Vanbrugh Castle School

Staff Notes

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John Corner's Guidance notes for new staff members - 1968.



This School is a unique institution, and it takes some time to get used to it. The purpose of these notes is to help new-comers to find their way about and to understand what we are trying to do.

According to the official statement the School exists to give sons of deceased and disabled airmen "a home, an education and a start in life". There is no doubt that the boys do regard the place as a home and are happy to be here. I think we avoid the worst features of institutional life, are as tolerant as the average good parent, but insist on the firm discpline that is essential if boys are to live happily and profitably together. There is something wrong with the boy who cannot fit in.

As far as education is concerned, we have been successful in the narrow academic sense; by teaching boys in small classes, by insisting on high standards and by protecting them from unworthy influences we manage to make presentable and industrious candidates that other boarding schools are keen to receive. But, sometimes the material we are asked to accept is far from promising. In the broader sense, too, our boys become, I believe, a little more civilised than the general run of modern youth; they mix easily, are courteous and restrained, and are certainly liked by people whom they meet. This has not happened automatically. It is true that boarding school life is more likely to impress its standards than a day school, where opportunities are fewer, but the standards must be the right ones, and in a small school of young boys it is inevitably the staff that sets the standards.

It must never be forgotten that very few, if any, of our boys would have contemplated a boarding school career had they not lost their fathers. In the first few terms, therefore, one is dealing with a boy who has had little preparation for the kind of life he is leading and who might well regard it as a hardship. Equally serious is the fact that the mothers live in a milieu that does not recognise the boarding school and are constantly exposed to the charge from friends and neighbours of "sending their boys away to an orphanage". Several mothers have told me of the courage they have needed in the face of this kind of criticism. Fortunately none has weakened and all have told me what comfort they have had from the obvious improvement in their sons since they have been here.

It is in no respect a sad school. These boys must miss the influence and presence of a father, but the fact that they are at a boarding school is a very obvious compensation. During term, at any rate, we can provide a comparable influence and discipline - sometimes, perhaps, a better one -and the boys need no one's pity. Those who have treated them with excessive sympathy and leniency have done them no good. Those who have recognised them as normal boys, and applied the usual sanctions, have left their mark.

The influence of the Duty Master is very great. My predecessor used to say that he could tell who was on duty without moving from his desk. During his twenty-four hours of duty he sets his standards, and the boys are quick to know what they are, The good Duty Master insists on duty before pleasure. In other words he requires classrooms, changing room, desks and

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so on to be in good order before he permits games, television and even normal freedom. When he is on duty a boy knows well that dirty hands or shoes will be punished. The boy knows that breaking bounds will probably be discovered and is therefore not worth the risk. In other words, he identifies the Master with the Rules, Sometimes it is possible for the Duty Master to organise activities and games during his day of duty. These are always welcome. It is good to have things "happening", even if few boys avail themselves of the privileges. Certain masters have gifts that they can share with the boys: Music, art, physical exercises. Handicrafts and so on. Young boys like to be organised but often lose interest if left to continue these activities on their own.

In any case I do insist that the Duty Master shall be with the boys and fully aware of what they are up to. Attempts have been made in the past to preside by remote control, but never with any kind of success. I am not sure what the legal position would be if a boy suffered injury when a master was supposed to be in charge of him, but I am qui.ce sure that a litigious mother could make things very unpleasant for us all in such circumstances. Let us hope and ensure that it never comes to that! I must confess that I am perhaps the least effective of duty masters, but that is no fault of mine. A lot of administrative work has to be got fhrough every day, and it does not stop because I happen to be on duty. As a result I have to spend time in my office that I owe to the boys. But I do beg masters not to hesitate to take steps if something appears to be going wrong on my duty day when I am not about. I perform some duty every week because I enjoy it, because it is good for me and because it does help to get me away from my desk, but I cannot do it as well as I ought.

