Joy Schaverien: Keynote Address at BSS-S Online Conference, 6 November 2021

Revisiting Boarding School Syndrome:
Lockdown and the Resonance of Past Captivity

Joy Schaverien
Audio only

The Making of Them (1994)

A BBC 40 Minutes production, directed by Colin Luke

Filmed in September 1993, this documentary is about young boys starting boarding prep school. It features Nick Duffell of Boarding School Survivors talking about surviving boarding school and his work with former boarders.

It is the earliest example of a TV documentary about “modern” boarding, and was for many the first impetus to recognise and seek help to overcome the legacies of the boarding experience.

Leaving Home at Eight

Channel 4: Cutting Edge: series 8, episode 1

Following four eight-year-old girls as they adjust to a new life away from their parents and their homes; the parents have decided their children will be better off boarding in a private school, in this instance Highfield, one of the best in the UK.

“The whole thing – watching these sweet little people as they are gradually institutionalised – was so peculiar, so old fashioned, that it made for quite fascinating viewing.” The Telegraph

Boarding School Syndrome

Joanna de Waal in conversation with Joy Schaverien

In her book Boarding School Syndrome: The Psychological Trauma of the “Privileged” Child, Joy Schaverien identified a cluster of symptoms and behaviours, which she classified as ‘Boarding School Syndrome’. The premise is that children sent to boarding school at an early age suffer the sudden and irrevocable loss of their primary attachments and this constitutes a significant trauma. The children are also unsafe because, in some schools, they are at the mercy of bullies and sexual predators. To adapt to the system, a defensive and protective encapsulation of the self may be acquired; the true identity of the person then remains hidden. This pattern may continue into adult life, distorting intimate relationships. In psychotherapy, the transference dynamics may replay the hidden childhood trauma of repeated losses.

Professor Joy Schaverien, PhD is a Training Analyst of the Society of Analytical Psychology (London) with a private analytic and supervisory practice in the East Midlands.

Joanna de Waal is a Jungian Analyst and member of the British Psychotherapy Foundation. She teaches on the West Midlands Institute of Psychotherapy Jungian Adult training and the BPF Jungian Adult Training.

Boarding School at an Early Age is Child Abuse

George Monbiot argues in 2015 that early boarding is not compatible with modern child care

Increasing numbers of children are being educated at boarding schools in the UK. We must protect children from the damage they can cause, argues George Monbiot, who still struggles with the emotional impact of being sent away at the age of eight. He says if working-class parents did this, there would be an outcry. So why are upper-class parents getting away with what has become a form of acceptable cruelty?

The Guardian 11 February 2015

This House would Ban Boarding School for Under 16s

Debate held at Edinburgh University, Old College: 18 November 2014

Excerpts from the Edinburgh University Public debate where Nick Duffell and Sally Fraser proposed, and won, the motion. Graham Hawley and Eleanor Hervey-Bathurst spoke against.

Boarding Schools: The Secret Shame

ITV: Exposure (2018)

Focusing on child sexual abuse, this programme follows journalist Alex Renton, who was himself abused as an eight-year-old by his teacher, as he investigates how much schools knew about what was going on behind their closed doors.

“It was impossible not to feel outrage and anger on the victims’ behalf. Most of these grotesque acts and systematic failures were “historic” but there was no room for complacency, as Renton wondered if boarders are safe today. The answer wasn’t entirely reassuring. Safeguarding standards vary wildly between schools and reporting of abuse allegations is still not legally mandatory. But the documentary was a thoroughly researched and righteously angry film about a deeply worrying issue.” The Telegraph

Chosen (2008)

Channel 4: BAFTA award-winning documentary

Chosen is testament to the power of a compelling story, simply told. It deals with a subject often whispered but rarely spoken about – the sexual abuse of schoolboys by teachers in Britain’s private schools.

Tom, Mark and Alastair all went to the very best school money could buy. At eight years of age they were sent as boarders to a prep school in the countryside outside London that prepared boys for Eton, Harrow, Oxford, Cambridge and life. What their parents didn’t suspect was that several of the teachers on the staff were career paedophiles who would ruthlessly use the position of power and influence they held in the lives of the children in their charge to sexually exploit them in the most extreme and degrading way.

