SENDING children to boarding school is a form of abuse and forces youngsters to develop “survival strategies” to deal with feelings of neglect, according to a new book.
The authors of “Trauma, Abandonment and Privilege” claim that despite improved pastoral care in modern boarding schools, pupils still mask their true emotions which can cause major problems in later life.
The book has been written by former boarding school teacher Nick Duffell and Thurstine Basset as a guide for therapists working with former boarding school students, to whom they refer as “survivors”.
The authors claim that despite appearing outwardly happy, the vast majority of children are hiding psychological trauma caused by moving away from home at a young age.
They report that the “Boarding School Survivors” agency they founded to help traumatised ex-boarders has had “more and more people coming forward for help” in recent years.
Mr Basset, who is also a board member for the Journal of Mental Health Training Education and Practice, said: “Boarding schools aren’t as brutal as they used to be and there is more potential for contact with families now because of things like smartphones and improved technology.
“But a child at just eight years old still has to learn to live without parents when they start at boarding schools. It’s ridiculously young really.
“None of the psychological theories that I am aware of support taking children away from parents at eight years old.
“I wouldn’t expect an eight-year-old to turn round to their parents and say ‘it’s time to go now’.
Mr Basset claimed that youngsters who attend boarding schools are forced to develop “coping strategies” and mask their true feelings which can cause mental issues in later life.
He continued: “When a child first goes away, they have to learn to cope – a survival strategy.
“The mask is a part of that because the children will keep saying they’re loving it when they’re not.
“When they’re older, the mask can start to slip and a trigger such as a relative’s death or tragedy can cause a seemingly successful person’s life to crack and spiral out of control.
He continued: “This is because they haven’t resolved the feelings of neglect at school and are used to just having to grin and bear it so in adult life it all comes out.
“At boarding school, you can’t go about crying so you keep a stiff upper lip but not showing emotion in adult life can cause problems.”
The author noted that the “Boarding School Survivors” agency that he created had seen increased numbers of former boarders coming forward in recent years.
He said: “We founded the Survivors’ agency and over the years we’ve seen more and more people coming forward, looking for help with the issues they have as a result of boarding.
“The workshops every year are doubling in numbers as people are becoming more aware of their issues and see others share how they feel.
“They then feel the strength to come forward themselves.”
But Robin Fletcher, chief executive of the Boarding Schools’ Association,said: “I’m not sure a 16-year-old boy playing rugby with his mates has developed a coping mechanism, i think he’s just enjoying being with his mates.
“Boarding is not right for every child but there’s a lot of interaction with professional staff who have lots of training before a child starts now.
“It’s a family conversation now which involves a long process called “suitability for boarding” in which they have taster sessions and speak to parents and the children.
“It’s not in the schools’ interests to have kids there who don’t like it so this helps to make sure you don’t get kids starting at schools who aren’t right for boarding.”
He added: “The book refers to a very different time when certain people went to boarding schools who weren’t suited to it.”