Among the boys there is usually no insoluble problem; they are, in fact, very normal boys. Like others of their age they have only hazy ideas of time, danger and personal obedience, and masters will often find them attempting foolish things. They are thoroughly happy getting dirty in the garden and, provided they are wearing their play-clothes and become clean again for the next meal, no one minds that. Although full of energy, they won't stick at a job long without an adult to lead them. They can be very useful in a large number of jobs, but they must always be helping.

In the classroom great care must be taken over the presentation of their work. There is a real relation between the appearence of work and the care that has gone into it, the boys are accurately aware of the standards they can get away with!

I need hardly add that work must be marked as soon as possible after it has been done, or it loses much of its value and interest.

We are by no means hide-bound here and are willing to try sensible experiments. The Headmaster does, however, like to know what is going on.

The rest of these Notes will be in form of a daily timetable and a number of isolated observations that will help newcomers and preserve unity among the staff.

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Daily Timetable Weekdays

7.00 Rising Bell

7.25 Assembly Bell - By now all boys should be clean and tidy, but some have to be chased. Inspection by Duty Master who looks out for dirty hands and shoes and untidy hair. Beds must be left with the clothes stripped right off.

7.30 Breakfast - Grace by a senior boy. An eye must be kept on table manners all the time. Some tiny boys are not very clever with their cutlery, but the Matron normally sees to this. All boys tend to be fussy over certain kinds of food, and our simple rule here is that every boy has to accept a small portion of everything. Besides improving the boy's manners this rule seems to broaden their ideas on food very quickly. Boys eventually come up for second helpings of things they refused as new boys! If boys make too much noise, the Duty Master should insist on silence for the rest of the meal. For serious misbehaviour a boy should be sent out of the dining-room.

8.35 Bell for Boys to change from their play-clothes and wash for school.

8.45 Prayers Bell

8.50 Prayers - Usually a Hymn followed by two or three prayers of the Master's choice and Lord's Prayer. The Roman Catholics attend.

8.55 Lessons

10.40 Break - (Milk in Dining-Room, supervised by a matron) In this half-hour there is not usually enough time for boys to become seriously involved in misbehaviour, but the Duty Master should try to have his cup of tea and keep an eye on his charges.

11.10 - 12.20 Lessons - At. 12.20 two boys usually go to the Dining-Room as Duty Crew (to help serve meals). Would Matron or Housekeeper please see that they are clean. They are going to touch food. Remainder of boys line up for inspection.

12.30 Lunch - Duty Master sits at top table. If Headmaster is present, he sits at end of a long table.

Second Helpings are served according to a recognised plan. Slight confusion has arisen in the past by uncertainty about who is in charge when Headmaster and Duty Master are both present. Best, I think, to assume that H.M. is in charge when he is at a meal. In this way, we shall avoid the tiresome situation when both are unwilling to offend the other! After lunch boys rest on their beds until 1.55 and may read books (not comics), but not play games. With Duty Master's permission they may now practise instruments, but if there are many who want to practise, it is wise to divide them up into two parties with half-an-hour each.

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2.00 - 4.00 Lessons

4.00 - 6.00 Boys free - Those playing outside must wear either play-clothes or games-clothes. They must be prevented doing damage to school property. They must not break bounds. (The Castle Yard is the most likely trespassing ground). Best if Duty Master can organise some activity for the smaller boys. At 4.15 there is a Snack for all. This is served at the Kitchen door and Duty Master must see that no disorder or untidiness results.

Occasionally, there is a suitable T.V. programme at this time. It is for the Duty Master to decide whether or not it is to be shown. In any case only he may turn on the T.V. apparatus, and it is his responsi­bility to see that it is turned off when the programme is over.

5.55 Tea Bell - Inspection. Callover Book is made up at tea by Duty Master. This must be kept accurately, for it is our only record of attendance, and is liable to be asked for by Ministry Officials. In fact, it has more than once proved useful in settling arguments about boys' health or attendance.

