The Making of Them

The Making of Them

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Guardian about the effects of sending children to boarding school. Both my parents went to boarding school, as did my partner. My father had lost his father in world war two and as an officer’s son the army paid for him to go to Wellington College. My mother’s father was in the RAF and stationed in places like Libya and Cyprus when she was a teenager, so the RAF paid for stability and decent schooling at a boarding school in Yorkshire. Drew’s father was in the Navy, and his mother in the RAF, so the Navy subsidised him to have the best schooling available at The Royal Hospital School. Fascinated to understand more about the boarding school experience therefore, I decided to read the book by the author of the piece Nick Duffell: The Making of Them: The British attitude to children and the boarding school system.

It is a well researched and sometimes quite personal account, of the effects that boarding school can have. He describes how many boarders grow up with inability to touch or be touched and have learned to suppress emotions and construct what Duffell calls a survival personality. But whilst a defensive wall can serve you well in the environment of school, as a way of dealing with being taken away from the security of home, it serves you less well in adult life when it can then be hard to get in touch with your real feelings or to trust others.

Both my parents hated their experiences of boarding school. My Dad went aged eight to a local prep school but my grandmother than remarried and moved from Hexham to Canterbury. My father remembers looking at the hill from his school and thinking that his home now lay 300 miles beyond it. That’s a lot to have to come to terms with aged eight, especially when you have to hide your feelings away for fear of bullying. Meanwhile my mother remembers always being cold in the bleak surroundings of her school, spending holidays with school mistresses as the RAF only paid to fly her out to join her family once a year.

Duffell talks a lot about what home provides in early adolescence, as a place to return to after experimenting in the adult world. Being taken away from home and put in a school environment without parents can leave boarders in adult life with no real concept of what a home is, and with distant relationships with their parents. Reading this certainly made me understand the effects that being a boarder can have.