The hellish awfulness of boarding schools

From the 90s so our contemporaries, essentially. Indeed some of you will have no doubt seen similar.

Why didn't kids run away? I don't mean I blame them for not doing, obviously, I just wonder why it didn't happen in droves. I think I'd have run away and reported it to the police even as a fairly young child.

Lorettos is not far from the musselburgh police station.

What horrible psychological hold kept them all under the spell of the place?

This particular account sounds like worst 1% levels of awfulness but nonetheless it's undeniable that these schools have long been synonymous with this type of thing albeit not usually to this extreme

 Fagging is something I've heard spoken about alot by people who went to public school. Boarding school in general sounds like pure torture, I remember being traumatised as a kid reading Roald Dahl's Boy on this topic. 


What's scary is the people who did all these horrific things and normalised them end up with top jobs and careers in Parliament 

agree with the OP, boarding schools look appalling

I would have cried and cried and cried at being separated from my family at that age

I didn’t like other children and I didn’t much like adults outside my own fam

Yes but children learn about the police and so forth. I feel pretty certain I'd have gone to the police immediately, no doubt very naively since I'm sure the posh school would have magicked it away. But they never even seemed to have the hope of that.

Compo face.  The reason he didn't run away or go to the police is likely that he's wildly exaggerating the scale of the abuse he suffered.

Of course it comes with a good sized kernel of truth, treatment of children was far more violent then, and child on child violence far more tolerated, even treated as normal.  I saw many many of the things he's talking about from my time in boarding school (happily not the sexual ones) but not anywhere even close to the frequency and severity of what he's suggesting.

If you're asking yourself "it seems incredible, how could this possibly happen, no-one would have stood up to that" then it probably didn't happen like that.  I don't doubt he was badly bullied and had a shit time, but:

A ‘game' called ‘Run the Gauntlet’ saw young pupils forced to walk between older pupils. “They’d rain punches on you - kicks to testicles, clothing pulled off. I was beaten like that every day for three years.”   

Really? Every day for three years.  Nah, I don't think so.

I was a forces child, only way to get a stable education without switching schools every few years. Very fortunate I didn’t have an experience like his but still not a fan.

My nan told me about how it used to be traditional at the school I went to (a co ed state grammar) for the new boys to have their heads pushed down the toilet on their first day by the older boys

Public school style behaviour in a state school


I can't actually remember if the accounts of fagging were second hand ones tbh but definitely I heard plenty of stories of the younger pupils being bullied by older ones then perpetuating that abuse themselves when they became the older ones

I honestly think if someone had treated me like this my reaction would have been to kill them. I wouldn't have felt remotely had about it and I think I'd have probably expected it to be accepted when I explained why. The whole "that's just how it is"? Nah fook that. Human societies have much to answer for.

It’s pretty bad when you look back at what they were like even as recently as the 80s

Now they are all scrubbed up woke and coporate. The kids are all slightly empty in a posh way. No joie de vivre or mischief. At least in the feral days there were some quite amusing characters 

Grammar schools were/are modelled on and attempted to ape public schools. 

Clergs as you know bullies either select people who are vulnerable to abuse or wear them down so they become unable to resist. I suspect you’ve never endured a violent or abusive relationship because that sort of person would stay away from you in the first place or you’d bin them off early doors. 

Why don’t people run away? Nowhere to go, fear of not being believed, actually not being believed, fear of letting down others, poor self worth/confidence, power dynamics, lots of reasons. 

Btw, as long as it’s not abusive I don’t have a big problem with the concept of fagging. It seems like an equaliser in some ways and a way of instilling hierarchy and respect for authority in others. 

Tbf, fagging was a positive in our school. You fetched milk, made tea, washed cups and cleaned shoes (10 mins a day max?) and in return, if you were having issues with someone older bullying you (as in the OP) then you had a contact in the sixth form who could sort it.

Worked for me but is obviously open to abuse.