6.30 Youngest boys go to bed under supervision of Matron and Duty Master.

6.45 - 8.30 Prep - The boys work by forms under the supervision of a responsible boy. But perfection only results when Duty Master pays irregular visits. At least two such visits should be made during prep in order to support the prefect in charge. It is unreasonable to expect healthy boys to work quietly and enthusiastically for nearly two hours without "encouragement" from authority, and trouble-makers find this a splendid time to express them­selves.

8.15 Light Supper - Available to senior boys in dining-room. The boys organise this themselves on the understanding that the continuance of this privilege depends on their good behaviour. I have occasionally had to remove the concession but it is my wish that it should remain.

8.30 Seniors must be indoors again.

As boys go to bed, the Duty Master must be about to see that lights are put out at the right time and boys stop talking. I look after the Wakefield Wing every evening when I go out, I inform the Duty Master.

It is always good to inspect the homework of the less responsible of our boys, and sometimes to insist on its being done again. For this I am more than willing to grant an extension of time.

Duty Masters see that lights and heating are switched off at the end of the day, and that rooms are left tidy.

We are legally responsible for the boys during term, and it follows that we must know where they are and what they are doing, and that they should

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not be allowed to do anything irresponsible or dangerous. If we all understand this and act accordingly, there will be no trouble. If one of us is easy-going or casual, the boys will take advantage, for their perception in these things is acute. Whatever they say, it is the master who maintains standards whom they really respect.

Our Catholics attend Mass on Days of Obligation. I look after this. The boys are called at 6.30 a.m. and leave for St. Thomas's Church at 6.50 in the care of the senior Catholic. There is never any trouble over this; the boys always behave in a disciplined manner.

On Sundays the rising bell sounds at 8, and breakfast is at 8.30. At 9.15 all boys write their weekly letters home. Between Letters and Chapel boys must not play outside. The choir leave at 9.30. The R.C. boys leave for Mass at a time suitable to the adult who conducts them. At about 10.30 boys leave for the Royal Naval College Chapel, the Fifth Form on their own, the rest with the Duty Master and Duty Prefect. The little boys should be sent to the lavatory before departure, and Duty Master must remember that every junior contributes one penny to the Chapel collection. This coin must remain in the pocket of the boy until the collection is started, and the Staff can hardly repeat this instruction too often! I think it is wise not to bring these little boys into the service until the last moment; a visit to the river-bank is always popular. Six boys or so (the youngest or most bewildered) are allowed to take a picture-book to look at during the sermon, one per boy, and no swopping during the service!

On Sunday Evenings we usually have T.V. for the older boys from 7 until their normal bed-time.

Duty Masters may grant permission to boys to stay up beyond their bed-times, but only for very good reasons.


Breakages - should be reported to Mr. Morton at once. He will decide, with me, how much a boy must contribute to the repair.

Games Eguipment - must be kept locked in the Sports Store. Boys must not be allowed there on their own. All games-clothes and boots, etc., must be marked clearly with the names of the wearer.

The Science_Laboratory - is out of bounds at all times, for obvious reasons. Boys must not be left there alone during lessons.

Buying and Selling - are forbidden. I have never known a school where these things have not led to trouble. Boys must not be allowed to hold large sums of money.

Boys must be kept to their own form-rooms.

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A full evening's prep must be set to each form. And this prep must be well and neatly done.

Boys must learn to look after their clothes. Smocks must be worn for art and handicraft lessons.

The school telephone is not for the use of boys. There is a public call-box one hundred yards away.

Masters who intend to be absent from meals should always let the housekeeper know by writing in the Diary.

Staff meals cannot be provided outside the normal times, unless a Master is prevented by school duty from attending a meal. There is nothing in our contract or conscience to require the supply of food at abnormal times.

Boys are expected to stand when masters or matrons enter their room. Only exceptions are: a) during prep, when boys ought to be pre-occupied and b) during television programmes, when they certainly are.

Dress - Boys wear school uniform throughout the term, except when playing games or playing in the garden.

