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Elite British Boarding Schools
Spiritual
samantha_kathy wrote in little_details
The time period I'm talking about is present time (2008-2012 time span to be exact). I can find British boarding schools that look prestigious, but I'm more looking for the cultural reaction to these schools. I'm really looking for boarding schools where the powerful, elite, high society sends their kids these days.

If I were to ask a British citizen to name a elite boarding school for children in the apporiximate age group 11-18, Eton would probably be first on their mind - an elite boarding school for boys only in the ages 13 and up, . But maybe I'm wrong and there's another school that would pop up in people's mind first.

Also, is there an equivalent for girls that's well known in Britain? I've been able to find out that Benenden School in Kent and Heathfield School in Ascot are the only two full boarding schools in the UK - although I'm not quite clear if that means the girls board there year round or if they go home for holidays, since it's called full-time for all students. I think it means all studens are boarders, there are no commuters. But are either of these two schools well known in the UK, like Eton is?

Also, is there a unisex boarding school with the same kind of reputation? (Do unisex boarding schools exist? I couldn't find one.)

I wish I could google this, but although I can find boarding schools - ones that score highly academically and are expensive, there's plenty of lists - I can't really figure out from the internet if they're well known to a reasonably educated British citizen. So I hope someone here can help me.

Cheltenham Ladies' College?

I'm British and Eton would def. be the first prestigious school to come to mind - but I couldn't tell you an equivalent girl's school. I've not heard of either of the ones you mentioned. ETA: Actually, I have heard of Cheltenham, but only in an 'I know the name' sense.

Yeah, I think a 'full boarding school' is one where all the students are boarders. I went to a part-boarding school where 3/4 of the students were day students, there was another school nearby where 3/4 of the students were boarders. Kind of a spectrum. Also, the latter school was unisex, though I assume the boarding houses weren't.

Edited at 2014-08-11 02:40 pm (UTC)

There is also of course Harrow... which tends to be viewed as on a par with Eton in many respects, including its elitist nature. You might also want to look at Gordonstoun, and at Fettes in Scotland. And then there's Ampleforth, Charterhouse, Marlborough... I could go on. I encountered a lot of students from all of the above at Oxford.

In addition to Benenden, and Cheltenham, St. Paul's is also a school you might want to look at for girls - one of the most seriously upper class girls I encountered in my university days was educated there. Not sure if they do or don't take boarders.

For co-educational schools, there's also Bedales.

Edited at 2014-08-11 02:50 pm (UTC)

I do know that Ampleforth is now fully co-ed (also very Roman Catholic).

But what St Paul's Girls' School mostly is, is ruthlessly academic and high-achieving. It doesn't take girls who don't look as though they will ever be academic or musical high-fliers, and discards those who fall by the wayside. Doesn't matter how upper class you are, you don't send your daughter there unless (a) she is *seriously* bright and (b) what you want above all for her is to excel academically and/or musically. If you're looking to make her a 'good all-rounder' or a 'rounded human being', you send her somewhere else.

If you're after Eton-but-not-Eton, might I point you at the Wiki page for public schools? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_school_(United_Kingdom)

I've heard of the 'Clarendon schools', but I honestly couldn't have told you what they were (and I didn't even know that Eton was one of them).

Also, agreeing with kathkin about the "full boarding school", in that they would be a boarders-only school.

As for unisex boarding schools, I'll give you a brief overview of my old school in Suffolk (to reference the terminology - "Boarders" were children that, well, boarded at the school, "Days" were children that lived in the area and treated it as a regular, non-boarding school).

When I was at school (80s/90s), my senior school (ages 13-18) was unisex and mixed. There were 4 boys houses (3 boarding, one day - now rearranged so all 4 houses are mixed day/boarder) and, I believe, 2 girls houses (maybe three, I'm male and forgetful but I only remember those two - one boarding house, one day house, also now rearranged to be two mixed day/boarder houses). So, unisex days and unisex boarders, although the houses were split up by gender. Hope this helps!

Definitely Eton for boys. I would say that Cheltenham Ladies' College probably has the same perceived profile, BUT - in my experience at least - it has more of a reputation for being full of rich foreigners rather than British toffs.

Also, even if CLC does/did turn out the same kind of people as Eton, but female instead of male, that fact alone would cause it to have a much lower profile amongst the general public. As a generalisation, women, ethnic minorities and foreigners getting to the top of things in this country are the kind of people who have fought very hard to get there. Perhaps I'm biased, but it seems to me that everyone at the top in public life here who has reached that level from a posh school, is a white male.

