Gifted pupils say Harrow smells

Nic Barnard

THE toilets are smelly, the food is poor and the lessons just aren't challenging enough for bright youngsters.

That's the verdict of a group of west London state-school pupils, not on a failing comprehensive, but a great English public school: Harrow.

"I know they're boys' toilets, but the smell..." said Charlotte Besant, 12, one of 60 children selected to board for a week under the Government's gifted and talented initiative.

Pupils were impressed by the the historic buildings but refused to be overwhelmed. "If this is a challenge, it's not really challenging us," said Zoe Koumoullos, 12, of the lessons.

It's a return to roots of sorts for a school now indelibly linked to the upper classes. Harrow (annual fees: pound;17,800) was founded in 1572 as a free school for local children.

But local farmers decided a grounding in Latin was a low priority for their sons and the school began to take in fee-paying out-of-towners.

Until recently, local children only knew about Harrow via fly-on-the-wall TV documentaries, although some schools use its extensive sports facilities (18 rugby pitches). Now Barnaby Lenon, recently-appointed head wants "to seize every opportunity" to work with local state schools.

In fact the 12- and 13-year-olds spent the mornings in lessons mostly with teachers from their own schools. The afternoons and evenings had a more authentic public-school flavour, with activities including archery and camping in the 300-acre - yes, 300-acre - grounds.

Reports of midnight feasts and sneaking around after lights out suggest the temporary boarders were having fun. But they wouldn't want to stay for the full five years.

"I wouldn't pay pound;18,000 a year to come here," said Zoe. "It's not preparing you for the real world."

The pupils have had the run of the school, from the (pretty basic) bedrooms - Churchill slept here - to the new drama block. Well, most of the school. The Vaughan library, with its chapel-like roof and stained-glass windows is off-limits "in case they run off with the books," according to one member of staff.

Perhaps Harrow isn't yet entirely comfortable with its new community role.

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Nic Barnard

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