Text-books - must be ordered through me. We do not try to economise on these; on the other hand we do not like to buy a stock of books which are going to be soon discarded and never used again. Masters wishing to study the available text-books can do so at the L.C.C. Book Centre at Kennington or at Foyles. All I need to know is title, author, publisher, price and quantity. There are great and unreasonable delays in the delivery of books nowadays, especially by firms that have installed computers.


Eversince I discovered a nine-year-old with fifteen different exercise books in use I have felt it necessary to ask masters to avoid waste of stationery. Mr. Morgan can provide all normal items from the store.

Marking_of clothes.

The object of this is to ensure that anyone will be able to identify the owner or user of lost clothes. Every kind of clothing a boy wears, including all footwear, must be clearly marked with his name. The use of numbers and initials has proved inadequate. An hour or two spent on this precaution at the beginning of term will save many hours of frustration later on.

Loyalty. The School is run on certain principles in which generosity and discipline, tolerance and conviction are balanced in a way that experience has shown is wise. It is assumed that the staff accept these principles. If they do not it is their duty to discuss the matter with me. Although this seems an obvious axiom, I have to state it, because trouble has been caused in the past by staff who have discussed grievances with the boys. Apart from the fact that the boys are powerless to alter things in this way, there is the positive certainty that the boys' own resentments will be strengthened when we should all be engaged in stimulating their manly virtues. There is also the fact that it does the School no good either.

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The Boys. After over seven years here I am convinced that we must treat our boys exactly the same as we would treat any other boarding school boys; They will then stand a good chance of becoming as good as other boarding school boys - which is not a bad standard. We must discourage other people from treating them as "orphans", must convince themselves that they are normal and not unfortunate, and on no account imply from our attitude that we are dealing with them more softly or more harshly than we would treat boys at, say, Rugby or Cheltenham.

The R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. It is our privilege to be supported by this organisation, and it is our duty to remember the intentions of the folk who gave money and gifts to make this school possible. Although it is a charity, I do not remember ever receiving a refusal for any reasonable demand when the welfare of the boys or the reputation of the school was in question. Broadly speaking, we rely on the Fund for essentials, but go elsewhere for our luxuries. It is an arrangement that works very well. On the one hand our conscience is spared; and on the other we give people the opportunity, usually sincerely welcomed, of doing something positive for the boys. Although the Fund is involved in the education of something like two thousand boys and girls, this is the only school that they support entirely; if we regard ourselves as its shop-window, we shall give them sonething to be proud of and do ourselves no harm in the process.

Myself. I live a strnge life, far more occupied with plumbers, surveyors, contractors, inspectors, visitors, salesmen, ministries, accountants, electricians, accounts, telephone boilers, typewriter and drains than anyone could imagine. My object in coming here was to deal with the boys, but I don't see as much of them as a Headmaster should. Don't criticise, therefore until you are sure I have been negligent. However, distractions or no, I am always willing to talk to the staff and offer what help I can; I hope they will always come to me when they wish. They are especially wel­come if they can help me to run the school better.

Staff Laundry. Masters are invited to send their weekly washing to the school laundry. There is no charge for this, but we are all asked to keep it down to reasonable limits, e.g. 3 shirts, 2 prs. socks, 6 handkerchiefs, 2 sets of underwear, 1 pr. pyjamas.

The Garden. If any member of the staff would like to adopt a small, part of our garden and grow things on it (with or without the help of boys) it would be a welcome gesture.

The R.A.F. Benevolent Fund Headquarters - should not be approached direct, but only through me. I can answer (or get an answer to) most questions concerning administration.

Staff_Duties - These are allocated as follows :-

Health, sick-room,
surgery Catering
Domestic Staff, Hospital and dental visits, Domestic Laundry

It is our ultimate desire to establish a form of self-government by which the senior boy present always and naturally accepts responsibility for his group. We have made some progress toward this end, but not enough.

Please forgive the discursive nature of these Notes. They have been written at random, but with the sole purpose of helping the staff in their work here.

September, 1968 J.H.CORNER