The single sex grammar school (which Dominic Raab went to) was very much like that Crypto


At mine by the time I arrived in the late 90s/early 2000s we kind of looked down on that kind of thing , there was still bullying etc there but it wasn't the public school normalized kind described here, but the type you see in most normal schools 


I absolutely understand why a child in that situation would feel trapped and unable to tell the police etc , if that kind of thing is normalised and feels like it's being actively promoted by people in authority then it can be very isolating 

I. Can understand how it flourishes in private ofc crypto (tho yes have been pretty lucky in personal life touch wood) but when it's this open and flagrant then EVERYONE knows. Blows my mind.

Fagging existed in the mid 80s and was generally phased out by 1990.

Boarding school was great, especially after 1st 2 years when you discover dope and booze

Totally, gaga. If a teacher didn’t help the child how could they believe a copper would be any better? Why didn’t the girls in those laundries walk into the nearest Garda station? Because they knew that the officer would laugh and send them back. Same with a public school boy. 

IME it can be hard to distinguish grammar school educated twots from private school twots. The true public school lot tend to bray a bit more but even then it’s not always easy. 

Although not in the UK, I got sent to boarding school to try and ‘contain’ me. I hated it and was asked to leave after about a year. But it did make it easier when I had to do my national service. In the 20 ‘man’ (we were 18) dormitory, I was one of the few who didn’t spend the first 3 weeks blubbing at night as it was not the first time I was away from home.

In fact, being away from home was a highlight of NS! 

Tends not to be as bad at state schools though Davos. You can can home away from them and the teachers did at least have to pay lip service to stopping it. Although they often didn’t. 

I'm saying that of the schools I knew people at at the time, bradfield, Marlborough, Radley, welling on harrow, Eton had all phased out by 1990. I can't say for sure all hadn't, hence generally....

The schools I went to there was no corporal punishment after the mid-80’s and even before you had to do something awful to warrant it.  Fagging to the extent it still existed was things like having to clean the communal kitchen we could use or dispensing fruit juices cartons to people in the morning.  It was useful chores rather than anything bad.  By then bullying was limited to the psychological which I think is far more insidious than the old physical stuff.

Interesting comment about training the soldiers and colonial administrators of an empire that no longer existed.  It took the UK establishment a very long time to get over its diminished status in the world. 

If you are getting the abuse he was apparently getting and dont feel able to tell your parents and get them to take you out immediately there is something very very wrong with the way they are bringing you up.   They must have a large share of the blame here.

     it used to be traditional at the school I went to (a co ed state grammar) for the new boys to have their heads pushed down the toilet on their first day by the older boys

We only did this to private primary kids arriving at our state grammar. There was an understanding it was deserved, as they hadn't arrived there on merit like the other kids. Honestly, would support this approach throughout life, in the workplace, or parliament for example.

I bloody loved boarding school. Have a milestone reunion at the weekend. Almost half the year going despite travel, kids etc. - so it can't have been that shit and traumatic.

any parents who send their kids away to Board are an absolute disgrace imo...not matter how much they try to justify it as character building I find the practice abhorrent 

I expect throughout their existence they have been fine for those that are sociable and can stomach a limited amount of what might be technically termed as abuse as bantz. 

CRB checking will have dealt with the worst of this. Those that deny it happens/or at least happened in the recent past, are completely delusional. Check out the "couldn't have been more obvious" situation at Ampleforth where officers of a religious organisation renowned for paedophilia were given 24 hour access to young boys. These people are clever, so make sure only those they know are unlikely to be capable of reporting, or are so damaged they eventually align with them, are victimised and that the sytems minimise detection. 

I survived boarding school but I'm not going to say it didn't f me up.  Some kids absolutely thrive in that environment and others live in a daily nightmare that lasts for years.

Unlike being a day pupil, you can't get away from the bullies after school.  Some are so far away from their families, they rarely get visits and even then the parents would have to write weeks in advance for permission to take you out for a single Sunday afternoon.

Some of my school mates may not have seen their parents for years (diplomatic corps families were the worst).

