Lasting impressions of a boarding school education

Although Henrietta Heald (Letters, 19 December) is correct in saying that girls by and large are not admitted to Eton, that is not to say that being female necessarily spares you from the trammels of the independent boarding school system. In the 1970s, I spent six years at Wycombe Abbey, a girls’ public school in Buckinghamshire. My parents thought that by buying a “good” education for me, they were acting in my best interests.

Homesick, useless both at lacrosse and tennis, anarchic – “Why shouldn’t I go shopping in my free time? It’s what every normal 16-year-old does,” I once argued to my dismayed housemistress – and endlessly at war with the totalitarian regime of the place, I was an unhappy square peg in a round hole. At university, I lost my way badly – I scraped a third-class degree and seem to have spent the rest of my life trying to recover.

Admittedly, only a minute percentage of the population attends residential schools. Some may even claim to enjoy the boarding experience. But for many – girls as well as boys – the boarding environment can be a source of lifelong insecurity and depression. Let us hope that Richard Beard’s Sad Little Men makes its mark, and that well-to-do parents find something less damaging on which to spend their money.
Victoria Owens
Long Ashton, Somerset

While I agree with Henrietta Heald’s view, not everyone who was sent away to school – in my case at eight – turns out to be the Sad Little Men described in Richard Beard’s book. I do not defend the system – there is much wrong with it and I endured some very unpleasant experiences.

However, contrary to expectation, I don’t find connection and real empathy a challenge. That would have severely hampered me in my work as a psychologist, a psychotherapist and an employee of a charity working for 30 years with disadvantaged people from a wide range of backgrounds.

How did I manage this? Partly, I suspect, because there were some teachers prepared to provide a correcting perspective on our situation. They introduced those like me, who were interested, to analyses that challenged the establishment of which we were meant to be a part.
Nick Barton
Templecombe, Somerset

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