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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Where next for royal education?
Prince William
Where will Prince William's children go to school?

The Queen Mother's funeral is over but, with the lingering memory of those serpentine queues at Westminster, not forgotten.

And, judging by the subsequent columns of newsprint devoted to constitutional matters, her death has renewed discussions about the future role of the Royal Family.

Could - or should - William's future children be the first to attend state primary and comprehensive schools?

An NOP opinion poll in The Independent suggested a rise in support for the monarchy.

Few, it seems, now support abolition yet almost one in three wants "radical reform".

Yet in all the talk about possible reforms there has been little discussion of education. This seems strange. In other spheres of life, we are constantly told how crucial education is in shaping individuals and society.

Many other aspects of the Royal Family - their income, taxes, homes, careers, and family relationships - are staple fare for discussion.

But it seems education merits attention only at the moment a young Royal starts school or university.


Yet the Royal Family sends important signals about itself by its choice of education.

The schools or universities chosen leave an imprint on future or potential monarchs.

Several members of the Royal Family have chosen education as their sphere of influence.

Prince Philip, for example, created the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.

It has now directly touched the lives of some three million young people since it started in 1956.

The Prince's Trust

The scheme is the embodiment of the distinctive philosophy of education developed by his former head master, Kurt Hahn, at Gordonstoun.

Prince Charles has often spoken on educational issues and held discussions with the apparently like-minded Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools.

Through the Prince's Trust, he has also been closely involved in a whole range of schemes to help young people.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles: Interested in debates on education
A rare exception to the relative neglect of this subject is a book, published almost three years ago, by two Professors of Education, called "Royal Education: Past, Present and Future".

Its authors, Peter Gordon and Denis Lawton, argued that amid all the countless discussions of the future of the Royal Family there have been "few constructive suggestions about changing one of its key elements: royal education".

Tracing the education of past Kings and Queens they show how some were well-prepared, and others ill-equipped, for their roles.

Henry VIII, for example, had a very thorough and taxing education.

Moral education

He was exposed to the latest thinking and the greatest minds of his day, as well as learning to be a proficient linguist, musician and horseman.

This was a suitable preparation for many aspects of kingship in his day.

However, the authors argue that one key aspect of his education was neglected.

Al Stringer as Henry VIII
Henry VIII: Tempted
As they put it: "his moral training was not sufficiently strong to enable Henry to overcome the temptations which he later faced".

We might ask today what is the appropriate education for kingship in the 21st century?

This space is too short to do justice to the book's fascinating account of the value of royal education over the centuries.

I cannot quite resist, though, mentioning the extraordinarily comprehensive programme of studies that Prince Albert devised for himself in his determination to "train myself to be a good and useful man".

He planned to fill 6 days a week, from 0600 to 2000, with the study of: logic, Ovid, Cicero, mathematics, natural history, Latin, German, religious instruction, history, geography, French, reading, music, drawing, correspondence, and "exercises in memory".

Later Prince Albert enrolled at a public university in Bonn, something that definitely put him ahead of his time.


By contrast, our present Queen was educated privately at home, and alone, largely by her governess "Crawfie" who was not herself a trained teacher.

Prince Charles was the first to have to endure huge media interest in his schooling, first at Hill House Preparatory school, then Cheam School, and finally Gordonstoun, which it seems he didn't like much, despite it being his father's old school.

Gordonstoun was an interesting choice.

Although an independent school, it was run according to a progressive philosophy and socially was less exclusive than, say, Eton.

Eton: Too socially exclusive?
Nevertheless as a fee-charging school it was hardly available to all.

Only when he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, was Charles potentially in the company of bright students from all backgrounds.

Eton College was the choice of school for Prince William and Harry. It is highly academic, but also expensive and socially pretty exclusive.

William, though, has broken the mould somewhat by shunning Oxford and Cambridge for St Andrews.

Could - or should - William's future children be the first to attend state primary and comprehensive schools?

Will Harry go to an English provincial red-brick university or modern, former polytechnic?

Radical reform

Professors Gordon and Lawton seem to believe changes like this are needed, arguing that "something more appropriate for a democratic society will be called for" to keep the monarchy in tune with the times.

Many will disagree, saying this would be mere "spin doctoring" and that the Royal Family, like other parents or for that matter politicians, should be free to choose the school they consider most appropriate for their offspring.

For now, despite all the talk of radical reform, the prospect of a comprehensive-educated British King or Queen remains remote.

It is for others to judge whether that is good, bad, or irrelevant.

We welcome your comments at although we cannot always answer individual e-mails.

See also:

02 Jun 01 | UK
23 Sep 01 | Scotland
23 Sep 01 | Scotland
03 May 00 | UK Education
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