Paedo priests... thankfully only one of them tried to catch a hold of me and of course we all knew about him, he was elderly so I got away but I recently spoke with my closest friend there who was seriously abused by more than one priest.  I never knew that at the time.

I recently received an email from the school about 4 priests from my time, one of them came as a surprise to me but the others I always suspected.

The Junior Dean used to shower with us after rugby and he'd pick out a boy and say "you played hard today, come up to my study and I'll rub some deep heat in for you".. I was 12 so wasn't sure what that meant and it was only meeting my old friend that I remembered this and learned that my old friend was one of his victims.

I remember one kid getting upset because his father sent the driver to pick him up... I was thinking "wait until you see the clapped out Ford Granada my dad turns up in"...

Or the time Stuart Townsend's dad turned up in his Jag and this knockout blonde gets out of the car and we all went "holy sh1t Townsend, your dad brought his girlfriend!"... "fvck off!  that's my mum", she was quality.

There was this one that used to be a gynaecologist before becoming a monk. For the purposes of sex education he had this nasty collection of slides showing ghastly venereal diseases.  He liked to listen to Benjamin Britten. My brother reckons he was ok actually. But he was no looker.  Forgive me Father. 

Running away was frequent but the problem was you'd be relentlessly bullied for doing so as a weakling.

Only 1 suicide whilst I was there, a boy of 17 who had borrowed money off me earlier that day and borrowed the scarf he used to do the deed.  The media were told it had been a rugby accident.  There have been many others after they've left.

If anyone is familiar with the character "Ross O'Carroll Kelly", he's undoubtedly a satire on my old school combined with Blackrock College.

I begged my parents to take me out. They were close to agreeing, but would never have quite got there - having a child at an elite school was very much tied to their ‘didn’t we do well for ourselves and aren’t we better than the masses’ belief system.

I would never have run away out of fear.

No sexual abuse in my case I hasten to add. Just a truly unbearable severe culture of bullying and violence, which when trapped in a barely policed boarding house becomes unbearable.


Turned out ok in the end. However, I still carry a lot of it with me. I suspect I always will.

@Lord Heh, I persuaded my dad to move me after 4 years (Irish secondary schools are 6 years, "college" is Uni).  I chose the school and I loved every minute of the new place.  It was co-ed and Church of Ireland which caused dad some issues as one of his clients was the Catholic diocese.  The Bishop threw a wobbly but amazingly my dad told him where to go.

My old school have just notified us of someone who has been found guilty of misconduct by the teachers regulation authority. They are notifying all that were at school at that time. The teacher sexually abused a pupil. 

I had a great time at boarding school but went there from 16-18, my own choice. I met someone years later who told me one of the boys in my year who seemed really lovely and was a friend had made his life hell in his house and had bullied him senseless. It surprised me as he def seemed one of the good guys. Amongst the boys I can believe it - a lot treated younger years like shit and there did seem to be a system of bullying them. 

The reason you don’t run is you sometimes don’t understand and often accept it as “this is happening to my friends so it is one of those things/rights of passage”. 

One of our friends confided she’d been raped by a teacher. We, as 16 year olds, found it shocking and knew it was wrong but later we’re being taught by the same teacher. With hindsight we are incredulous that we didn’t do anything more but it wasn’t given loads of thought and was just another thing in a day in the life of being a boarder. That shows it was all a bit skewed and fvcked up. 

I won’t be sending my kids to boarding school unless I’m confident they want it for themselves. I find it a weird concept now. 

On bullying.

During my time there was a group we called "The Brain Gang" since they shared a single brain cell.  They were the most violent people and were mostly 5th and 6th years.

You'd open your desk and find a note to say you'd been charged with some "crime" and were summonsed to attend court at x time.  The court was the 3rd / 4th year locker room.

The head of the gang was the judge (a very very successful entrepreneur today).  He'd appoint a panel of jurors from his friends, your prosecutor was a boy from the year above you and the defense counsel was a boy from the year below you.