...all students are boarders, there are no commuters

Possibly it's different where you are, but in the UK the word commuter tends to mean someone who has a long and dreary journey to work every day. Of course some schoolchildren do as well, but use of the word "commuter" will bring up an image of an office worker, which would certainly confuse me and sound non-British.

We would call children who don't board all the time, either "day girls/boys" who go home every afternoon or "weekly boarders" who go home every weekend.

+ 1 that there isn't really a female equivalent to Eton because women don't occupy the same place in the power structure that has made Eton important for the last 400 years or so. There are girls' schools with 'brand recognition' for educating the daughters of the upper class: CLC, Roedean, Benenden in particular. However they don't have the same reputation of offering an 'in' to the political establishment, because that establishment is still so male-dominated.

Damn, you said it so much better - clearer, more succinct - than I did! It seems the older I get, the more difficult I find it to distil my thoughts down to a few good sentences /grumble.

But you'd already done the hard work ;-) It is much easier to write the short version when you've the long ones to look at.

Well that's all right then *g*

In US the word commuter means the same thing.

Off the top of my head there is also Harrow, Radley, Ampleforth, Roedean and Cheltenham Ladies College. I think Bedales is another and I think that one is unisex

Gordonstoun and Winchester come to mind for boys.

For girls Cheltenham Ladies has the name-brand recognition ;-p But women's education isn't as... long running, or high profile as men's.

"Full boarding" means that everyone boards; no day pupils. It is normal for boarders to go home in the school holidays (which for private schools are often very long), schools often offer the possibility (especially to oversees students) of staying at school during the short half-term breaks (usually 1 week each) or even over Christmas and/or Easter, but I think staying over the long summer break would be unusual.

Oh, and Rugby, which went co-ed a while back.

Roedean springs to mind for girls, and St Paul's.

St Paul's Girls' has massive academic cachet, but virtually no social cachet. It has always been known as *the* school to send your girl if you think she has the native talent to be an intellectual or musical high-flier and want her stretched, inspired and pushed to achieve that. Successful Old Paulinas are ferociously ambitious, able and just a tad neurotic; failed Paulinas can take decades to recover. This, by and large, is not what typical upper crust parents (as opposed to the professional intelligentsia) want for their daughters.

Thanks for all the comments. I see a lot of people naming Cheltenham Ladies as having the same name-recognition as Eton, though not the same over-all recognition. So those two would work for my story, thank you very much!

Careful: full boarding is often the opposite of weekly boarding, i.e., not that everyone boards, but that you don't have to (maybe can't) go home at weekends. Google "full boarding school" (with the quotes) and you'll see what I mean - both senses are in regular use, confusingly.

Boys: Eton definitely. Alternatives depend on what kind of elite you want: social, Harrow, intellectual, Winchester or Westminster (both more academically selective than Eton). Radley as a compromise!

People's reactions vary tremendously: these schools attract strong reactions of various kinds. It'll depend on your characters' own background, and if they know anything about such schools, will depend on which one and also on your characters' ages perhaps, as the schools' characters change faster than you might expect. Much of the population won't have heard of many schools but Eton, though.

Girls' equivalents: nothing exact, but you might try Cheltenham Ladies' or Roedean for social elites, Wycombe Abbey for intellectual.

Mixed boarding schools: there are zillions, including many that used to be boys' schools. For brand recognition Wellington might be a good bet; be aware that it has had a peculiarly media-friendly head in your period, and that's what most people know about it.

You might find the Tatler school guide useful!

http://www.tatler.com/guides/schools-guide/2014

So Hogwarts (only fictional boarding school I am familiar with) is full boarding, if I understand it right.

For boys, especially reasonably-bright "normal" well-off ones, Eton. Harrow has a reputation as not quite as bright and more posh - when I was at Cambridge in the mid-90s a Harrovian was still detectable by the accent! Winchester for the very bright geek, then Rugby, Radley, Stowe, Wellington, Oundle - Ampleforth if Catholic, Gordonstoun if Scottish connections. I think Wellington is co-ed now but may have been only mixed in the sixth form in 2008.

For girls, until 15 years ago it would have been Cheltenham LC and Roedean, plus Benenden and Wycombe Abbey - all really suffered from the boys schools starting to admit girls in the 90s, and the huge decline in expat Brits getting their children's boarding schools paid for affected them more, along with a lower rate of interest from overseas parents. I think all those now have day pupils or at least weekly boarding.

