‘I’ve been duct taped to chairs and mattress flipped’: What life is like at an all-boys school
‘In hindsight, it was really fun, if not fucking weird.’
Just a few weeks ago, my former Sixth Form, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, announced it would be accepting girls from September 2019 for the first time since the school was founded in 1235.
My Facebook was brimming with controversial opinions as to whether this was a move in the right direction, or an abominable desecration of tradition. A current pupil at a Scottish boarding school described all-boys schools as producing “rugged, independent, traditional sporty people.” Intrigued by this claim, I went to speak to some ex-boys’ school students about their experiences there to find out if it really is all it’s cracked up to be.
Jack, from London attended one of the UK’s most prestigious all-boys boarding schools until the age of 18 when he came to University here in Edinburgh.
Are there any things which happened in your time at school that you feel could only have happened at an all-boys school?
Yeah there are stories I have that people just wouldn’t believe. I’m not talking David Cameron porking a pig, but we were bored. Really really bored. So we did weird shit to entertain ourselves.
A lot of people get hyped up over initiations or think the fact you went to all boys’ school means you did gay things, because what else is there to do? Right? But it’s not true. I’ve been duct taped to chairs, mattress flipped, got into fights.
The worst was someone put shampoo in my bed and then shaved his pubes into it.
Do you think having gone to an all-boys school made it harder to interact with girls in later life?
Nah, I struggle with girls because I’m bad with girls.
Out of all my mates I know womanisers, serial monogamists and a fair few who couldn’t care less. Just because there aren’t girls at the school doesn’t mean you don’t know about them. We didn’t discover girls like they discovered the earth wasn’t flat. It wasn’t a eureka moment.
You miss out on a lot of shit. Like a lot of my mates who were at a co-ed day school had the era of house parties and getting with girls when they were like thirteen to sixteen but I missed out on that because I was living with guys at school.
We had socials instead. They would bus in one of the girls’ schools nearby and you’d have a school disco. Sexually repressed boys and girls at a sober school disco – absolute carnage. The teachers must have wet themselves at what they saw.
Are there any particular aspects of your character that you would say originate from, or were exacerbated by single-sex education?
Yeah I get very competitive and sometimes I struggle with emotions. At school you don’t wanna be the guy who cries or loses. And because of that if you fail or lose control of your emotions you feel ashamed, which is a really unhealthy attitude.
Another person I spoke to, Shaun, who attended an all boys’ Grammar school in the North-West of England saw this fiercely academically competitive environment as one of the virtues of his time at school:
He said: “Single sex schools are brilliant for education. They create a focused environment not applicable to mixed education schools. The main reason one attends school, is of course, education.”
However, one thing that just kept coming up across these interviews was the dreaded ‘B’ word. Banter.
Boys’ schools are traditionally a bastion of this abstract concept, so I decided to ask some of my interviewees about their opinions on this aspect of life at boys’ school.
Do you have any particular opinions on the “banter” culture inherent to life at all-boys school?
Dave: It is harmless as long as everyone knows where the line is and not to cross it. At times the whole banter culture was taken too far and some lads were bullied a bit. But again I think that is mostly down to the fact that teenagers can be arseholes.
Shaun: The banter culture resides in all schools, not more so in single boys’s schools. I feel, especially at my school, so called banter did not involve any sexist notions which may possibly arise from mixed sex education.
This preconception that boys’ school banter is inherently sexist is something that Jack also challenged. He said: “I think there is a perception that banter and lad culture in boy schools is inherently sexist, homophobic and maybe even racist, and I think you do find these, but I don’t think it is more common than co-ed schools.
“Just because we didn’t have girls, it doesn’t mean we don’t understand how they should be treated- they’re humans like the rest of us. Some guys get it wrong – either out of stupidity or out of maliciousness and they should be punished and taught what is acceptable and what isn’t. But to blame it on a type of school seems unfair.”
However, this isn’t a sentiment shared by all my interviewees, Hadrien who attended an all boys’ school in Canada, before moving to a mixed school at seventeen told me: “The lack of respect for women in all boys’ schools is something that was seldom addressed, and when addressed, largely ignored. When the other gender is an almost abstract construct, it is easy to belittle and denigrate, something that, unfortunately, I think many graduates of all boys’ schools carry into the real world.”
Finally, I wanted to gain a female perspective on the phenomenon that is an all boys’ school. Liv, from South London moved from an all girls’ secondary school, to an all boys’ school which accepted 28 girls in a Sixth Form with 110 boys.
Could you briefly describe your experience being one of few girls at an all-boys sixth form?
I had a really positive experience at the boys’ sixth form that I attended. There was definitely a different teaching style and approach to teaching used in the boys’ sixth form compared to the all-girl secondary school I attended before.
Independent learning and debating was encouraged in comparison to very guided, almost spoon-fed teaching. It was a shock to the system for both genders at first as there were few girls in my year compared to boys but you end up adaptini’g pretty quickly. In my experience, boys’ attitudes to friendships tend to be a lot more laid back and open compared to girls which made making friends easy.
Do you think boys who went to all-boys schools find it harder to interact with girls in later life?
It’s so dependent on the experiences you have growing up and maybe whether you have female siblings, so without generalising I’ve found boys who have only ever been to all boys schools tend look at girls in a different way to boys who have attended co-ed schools, for example they might find it harder to look at girls in a platonic way.
Does the “rough and tumble” aspect of all-boys serve as character building for later life?
Yes, I would say so. You have to grow a thicker skin as a girl in a large group of boys. Your friendship group ends up becoming you and maybe a few other girls but mainly boys, so you get used to the banter.
What would you describe as the main virtues of having gone to an all-boys school?
I think it definitely got me more involved in areas that I would have never taken an interest in before. For example, for it me it was politics just because it wasn’t really discussed at my all girls’ schools (as much as they tried). I also think that as a girl, if you want to enter into quite male dominated careers, it’s so helpful to have experience working and being comfortable within a heavily male dominated environment.