The truth about boarding schools: the boys

Think you know everything about what a boys’ boarding school is like? Think again.


I attended a private all boys school in the heart of Sussex. When I tell people this, I get one of three reactions.

1.“You’re some stuck up rich kid who lives in a massive bubble of rich kids?”

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Yeah, pretty much.

It was a place to learn, as the governing bodies put it: how to be a good, productive, happy and spiritual human. I’m not sure it worked.

Sleepy country scenery was the setting. Rolling hills complete with all manner of sporting fields and ovals and courses, courts and quadrangles, lorded over by impressive stone structures which hark back to the tradition bound history that made our school such a singularly special institution.

It is an elitist institution (albeit a rewarding one in so many ways) and despite the availability of scholarships is still very expensive apart from the nought point noodle percent who manage to get a full scholarship.

Not to mention the fagging.

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The thing is, it is just that, a bubble. Like the boy who lived in the bubble, we were overly protected from the real world.

We never developed a tolerance (referring to the bubble boy) to the different strokes of the outside world so when we entered it we were racist and not in the least bit understanding of what life was about ‘out there’. The closest a lot of people at my school got to experiencing the other side of the tracks, so to speak, was that film Kidulthood (which I bloody love, seriously, so down).

2. “You must be a massive sporty lad”

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Nope, I’m what you might call a casual athlete.

I was introduced to great sporting traditions such as county wide rugby tournaments where many a wellied parent stood cheering encouragement, their impossibly plummy voices penetrating the thick woodland, sending flocks of pheasants wheeling into the sky, where they were promptly shot and made into pie (only partly joking).

From established sports to student formed fight clubs and organised beatings, followed by an hour in the chaplaincy writing letters for amnesty international, there was always a satisfyingly varied array of extra-curricular activities.

One of these, smoking, was more of an umbrella term for a multi-faceted boarding school experience which included but was not limited to bullying, alcohol drinking, drug taking, teacher baiting and some less practised sports which inevitably ended up with a ball of some sort being kicked directly up your arse.

Due to the highly illegal nature of these activities we were subjected to frequent skirmishes by towering teachers and hollering housemasters armed with gnashing hounds straining at the leash, much like an incredibly comfortable concentration camp.

3. “All boys? You must be gagging for it all the time.”

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Who isn’t?

With my transferral into year thirteen came the girls and the end of single sex education. Filtering into the year below they arrived one fateful day, surely filled with much trepidation as they passed underneath arched windows from which boys protruded, calling all manner of names.

These handles’ soon became more sophisticated after a few defining features were identified – ‘Pork Pie in a Sling’ and ‘Grint’ seemed to catch on pretty quickly.

Many of the boys who were the staunchest advocates for single sex solidarity would rather couple off in search of a quiet corner to fill than play a game of soggy biscuit.

The sexiness did not stop at the students however – as we revelled in fantastic stories of our bursar getting pressed up against a window by her husband in full view of the gap students. They who had witnessed that delightful yet also horrifying scene were apparently given new bikes to keep schtum. Luckily the Aussies were generous enough to share that delectable morsel with the rest of us.

The moral of the story here…

If you want to make ignorant judgements, I’ll be happy to slap you on the back and say good guess.