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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Boarding school pupils 'in a bubble'
Boarding school pupils
Boarding school pupils "are in a comfort zone"
Boarding schools are now such "happy" places they may be making life too comfortable for children, a head teacher has warned.

The days of "grim corridors and dark practices" are long gone, according Stephen Winkley, also chairman of the Boarding Schools Association.

But, as well as wrapping children in a protective "bubble", boarding staff should encourage "service, community involvement, giving something back", he said.

A few weeks ago, an independent schools census showed the number of boarders had risen for the second year in succession.


Dr Winkley, whose school, Uppingham, charges boarders 18,633 a year, said "communication" - particularly mobile phones and email - meant children only stayed if they wanted to, as they could tell their parents as soon as they felt unhappy.

Nowadays, 99 out of 100 parents, when asked what they wanted for their children, said they wished them to be happy, Dr Winkley added.

He suspected that desire was caused by guilt about sending their offspring away.

"It's a feeling of, 'We will be rewarded and our guilt assuaged if our child is happy', but actually there's no need for that because most children who go to boarding schools go because they want to."

Dr Winkley added of his days as a boarder during the 1950s: "I used to see my parents once a year at school.

'Another planet'

"In five years at school, I used the telephone once to tell them I had won a scholarship to Oxford.

"I could have been on another planet, I could have been on the dark side of the moon.

"They knew I wasn't happy but they said it was good for me."

Now, the risk for some boarders - particularly boys - was that they had such a good time that the rest of their lives never reached those heights again, he said.

"The message has got out that the boarding experience is a good experience. I think we've won the battle about making it clear that boarding schools are happy places.

"I just wonder if we take them out of their comfort zone enough."

Children could lose sight of the importance of momentous events, such as the war in Iraq.

Dr Winkley said: "Is what happened in Iraq more important than something that happened in their school, or some story that's going around about the behaviour of some pupil?

"You can get trapped in this bubble, unaware of what's going on in the world outside."

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