For 30 years the boys, and the men they became, stayed silent, nursing the dark secret of the abuse they suffered. In this film they break that silence with spellbinding articulacy and breath-taking honesty. Looking back over the decades, they analyse the consummate skill with which their abusers groomed them – separating them from their parents’ affections, and ensuring that they had no choice but to become complicit in the terrible acts they were led to believe they had to commit. (Synopsis courtesy of BritDoc.)

Norton Grim (2017)

An animation by Tony Gammidge

Tony Gammidge, a former boarder, works part-time in the University of Brighton Arts Department.

He originally trained as an Art Therapist and has recently been involved in a project where he put together a short film about his boarding school experience and how this has impacted on his life. Tony says:

“I made an animation film, which links my experiences of prep school with later life choices. It is an early/draft version made quite quickly but important for me. It was sparked by a number of things including Joy Schaverien’s book Boarding School Syndrome, as well Nick Duffell’s The Making of Them amongst other things. I made it for an auto-ethnography group I am part of in Brighton and Sussex University.”

A Very English Education (2013)

A BBC production, directed by Hannah Berryman

The British public school is an institution renowned the world over. In 1979, the BBC made a documentary series about life inside Radley College, one of the UK’s most privileged and traditional boys’ boarding schools. In 2013, BBC director Hannah Berryman caught up with some of the boys who featured in the series to find out how their lives panned out after they left Radley.

As boys, they had left home to board at prep school at around eight years old, then moved on to Radley to acquire what the school head calls “the right habits for life”. But did their lives turn out to be as successful as their parents had hoped – and what kind of men did they become? The film explores the pain and the pleasure of growing up, as well as the unique advantages and difficulties of a quintessentially English education.

“It’s a brilliant film: an objective portrait of a very peculiar institution. Some will come away thinking, like Rupert, that places such as Radley are fantastic, for the competitiveness they instil. Others that they are ghastly places that are not only unfair, but inhuman, cruel, and with no place in the modern world.” The Guardian

Boarding School Survivors (2017)

A short film by Arabella Smirnova-Beroskin, boarded age 13-18

This film explores the question: “Is there a hidden wellbeing crisis in boarding schools?” Understanding that what happens inside boarding schools affects the whole of the UK as a country, because many of our leaders and politicians are being educated in these institutions.

if…. (1968)

Produced and directed by Lindsay Anderson Paramount Pictures

Lindsay Anderson’s classic film about rebellion: a satire of the cruel, archaic system of boarding education at a time when freedom and individuality were at the heart of youth. It won the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.

The film stars Malcolm MacDowell as Mick Travis, one of three rebel schoolboys who take on the authority of the school in a murderous revolution that speaks to the fantasy of many a boarding school survivor. It was regarded by many as a metaphor for the social and political situation in the UK at the time.

Rugby School, Changing Places (1988)

A BBC 40 Minutes production, directed by Chris Curling

Ten sixth formers from an independent public school (Rugby) and a state comprehensive school (Ruffwood) exchange places and lives. It reveals a marked contrast between the lack of independence at Rugby experienced by the Ruffwood kids and the lack of individualism at Ruffwood perceived by the Rugby pupils.

Another Country (1981) & (1984)

play followed by a film based on the early lives of the Cambridge spy network during their time at public school, which led to their intolerance of the system and the establishment in later life.

Ampleforth: My Teacher’s a Monk (2003)

LWT: produced and directed by Dan Barraclough

TV documentary about Ampleforth College, a school in Yorkshire run by Benedictine monks, looking at how they deal with discipline, drinking, sex and the arrival of the first female pupils in its 200-year-history.

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (various)

These films (based on Thomas Hughes’s novel) portray boarding schools when they were at their height. Many of the outrageous human rights transgressions persisted well into the 20th century. Learn more

Men’s Accounts of Boarding School – Sent Away

Book launch – recording available:

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