Anorak News | Boarding School Survivors: turning students into victims

Boarding School Survivors: turning students into victims

by | 2nd, September 2015

21st September 1959:  A view of a boarding school boy on his way back to school.  (Photo by John Pratt & Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

21st September 1959: A view of a boarding school boy on his way back to school. (Photo by John Pratt & Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)


Joy Schaverien has a theory that boarding schools damage lives. She set up a group called Boarding School Survivors. This year she wrote a paper called caled Boarding School Syndrome. And now Schaverien has book out.

The book is part of a trend in education that focuses on the perceived emotional vulnerability of children, in which what’s impotant at school is to be emotionally competent and literate. School exist not to promote acemedic excellence, but to offer a holistic solution to human frailty in which everything gone before is part of your current existential crisis.

She tells the Times:

“I felt it was very risky, like going up against the establishment, but these were the stories and experiences I was hearing about. There is huge social pressure not to complain about what is generally seen as a benefit of privilege.”

If there is an establishment it is in supporting the therapeutic response to everything.

She speaks of her patients:

“They may never have been permitted to be angry. Someone who went to boarding school feels the whole world is coming to an end if they’re angry. That’s where a depression can start.”


“Is it a privilege to be sent away from your parents? I don’t think so.”

This isn’t science, is it. This is finding proof for your own prejudice.

Stefanie Marsh says the work is popular:

Hers is a very serious book aimed at clinicians and therapists. It is informed also by people who have contacted her since the publication of that first paper, including a number of boarding school counsellors who Schaverien supervises in her capacity as a psychotherapist. She also quotes Andrew Motion, Roald Dahl and George Orwell: all have written eloquently about their devastating boarding-school experiences.

The author adds:

“When children go to school when they’re very young it causes a psychological rupture. You’re on the steps, you’re introduced to the headmaster, then there’s the sudden realisation that your parents are in the car and the wheels are turning. I’ve heard of children running after the car.

Very young. Not teenaged. A very young child sent away from home is bound to be affected – using that event to explain problems in later life is neat and tidy. But her point is about boarding schools. Does the same ring true or orphanages, say, or when a child is sent to live with foster carers or the extended family when a parent is too ill to cope? Can every problem in adulthood be linked to school?

“In this country, there are children who go into care because their families break down and there is no other option, but these parents are actually paying for their children to go into care, basically. Or into prison. You’re watched all the time. Everything is regimented. It’s the abandonment of the very young.”

And we’re back to the prejudice and the anecdotal-based science.

“People grow up not having the language for their emotions. It causes a split between what you’re told you’re supposed to experience and what you’re actually experiencing. You’re actually very sad when you lose your family, your home, your pets, your nanny — everything you’ve ever had for those eight years of your life is suddenly gone. You’re told that it’s called homesickness and ‘you’ll get over it soon’. Actually, this is a major bereavement.”

One day we’ll look back at the therapy business and marvel.

Schaverien finds it troubling that “so many people who govern this country went to boarding school. What you learn in boarding school is fair play. It’s great, but the intimacy thing and understanding of the vulnerable, that’s what’s missing.”


“The polish is actually very good for socially oiling the wheels but in intimate relationships it’s also what keeps people at a distance.”


“First, they’re abandoned by their mother, the first love of their life. Then they are cut off from women in a society where women are joked about and belittled a lot.”


“I don’t see how you can protect children in boarding school from being bullied. If you go to a day school you can go home to your parents and talk about it. And don’t tell me weekly boarding is better if you’re having a bad time in a dormitory.”

And what of the older children who go?

“My feeling, is that to go to boarding school at eight is too young.”

Feelings. So much for the scientific syndrome.

There are children who choose to go at 13 and who have a really good time — ‘My parents were splitting up and it was the better option for me’ — but there are people who go at 13 and they get the same kind of shock.”

Of all the examples and reasons for going to boarding school, the author cites one: a broken home.

“The wealthiest, they’re the ones who have the most deprivation. Because boarding school has gone through the generations. So parenting skills are at a minimum really.”

What’s good about this, of course, is that selling therapy to the wealthy is easy – you can achieve wellbeing through therapy. The middle-classes will enjoy it becauae it will assure them that all that hot-house tutoring for grammer schools was much better for junior than spending a fortune on boarding school. And the poor won’t give a toss because for them it’s all about hard work and results. You can’t afford to be infantalised when you just need to get on with living…



Posted: 2nd, September 2015 | In: Reviews Comment | TrackBack | Permalink