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Boarders feel parents 'sent them away'

An essay-writing contest has revealed that boarding school is still hard for many pupils. Cherry Canovan reports

Boarders have dealt a blow to the new, fashionable image of boarding schools by revealing that they feel they were "sent away" by their parents.

When the Boarding Schools' Association organised a competition on the "myths" associated with the lifestyle, the schools' supporters must have hoped to emphasise the delights of living away from home for a generation charmed by the Harry Potter books.

But the reality was different. The essays showed that boarding is just as difficult and bewildering at first as it was for the heroes and heroines of Victorian novels.

The competition, entitled "Boarding Myths - Has Boarding Really Changed?"

asked questions including: "Were we sent away?" and "Did Harry Potter convince us to board?"

Sophie Marsh, of the BSA, said: "Quite a few children said yes, we were sent away. I am not necessarily sure that is what we wanted them to say."

But she added: "Most of them came to the conclusion that although it may have been hard in the beginning, they benefited from the experience even though it may not have been their decision to go there."

The experience may be particularly difficult for children sent from overseas, the essays revealed.

Victorian literature is full of references to children being sent away to harsh schools where they are beaten, starved and bullied. In Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre the heroine even witnesses a death, as her friend Helen Burns succumbs to consumption at the prison-like Lowood.

But facilities and standards of care are now stringently regulated and the Harry Potter model of boarding as a treat that children look forward to is often presented.

Indeed, competition entrants found many similarities between their own experiences and Harry's, said Ms Marsh, although one bemoaned the lack of four-poster beds in their school.

Fifty pupils entered the competition, which was open to senior boarders.

The winners will receive a day's media training as well as a pound;50 prize.

Another essay title, "Cold showers and iron beds. Has boarding accommodation really changed?" was designed to encourage pupils to enthuse about the high standards of housing now provided.

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