside

Sink or swim | 15 June 2017

I used to worry that I would never be a good writer because my childhood wasn’t interesting enough. I now think there must be some other explanation. Because the truth is that, when I was still pretty young, my parents banished me to an isolated community where for years on end I was compelled to dress in heritage costume, endure the uncanny absence of women and participate in ritualistic group activities, often of a physical or religious nature. That’s right. I am an Old Harrovian. On the face of it, this seems like an odd choice for my parents to have made for me — although it isn’t as bat-cave

Is boarding school cruel?

Yes Alex Renton Last week some 20,000 children under the age of 14 packed their bags to return to boarding school for the summer term: a migration unique in anthropology. The habit was born of necessity for the rural gentry in the 18th century, and it became customary for the wealthy and aspirational in the 19th century. But what possible need for boarding is there in the 21st? Some parents say they have no choice. ‘She literally made me do it,’ one mother told me of her eight-year-old, residing at a very smart prep in the Midlands. ‘I was in bits. Still am. But she’d read Harry Potter and Malory

Talking heads: The individuality machine

Bedales. A school known for its lack of uniform and its policy of pupils calling their teachers by their first names, it is beloved by some but baffles others. To add to the confusion, its headmaster isn’t the happy-clappy chap you might expect. ‘I’m far from being some kind of trendy character,’ insists Keith Budge, who describes himself as ‘Celtic fringe — half Scots, half Welsh’. Budge — I should probably refer to him as Keith, since his students do — has been the headmaster of the Hampshire school since 2001. ‘I’m just liberal in the sense of wanting education to offer the individual as much freedom as it possibly can,’ he says.

School portraits | 8 September 2016

Rugby When Rugby School first allowed girls into its sixth form in 1976, just ten joined. In 1995 it went fully co-ed and today there are 373 female pupils. The ankle-length skirts that form part of the uniform look old-fashioned, but the school’s co-educational aproach is far more progressive. The transition wasn’t all smooth, though. When the first head girl was appointed, some boys hung protest banners in the Warwickshire school’s chapel and boycotted a service marking the bicentenary of former headmaster Thomas Arnold. These days the head girl and head boy work seamlessly together and Rugby performs solidly in the league tables, with IGCSEs in most subjects and 29

From bored to boarding

Thirty-five years ago, shortly after my 16th birthday, my parents finally got fed up with me and packed me off to boarding school. Now, half a lifetime later, my 16-year-old son is about to follow in my footsteps. The two scenarios aren’t quite the same (back then, it was my parents’ idea — this time, it’s my son who can’t wait to get away), but as I pack his trunk and think how much I’ll miss my one true pal, I can’t help wondering — am I doing the right thing? Naturally, I have no idea — like most of life’s big decisions, it’s a roll of the dice. Yes, I can

Queue for boarding

Those whose only experience of packing school trunks is via Mallory Towers, Kingscote or Hogwarts may be relaxed about the rise in boarding-school fees. But with annual fees at some of our best-known boarding schools approaching £40,000, traditional boarding families which don’t include a hedge-fund manager, prime minster or Kazakhstani oligarch may well be casting a nervous eye at the private day school down the road. Or they, and others who prefer a broader social mix, may instead be applying to a different and little-known breed of boarding school. A state one, where tuition is free. Some charge for extended ‘day-boarding’ places (boarding life without the sleepovers), but full or

Charles Moore’s Notes: If we want to save the elephant, we must legalise the ivory trade

How good a deal for Britain is it that the president of China got a state visit and a nuclear power station and Prince William got the chance to go on Chinese television and complain about the ivory trade? The Prince was listened to politely, of course, but the Chinese will not give up their enthusiasm for the stuff. The elephant in the room, to misapply that expression, is that only a legal trade in ivory will save the species. Just as cows exist in any numbers only because we eat their flesh and drink their milk, so elephants have a future only if it is profitable to breed them.

High life | 20 August 2015

These are the languid, sensuous days of summer, and I’ve had another birthday, which is the bad news. But it’s the silly season, so I’m going to be silly yet again and tell you about Patrick and Isabelle Balkany, a couple who got into trouble last week in the land of cheese. I don’t know them, but I had the bad luck to run into the wife about 20 years ago in Rolle, Switzerland, where the Rosey school is located. It was September, the first day back at school, and my son J.T. was miserable at the prospect of going to boarding school for the first time. He had tried

Why Scottish public schools are in a field of their own

In 1919 the literary critic G. Gregory Smith coined the term ‘Caledonian antisyzygy’, by which he meant the ‘zigzag of contradictions’ that so dominated the national literature that it might be reckoned a useful summation of the Scottish character itself. ‘Oxymoron,’ Smith observed, ‘was ever the bravest figure, and we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all.’ Perhaps so. Certainly, the Scottish public schools endure an often ambivalent, even awkward, relationship with their native land. The most prestigious are outposts of England in Scotland, custodians of an idea of Britishness that’s increasingly out of favour north of the border. Schools such as Fettes, Loretto, Glenalmond and Merchiston