Potter spell takes a while to work

24th January 2003 at 00:00
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 their schools by revealing that they feel they were "sent away" by their parents.

When the Boarding Schools' Association organised an essay-writing competition on the "myths" associated with the lifestyle, it 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 that most had ended up enjoying their time at boarding school. Some had even decided for themselves to board.

"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. For some the location of the country that was to become their term-time home had been a mystery.

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

The preferred image these days is the Harry Potter model with boarding presented as a treat.

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 sixth-form boarders. The winners will be selected shortly and 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 by schools.

Boarding for children in care, 18

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