Public boarding schools are truly an exceptional phenomenon, and as one of those in the upper sixth form at Rugby School, I would know. Statistically, these are some of the best schools in Britain, but as a system to grow up in, they cannot be reduced to numbers and tables. Across the country, the fairytale education will soon be coming to an end for thousands others like me. When this summer eventually dawns, it will represent a seismic shift in the course of their lives, and with it an empty vacuum where once there was routine, lessons and ‘everyone’.
The reality is, boarding schools are really a remarkable human experiment. Consider 900 girls and boys in the most crucial stage of physical and mental development kept together for five years; the longest period of time that they are ever likely to have spent at one place that isn’t home. Perhaps these extended periods of time spent confined in one place have taken their toll, but whilst there are so many numerous advantages to being here, there are certainly recognisable drawbacks.
As I think about it, I cannot even recognise the person that came here disguised as me four and a half years ago – and for those that can remember that far back, it’s probably a good thing. Although this has definitely been a positive development, it has been a bumpy ride. I am indebted to Rugby for what it has offered me – opportunities in academics, sport, societies, music and more.
There you have just some of the benefits, but now consider the flip side. What can’t Rugby offer you? Before I arrived, the concept of successive ‘house parties’ every night seemed like a dream come true. Always with your mates, never a dull moment. As I came to realise, it’s not even feasible to cohabit with the closest of friends, let alone fifty other strangers for every day of the week, three weeks at a go.
From the smallest of disagreements to the ugliest of fights, nobody escapes the character cross-examination. We are all responsible to varying degrees, there are many things that I have done to other people in the House and out, of which I am not proud, but a glass walled culture can make it feel like those walls are closing in on you.
Further, the boundaries of the school are physical too, and there is little room for involvement in life outside the school confines. The boarding system means that everything is internally run. Although this is usually with fantastic results – plays, music evenings, organised sport – how much of a feel do we get for events in the every day world? The bubble extends in all directions – how much do we learn from daily room cleaning and a silent laundry, not to mention supra-legal age limits? Prepared meals at set times, Thursday afternoon activities, bedtimes: a timetabled life.
Whilst here at school, day to day life as I know it, I have never done any menagerie for myself, got a job, been to any external event that hasn’t been organised for me or gone further than the cinema. It can all feel like an empty winter Sunday.
But wait, I’m no revolutionary anarchist. I don’t regret having come here. I am glad for it. In particular, the extra-curricular activities and, even, the forced nature of House life have made me into the person I am, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. The restrictions that come with life here are by no means a criticism or attack on the way things are done, but merely an observation on the side effects. I sometimes worry about the people that have been completely consumed into an easy groove, and wonder just how they will tackle handling their own life. But that these are traits specific to them, and it is a result of their reaction to what has been put before them.
And that’s why it’s my time – not because it’s just all too much, or that I want to moan about how everything is against me, but because Rugby has served its purpose to me. Approaching adulthood whilst still at boarding school, I need to see and feel more, but I’m not sure if I would have got here without it.