Public school 'to dispel bullying image': Free weekend to give taste of boarding

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The Independent Online
A LEADING public school is offering a free weekend for would-be boarders to dispel the cold-baths- and-bullying image of boarding schools.

Cheltenham College, the Gloucestershire school attended by Lindsay Anderson who made the Sixties film If, which lambasted public school life, will give 100 boys, aged nine to eleven, a taste of boarding next month.

Those who accept the invitation will sleep in dormitories, eat school dinners, play with computers and sample sporting activities from sub- aqua diving to rackets.

Among the facilities they will be able to try are two all-weather pitches, six squash courts and an indoor swimming pool, all for a registration fee of pounds 5.

Peter Wilkes, head of the 560-pupil school where fees are nearly pounds 12,000 a year, said: 'There is an image among a lot of people that sending a child to boarding school is a sign of uncaring parents. We want to counter the fear fostered in the media that boarding schools are hives of bullying and that older boys will use every opportunity to pick on younger ones.'

Several of Cheltenham's famous old boys are serving in the Army, including Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, who is in charge of United Nations operations in Bosnia, and Major General Sir Jeremy Moore, who was commander of the British land forces in the Falklands war, but Mr Wilkes says that the school's military tradition has disappeared.

Many leading figures in the arts world, including the actor Nigel Davenport and the composer Vivian Ellis, went to the school, as did Sir Michael Jopling, the former Minister of Agriculture.

The school, which takes girls in the sixth form, is anxious to maintain its numbers at a time when boarding schools are suffering in the recession: last year there was a 6.7 per cent drop in the number of boy boarders nation-wide.

'Our numbers have remained static, but only because I have spent so much of my time on recruitment. Ten years ago that would not have been the case,' Mr Wilkes said.

Younger boys have volunteered to stay on at the end of term to act as hosts for the weekend. The visitors will arrive at lunchtime on Sunday and leave after lunch on Monday.

Already 60 recruits have signed up for the weekend of 20 March. A pilot scheme last year attracted 80, and secured a dozen pupils for the school.

Mr Wilkes said that his own boarding school, Radley College in Oxfordshire, had been a 'very cruel place. But life at Cheltenham and Radley is now very humane and civilised. I think I would be happy at Cheltenham now.'