Vanbrugh Castle School

Induction Letter

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Induction Letter to Mothers from J.H.Corner

Vanbrugh Castle,
London, S.E.3.

August 1968

Dear Mrs.

As a large majority of the mothers of boys entering this school would never have considered sending their boys to a boarding-school in the normal course of events, I am going to try in this letter to explain some of the more important differences between ourselves and day-schools, to show what we aim at, and to help mothers to play their part in making the best possible men from their sons. The views I express are my own, and I wish them to be read as a friendly and sincere effort to help mothers in any perplexities that come their way.

It is essential for mothers to understand and believe that in sending their sons to a boarding-school they are doing nothing for which they have to apologise. For many years parents who could afford to do so have sent their sons away to school. In fact, practically every famous school in the land is a boarding-school. I know that some Vanbrugh Castle mothers have been distressed by thoughtless remarks about "sending their boys away to school", but I also recall that these mothers have told me eventually how pleased they were with the final product and how much better their sons have turned out than the sons of the critics. Take heart therefore! Fortune is on the side of your boy.

In the first place the most important difference between our kind of education and a day-school education is that the boy is part of a community. Certain duties will be demanded of him and certain privileges granted as a result. Failure to perform duties will result in the loss of privilege. It is a happy and painless way of learning citizenship. By the time a boy is 13 he understands that he is in the world to give as well as to receive; he knows that others have their point of view and that it may not be the same as his.

Second, we should know that in boarding-school a boy must fight his own battles he cannot run to mother. This is in fact, a great virtue and strength of the system, but it is sometimes hard to convince mothers of this, especially if they have but one child and feel he needs their love and sympathy. Of course a child needs his mother's affection but he also needs the toughening discipline of a father; if the child is a boy, the latter is often the more important. In this little school our discipline is firm but kindly. We know what we are doing, for we have brought up hundreds of boys before. We know that if a boy is told to do something, it is essential for his own sake that he should do it to the best of his ability, not seek a way out.

Third, a boarding-school teaches sympathy for others, It is, I believe, impossible to live for 40 weeks of the year among boys of your own age without realizing that there are other people with other difficulties whose needs may be just as great as your own, and who may deserve and ask for your help. The very fact that boys live together forces on them an understanding they might easily lack in a small family where they are constantly the object of people's care and attention. They learn, in fact, to live unselfishly.

Fourth, a boy works harder at a boarding-school, not necessarily because he wants to but because he has no choice! We know most of the excuses that boys give their teachers. They cover an immense and ingenious range: illness, loss of books, interruptions, concentrating on other subjects, scouting, confirmation-classes, music lessons, social obligations, television programmes, power-cuts, taking home the wrong book and so on ad infinitum. Precious few of these excuses will work at a boarding-school, for an immediate investigation can be made. The boys know this and find it better - and ultimately easier - to get on with their job. In my experience the standard of work is higher at good boarding-schools as a result, and there are now many mothers willing to testify to the immediate and sustained improvements in their boy's work, once he entered this school.

Fifth, we teach good manners just as earnestly as most mothers do, but with speedier results, because we have the good example of the older boys whom we have already trained, The example of an older boy is, of course, far more telling than the sermons of grown-ups! Most mothers comment on the improvement in their boy's behaviour while they are here.

Finally, we act in the belief that man is a lazy animal who will let countless opportunities pass by, if there is no one to goad, encourage and explain. The boys themselves prove we are right; it is so often those who have needed the severest methods who finally bid us farewell with tears in their eyes! They know very well what they owe to people who have insisted on the best all the time, I am often perplexed to know how to reply to mothers who write complaining about their sons' reports. If these reports are factual and sincere — as I believe they are all complaints should be directed to the boys, not to me. I don't complain to the BBC when they issue a report of bad weather!

This raises the interesting problem of punishment, Some parents take the line that it is a school's job to force their sons to work by any means, and that if their boy fails, it is the school's fault. Others seem to believe that any form of punishment is cruel and unjust, and that children should be permitted and encouraged to go their own way — even if it is to the devil. We believe in neither of these extremes. Unless I am badly mistaken, the mothers expect us quite rightly, to make the best of their boys that we can. We punish no boy because he is backwards but we are severe on lazy boys. And that seems fair to me.

The intention, therefore, is to run this school as a well-disciplined family and thus to avoid the excesses and depressions and trivialities of Modern Youth. All girls and boys are not as the newspapers would have us believe, and we have reason to be proud of the boys who leave us at the age of thirteen to go on to other boarding-schools. It is encouraging to know that those schools seem keen to have them, at any rate.

I have tried to write concisely about the work we are doing here and it may be that I have failed to explain some matter that a mother does not understand. If so, I hope she will write to me or come and see me. I would far rather make things clear than have her lose confidence in the education her boy is receiving. More than once in the past I have been able to put the mothers of new boys in touch with mothers of older boys who have been able to explain and encourage better than I could. We do not want unhappy mothers any more than we want unhappy boys!

Yours sincerely,