Public school uncovered

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Yet another 'real-life' documentary hits the screens, and this time gives viewers a glimpse inside the hallowed halls of Harrow School. Jo Hurst reports

BY the time 13-year-old James Robson leaves Harrow School, his parents will have paid around pound;100,000 in fees. His new uniform alone has cost pound;1,756.70.

James' story and those of other modern-day Harrovians will be told in a new eight-part documentary on the pound;16,860-a-year, 800-pupil boarding school whose former pupils include Winston Churchill.

In the ITV series that starts on June 12, Peter and Kim Robson, James' parents, express their conviction that their money is well spent. James, says his mother, will be acquiring another family at Harrow.

"In a way I think that his housemaster, who has so much experience, will be able to deal with puberty and teenage problems better."

But if viewers are startled by the price of the boys' straw boaters, blazers and Sunday tail-coats, the school says it hopes the programme will persuade them that Harrow is for anyone who can benefit.

Iain Farrell, director of studies for 24 years, said last week: "I think the head decided to do the documentary because he wanted to show that Harrow isn't elitist. We want to attract all bright pupils and offer families with financial constraints full scholarships."

Whether the boys' cut-glass accents will have that effect remains to be seen. Tim Devlin, the public relations consultant, who describes the typical Harrovian as "fairly intelligent, very polite but someone who can be slightly arrogant", said this week: "Welcoming cameras into your school is risky. Cameras have been into Radley, Benenden with some degree of success but the Gordonstoun documentary wasn't successful at all."

Academically, Harrow (average point score at A-level last year 25) lags behind rival Eton (average score 28 and even further behind big London schools such as Westminster (32).

Mr Farrell said: "The school has been resting on its laurels to some extent and the new head has taken it by the scruff of its neck and started to point it in the right direction."

The idea for the Harrow programme came from the Boarding Education Alliance which felt that most people did not really know what a boarding school was like. Harrow is one of only three senior all-boys boarding schools in the UK. The others are Radley and Eton.

Barnaby Lenon, the head, tells the cameras: "People think about boarding schools in terms of dormitories, cold showers, lack of privacy, unpleasantness and bullying.

"But the reality is that Tom Brown's school days died years ago."

As he arrives, James says he will miss his brother and sister and his own room. But he settles into school life quickly and soon he is putting posters of semi-clad women on his walls.

With boarders accounting for only 1 per cent of the school population, the series portrays an English educational tradition that is becoming increasingly rare.

'Harrow - the School on the Hill' starts on June 12 at 7.30pm on ITV


Beak: master

Bill book: small blue book published each term providing essential information about the school and a calendar of main events

Double: lines on special paper set as a punishment. Something to avoid Ducker: the swimming pool

Eccer: any form of games

Send up: a piece of very good work

Shepherd: a boy in the year above whose job it is to look after you in your first two weeks

Skew: punishment from a beak for poor or incomplete work

Trolley up: permission to work after lights out (only used in a few houses)

Tosh: a bath or shower

Trials: internal school exams

Yarder: outdoor recreation area

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