Upon your guilty verdict (and it was always a guilty verdict), every boy present got to kick the living sh1t out of you OR you'd have to fight an older boy in the Tuesday boxing competition which was organised by the school.

Guy Crouchback20 Nov 23 14:51

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If you are getting the abuse he was apparently getting and dont feel able to tell your parents and get them to take you out immediately there is something very very wrong with the way they are bringing you up.   They must have a large share of the blame here.


This is an effing weird comment but no surprise from Guy.

I do find odd as well people like bananaman above who hold as an article of faith, sensationalist views about things they know absolutely nothing about.

There is a lot of open ground between denialism and sensationalism. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Personally I absolutely loved boarding school although it wasn't without its moments. There were a couple of very bad incidents which were awful for the individuals involved (luckily not me).

Similar things have happened at day schools, football clubs, scouts etc. Not to say that boarding schools don't require an elevated level of care to deal with elevated risks. But the idea that this stuff was a big feature of life for the vast majority of boarding school kids is just a fantasy that crime doc enthusiasts get their little dopamine hits thinking about. 

that happened too Pancakes.

I was in a fist fight on my very first day with a 2nd year.  I wanted to show him I wasn't going to take any sh2t but the problem was that now everyone wanted to challenge me.  He also gave me the nickname that people still know me as...

@spurius, I said previously that some people thrived at boarding school and loved every minute.

I was relentlessly bullied because I wasn't from Dublin.  Had I been in a day school, at least the bullying could be left at the school gates every day but it didn't, it would go on all night.  Constant "Verticals" or "Horizontals".  A vertical is when they grab the end of your bed and flip it up, leaving you in a crumpled mass stuck between the bed and the wall.  A Horizontal was when they flipped your bed over and you'd smash your face into the wooden floor.  That one took skill and co-ordination.

"This is an effing weird comment but no surprise from Guy."

Its not weird in the least, his parents sent him away to boarding school where he apparently suffered years of violent abuse that made his life a living hell but did not feel able to tell them or ask to be moved.  The fact he felt unable to tell them or asked to be moved and he felt he just had to take it suggests a combination of poor overly aloof parenting (of which boarding school is of course a symptom) and the dire culture in many boarding schools.

Eddie - to temper what I said above. I was talking about the majority of schools. I totally accept that some were particularly bad. Yours sounds pretty bad. And anyone's acount of their own experience is going to be compelling.

It's the people who chat shyt about things they know nothing about based on a sensationalist newspaper article that I find odd. 

Yes Guy well done you've just repeated your post almost word for word. It's still absolute bollocks.

There are all sorts of well-documented reasons why victims of abuse do not tell their parents about it. Bad parenting is very far down that list of reasons.  

at the age of 13 i was in a dormitory of 12,  long room, beds on either side - pairs - one to the left, one to the right - 6 pairs.


there was a chap in the first 15 rugby team who could walk down the dormitory and flip up each pair as he went - a bed for each hand.  you've got to admire that.


also entertaining was removing the bed board so that when somebody got into bed the mattress collapsed onto the floor below.



Sexual abuse yes fully accept that comes with a whole set of taboos that may stop kids talking, but long term institutionalised violent abuse at an institution your parents are sending you to?  Come on, if there was a loving supportive parental relationship of course he would have told them.   This is rof so I am feeling free to draw firm conclusions from hunch.

Guy, I didn't dare tell my father what I was going through and I wasn't being sexually abused.  I was fully aware of the intention behind sending me there (and the cost).

He thought he was doing the right thing for me, I needed to be kept away from my then closest friend too (who was sent to Rockwell College, an amazing school).  We were on the wrong path and that friend is quite the criminal mastermind today.

the way to describe him, if you have money in your pocket, he'll have that off you before you realise it.  I was speaking with his brother recently and wondered if I should meet up with him and his brother asked, "do you have anything he can take off you?"

Eddie, I am aware I am making glib provocative generalisations on an internet site, mostly to spark a bit of debate.    I don't know and dont profess to know what you went through and am sorry you had a hard time.