I don't think any UK boarding schools have pupils staying over the holidays (possibly half-terms which may be up to 10 days) - parents will be expected to assign a guardian in the UK or let the school make arrangements (lots of discreet phone calls to various parents asking them to invite X for parts of the holidays - failing that a company called Universal Aunts).

Boarding is in decline even among the wealthy - day schools are much more in demand, such as St Paul's or City of London Boys /Girls in London.

Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Rugby, Marlborough would have the same sort of recognition. Marlborough is co-educational and has been for a bit. Most of the 21st century I think, but I'm sure once you've got the name you can get that sort of information from the website. I don't know about the others. Bedales (also co-ed) would be less conventional"traditional" and have less brand recognition too. As other posters have noted, the matter with girls is less straight forward. Roedean, Benenden, Wycombe Abbey might have the same sort of imageas might Cheltenham Ladies college. For girls, you also have the complication that in the 20th century at least it was not uncommon for boys to be sent to boarding school, but the girls in the same family to be sent to (an also fee paying) day school.Then of course your decision might be based on where the peopl involve actually lived. Oxford High School would be an example of an academically very high flying school.

Full boarding could mean that only boarders are accepted, but might mean that students are not expected or indeed allowed to go home at weekends - or more likely only on one weekend a term of half term, called an exeat weekend. (Exeat would be a general term for being allowed out, although once you've decided on a school I would check the terminology at that place. Anyway an exeat could be very short term - from permission to go into town for half and hour to buy a birthday card to from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Some schools may still have Saturday morning lessons.) Schools offering flexible or weekly boarding will have at least some boarders who go home every week-end, or at least, week-ends when their parents are in the country. Parents would normally be expected to appoint a legal guardian while they are out of the country or if they live abroad. It may very often be an aunt, uncle or grandparents, but there are companies who arrange this for overseas parents. Some school may arrange holiday care for an extra fee, but there needs to be a minimum number of nights on which no child boards per year, other wise the school gets classified as a children's home and has to comply with a different set of regulations an inspections. (Boarding schools, however fee paying can be and are inspected by social services.) Hope this helps.


Roedean is what I would think of when asked about female equivalents to Eton (although I grew up nearby, so I'm biased). I'd heard of Benenden but not Heathfield.

I think there are quite a lot of schools which are mixed-sex (the term you might want to use when searching is "co-educational") and which take boarders. Many of the posher independent schools are boys-only in most year groups, but take girls in the sixth form.

Other schools of roughly equivalent status to Eton might be Harrow, Rugby, Westminster and St Paul's. These lists might be helpful to you:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eton_Group
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_Group

I went to Roedean and friends' brothers often went to Eton. Roald Dahl's BFG refers to giants gobbling up pupils from Roedean and Eton, FWIW!
I've never heard of Heathfield though - I am familiar with St Mary's, Ascot though, which must be nearby.

For the posh-but-dim student, it'll be wherever the parents feel is convenient and can get them in - eg Princess Diana went to a practically unknown place called West Heath in Kent (now closed down), where she failed five O-levels, twice. But many posh-but-actually-not-so-wealthy now parents are now considering state schools, especially for primary, because they live in nice villages where everyone else is nice and fairly posh too.

Gordonstoun is a unisex boarding only school (and the one that many of the royals attended) - its got a mix of british and foreign students, is filled with the very rich and is in the middle of nowhere scotland (I lived in the village next to the school grounds - and work with someone who attended a decade before then)

It depends on what you want which school suits - Eton is recognized because of politics (a large number of high up male MPs attended it - via rich/influential parents) - Gordonstoun is the rich, but not as showy as far as public awareness these days goes (living in the village next door - the kids ran riot a lot, and it was known that drunk kids would appear around the place from Gordonstoun, to the point that they were banned from the sole pub) - so it varies, and for the most part specific schools aren't a part of public awareness unless raised in relation to a person/large group

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(Anonymous)

2014-08-11 08:36 pm (UTC)

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The reason there is no universally-known posh girls' school is that really posh girls simply didn't routinely go to school till after WWII; they were educated at home by governesses. (Look up Nancy Mitford and her sisters, for example.) So Cheltenham LC was an extremely radical institution in its day, patronised for their daughters by middle-class reforming intellectuals; not a pillar of the Establishment.

Note though, that ever since Marlborough started taking girls (originally only in the 6th form), Old Marlburiennes have become a power in the land. Google "Why everyone wants a Marlborough missus" for a good article about them.


That's really interesting, considering the amount of girls' boarding school stories set in the '20s and '30s. Now that I think of it, most of them are more middle-class than really upper though.

-Margaret.