Has boarding school gone soft?

6th June 2003 at 01:00
No time to be glum or lonely... Emily Clark reports on the concerns of the new chair of the Boarding Schools' Association.

Stephen Winkley, new chairman of the Boarding Schools' Association says his days as a boarder could have been straight out of Lord of the Flies.

"It was about bullying, hierarchical behaviour and a contempt of anything academic. It was a jungle run by wild boys and I was the weakest animal.

There was never any chance of escape because you could never communicate with anyone," he said of his time at St Edward's, Oxford, in the late 1950s.

"I was the wrong sort of person to board. I was fairly weedy and intellectual. Boarding school was right for big, confident and mature people, all the things I was not." But things today, he finds, are much changed. Indeed, his main concern is that boarding is now too much fun.

Dr Winkley, 58, chairman of the association which promotes and acts for 550 boarding schools, says: "Boarding schools are much gentler places. They are a wonderful place to build a child's self esteem because the system is relentless and there are always people around having fun.

"School definitely made me a tougher person. We have a problem now in that life for a lot of our children is quite cosy and easy. The sad cases are the golden boys who find life at school so perfect that nothing is ever as easy again.

"A culture of happiness has made our schools better but it might make our schools too soggy.

"I am not sure in the long term how good it is for children to have a deliriously happy time. Maybe we should take children out of their comfort zone rather more. For example, we might insist on more involvement with outside projects and adventurous activities. " Dr Winkley, who has put three of his four children through boarding school, has been head of Uppingham school in Rutland for 12 years. The school costs pound;18,633 a year for boarders and counts Stephen Fry, Rick Stein and cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew among its alumni.

He believes that boarding can be overwhelming for some people and will think carefully about letting his nine-year-old follow in his siblings'


"One could find the relentless gregariousness of boarding pretty wearing," says Dr Winkley. "Not enough premium is given to the solitary person. There is an upbeatness of life here and if you want to be gloomy it is actually quite hard."

The number of boarding pupils has risen more than 2 per cent since 2001.

There are 70,746 students attending the 562 accredited boarding schools in Britain.

Letters, 25

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