I've been too a boarding school you pompous twot Spurious. Only difference is I was there due to the fact my parents worked abroad rather than just hating me. 

Nobody is saying it is a feature for the vast majority on here as far as I can tell. People are simply pointing out that those arrogant enough to think their own lived experience represents the truth are delusional. 

Take King Charles - probably the most privileged person on this planet.  But does he strike you as happy?

Phil the Greek decided to send him to Gordonstoun, which as a school is somewhere that someone like PtG himself would have loved because it's full of farmers' sons and rugger buggers, etc.  But for a more sensitive, artistic type like Charles it was apparently a living hell.  The other pupils apparently took great delight in beating the crap out of their future king on the rugby pitch, and Charles had a panic button installed by his bed.  

I think a lot of what you see in Charles is down to his time there.

Girls' schools, thankfully, had nothing on the boys' schools for this sort of sh1t... That's not to say that there wasn't bullying, and I know at least a couple of friends who were horribly unhappy for the majority of their time there - like someone back up there said, some people will thrive, the majority will be fine, and some others will be utterly miserable.

But, for whatever reason - maybe because we had regular "exeats" and so would never go more than (as I recall) 4 weeks without having to leave school - at least girls' schools seem to lack the insane dedication to the cause of bullying and physical abuse that some boys schools pride themselves on.  Although there are always anomalies - I was speaking to a friend who is an ex pupil of a very famous girls' school, who had a terrible, scarring experience of boarding, because her year was absolutely notorious for having had some of the most nasty and vicious students, so much so that even teachers were afraid of them, apparently, so they let their behaviour slide.

The only good thing - which seems like another way in which girls schools are better - is that it was picked up on and dealt with, rather than just brushed off as some fvcked up rite of passage that should just be accepted and shrugged off.

What I find most curious is that, because ex pupils often move in similar social circles even after you leave school (at least with some of the "older" schools), people who have been badly bullied are likely to still have some measure of contact with the little sh1ts who made their lives miserable, generally with no acknowledgement from either side.  I don't know if I could ever be that forgiving, as to carry on as if it was no big deal, nothing but some adolescent high jinks.


Phil the Greek decided to send him to Gordonstoun, which as a school is somewhere that someone like PtG himself would have loved because it's full of farmers' sons and rugger buggers, etc.  But for a more sensitive, artistic type like Charles it was apparently a living hell. 

I think this is a good point. Hearty outdoor places like Gordonstoun, Sedbergh, probably Ampleforth in days gone by, are definitely not for everyone. 

They should have sent Charles to Eton. 

Guy how can you be so ignorant about why victims of abuse (in any context) don’t just leave or call for help? Surely at least one of the women you know has been abused in some way (1 in 4 have)? 

That’s a fair call from cru. I have a friend who’s encountered some of her school contemporaries in the workplace decades later with similar traumatic consequences. So much for modern workplaces eh.

I've a good friend from school whom I fully believed I bullied and he doesn't remember it.  I apologised to him for it and he literally told me he has no memory of me ever being mean to him..

On the other hand, I bumped into a former class mate in a pub in Southwark recently and he told me I was his worst bully.. and I had no recollection of that.  I do remember trying to keep the bullies away from him.  He's worth millions today so he did ok.

I've managed to go thirty years without seeing any of the people of who really bullied me at school.  After we left everyone else realised that one guy was indeed a complete aunt and so nobody is in touch with him anymore and he lives in the US so no danger of bumping into him.

Last week though I did spend an evening with someone who I thought was a bit of a dick at school but he seems to have grown up into a perfectly pleasant reasonable human being and we enjoyed a few drinks together.

My advice on anyone considering sending their kids to boarding school.

  1. Weekly boarding is best, coming home for the weekend is quite a relief.
  2. Make sure it's a small school
  3. Go for Co-Ed if you can, it can really tame the behaviour of boys.  And, when I came out of an all boys school, I had no idea how to talk to girls other than the disgusting chauvinistic way I had picked up from the other boys.
  4. If you can, make sure there's a good friend or relative already there