How boarding schools can ‘save’ vulnerable young people like me

In 1958, the first trans-Atlantic jet flights began on the new Comet, Brazil won the World Cup in Sweden, Elvis Presley joined the US army, and BBC TV launched Blue Peter. That was the start of my 11 years at a boarding school in Wanstead, East London. Colin Morrison OBE, is Chair of Boarding School Partnerships and writes in The Huffington Post.

By the time I left school at the end of the 1960s to pursue my dreams of journalism and media, I had come to understand how fortunate I had been. The Royal Wanstead School had been founded in 1827 by a celebrated congregational minister Dr Andrew Reed, who also founded what became Reed’s School, in Cobham, and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, in Putney. My school had a succession of Royal patrons (starting with Queen Victoria) and the local MP Winston Churchill was a long-time governor.

It was an amazing boarding school charity which supported hundreds of vulnerable, disadvantaged young people. Most had one or no active parents. Many had much more deprived backgrounds than me. But, only in 1971, when the school collapsed in a pile of debt, did I come to understand its true significance. Boarding schools were the very picture of privilege in 20th century Britain. But behind the insistent images of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, posh kids and bullying, was the secret world of charity-funded boarders like me.

In 2002 (in a “look mum!” moment), I became chair of the Royal National Children’s Foundation (RNCF) charity that had supported me almost 45 years before. But, by then, all the local authorities in England added together were supporting only 100 young people at boarding schools. The collapse of their support for boarding schools in the intervening years had its impact on the number of boarding places across the UK, which fell to 114,000 by 1974 and 70,000 today.

During my 15 years as chair of the RNCF, we provided long-term support for more than 1,000 vulnerable young people at mainstream boarding schools. Our research and the stream of grateful letters confirmed what I had always known: that the structure, security and pastoral care of boarding school can play a unique role in helping to transform the lives of vulnerable young people after a difficult and unpromising start in life. I knew how valuable our work was.

Now, with the passionate support of Schools Minister Lord Agnew, the Boarding School Partnerships (BSP) service is regularly used by some 50% of all local authorities. In June, we reported on research into the stunning success of 52 vulnerable young people funded by Norwich County Council at 11 boarding schools. We have now launched “Partnership Bursaries” with at least 45 boarding schools which will offer 40% bursaries to local authorities. It has been a fantastic response by so many of the country’s leading independent schools.

Read the full article How boarding schools can ‘save’ vulnerable young people like me

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