British Preparatory Schools E-Book: The People


Figure 1.--A major change at many prep schools in the 1980s was the arrival of girls at many formerly boys' schools. This required considerable ajustment for both the boys and girls as well as the schools.

The heart and soul of any prep school are of course the people involved. The operation of any prep school centers around the headmaster. This is much more so than the primcipal of a state school in that he is less encumbered by beaureacratic regulations that principals at state school. Of course this can work for better or first worse depending on the character and abilities of the headmaster. Over the long run, because unsuccessful private schools disappear (unlike unsuccessful state schools), it generally works for the best. Especially important is the headmasters choice of staff. We have noted some worederfully devoted individuals working at these schools. Often the commitment in terms of time is far greater than at state schools. And of course there is the children. We found them to be uniformally delightful in our many visits and in fact a bit different than anticipated.

Headmasters

The heart and soul of any prep school are of course the people involved. The operation of any prep school centers around the headmaster. This is much more so than the primcipal of a state school in that he is less encumbered by beaureacratic regulations that principals at state school. Of course this can work for better or first worse depending on the character and abilities of the headmaster. Over the long run, because unsuccessful private schools disappear (unlike unsuccessful state schools), it generally works for the best. The heamaster has to be a multi-talented individual. One normally thinks about his academic role, but the headmaster also essentially runs a small businnes. But the job does not extend there but can entail mamaging disease outbreaks to as well as addressing pluming problems. The smaller the school the more multiple tasks the headmaster has to address.

Headmasters' Wives

Even the most cursory visit at any English preparatory school, especially a boarding school, cannot fail to reveal the importance of the headmasterís wife. One of the requirements for most board of directors for a headmaster is that he be married. In some cases the candidateís wife can have a serious impact on both his selection and success. A devoted and discreet wife can make all the difference in a headís eventual success. The actual role that the headmasterís wife plays at a school is as varied as the number of schools. It depends on the personality and skills of the individual, the size and character of the school, the type of school, and a variety of other factors. The role is also changing. It once was usually the case that a headmaster had more academic credentials than his wife. This is much less the case today.

Teachers

The success at any school in the final analysis will depend on the headmasterís success at selecting and guiding competent staff. As Kingsmead explains, ďWe believe the whole atmosphere of a school, as well as its academic standards is created by the outlook, enthusiasm and influence of the staff." This is a view that would be shared by most if not all schools. The prep school system and the individual attention only afford an opportunity, it is. the teachers and other staff that determine whether or not a school takes advantage of the opportunity to make a real difference in a childís life. We have noted some wonderfully devoted individuals working at these schools. Often the commitment in terms of time is far greater than at state schools. Prep school teachers were once called masters at a time when most of the teachers at boys schools were men. The term is still used, but now not so commonly, in part because there are now more women teachers.

Matrons

One of the unsung heroes of any boarding school is the school matron. The matron at a prep school has a little different job than at a public school because of the age of the children. The school matron supervising the boarding dormitories often plays a key role in the school. Especially with the younger boys, matron has to assume a mothering role along with a daunting list of other duties. At a public school the matron works in a boarding house rather than a dormitory. To an outside observer the role of the matron may seem to be only a small part of the overall school program. The school matron is usually responsible for the boarder's childís general well being. At many schools she often has some nursing training. To a small boy scrambling to find his wellies or cherished teddie, the matron is one of the pillars of the school. Few headmasters would question this judgement.

The Children

And of course there is the children. We found them to be uniformally delightful in our many visits and in fact a bit different than anticipated. The older children at a prep school are beginning to understand that many enjoy an elevated social status that will have a marked impact on their lives. Children enjoying such special educational privilige may begin to think that they are special and are afforded this privilge as a matter of right. Most British readers will recall the priginess of three prep school boys in the ground-breaking BBC documentary "7-Up". Many schools today try to develop a social consious among the children by discussing contemporary social problems such as unempolyment, poverty, racism, etc. Certainly the priginess much in evidence before World War II is little seen today. But the overall impact of an elite education in modern England is an as yet poorly studied phenomenon.

The Parents

A popular conception is that the parents of prep school children are wealthy. School fees are substabntial and it is true that most wealthy or at least well off British people do send their children to prep and other private schools. Ths is, however, only part of the story. There area a substantial number of children at these schools from more modest-incme families. In many instances a mother has gone into the job market primarily to be able to afford the school fees. There are also many parents from the Military Services who get assistance from the military for school fees. These parents have been posted overseas to areas where it is not suitable for a variety of reasons to bring the children. As Britain's military coimmitments decline, this group has declined, but once was of considerable importance.





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