Eton College – UK Boarding School Review
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Eton College – The River Town School
Founded by King Henry VI in 1440, Eton College has maintained a history of standing as one of the leading independent schools in the UK, providing a well-rounded education with pastoral care and a plethora of sporting and cultural activities.
Currently, the college offers a broad and flexible curriculum, with a selection that includes thee GCSE and IGCSE, AS– and A-levels, as well as Pre-U examinations in modern languages and music. Eton also boasts a very high success rate for entry to Oxford, Cambridge, and other leading universities in the UK and US for its graduates.
Standing as a boys’ boarding school, Eton currently hosts about 1,300 students from the ages of 13 to 18. Though the college used to see enrollment based on house lists at birth, the new millennium saw the introduction of a more meritocratic entry system, with all aspiring boys having to win their places through the current procedure of an interview, reasoning test, and reference from their previous school. Pre-assessment starts at the age of 11, with the cut-off stated as 10 years and 6 months of age, with conditional places offered for entry at 13, subject to qualification through Common Entrance or the college’s King’s Entrance examination, with boys entering from the state sector in Year 9 taking an exam based on the national curriculum.
Money is no obstacle to education
When King Henry VI founded Eton, he saw the college as a way to provide education for free to 70 poor boys, who would then go on to King’s College, Cambridge. This spirit of accessibility, furthered by the current meritocratic view of the college, continues on to this day in the form of scholarships and the availability of financial assistance such as bursaries, with boys able to obtain a 100% reduction, depending on their circumstances. Currently, about a quarter of the boys at Eton receive some form of financial support, with Eton striving to reach its stated goal of being “needs-blind”.
Scholarships take two forms, with King’s Scholarships awarded on academic promise and Music Scholarships awarded on musical promise, with both providing a 10% reduction in school fees and supplemented by bursaries according to need, up to full fees if it becomes necessary to let a boy take up his place at Eton. Sixth Form Scholars and New Foundation Scholars, all of whom are boys from state schools, pay only what their families can afford. Bursaries are also available to help boys who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend Eton, or, should circumstances change, stay at the school.
Boarding at Eton: A conducive environment
Eton has 25 boarding houses, mostly located in historic buildings throughout the town, with each housing 50 boys with the exception of the scholars’ house, College, which has 70. Each boy is furnished with a single study bedroom, no dorms or sharing, with around half the houses also maintaining their own chefs and dining rooms. For the houses without in-house dining, boys have their meals at the college dining complex, Bekynton, eating in house groups together with their housemaster and other house staff, strengthening the relationship between the staff and the boys.
In addition to three main meals a day, all boys are provided with morning and afternoon drinks and snacks in their houses, with the breaks known as “chambers” and “messing” respectively. Boys can also forage at the school shop or the shops in Eton town if they so choose.
Other than the housemaster and his family, each house also has a deputy housemaster and two assistants, the dame, who is responsible for matters such as domestic arrangements and health issues, the dame’s assistant, and domestic staff.
The housemasters are in post for 13 years, and shape the house he is in charge of over that time, which could in turn lead said house to be known for a certain trait, such as sporty or musical. Some housemasters also hold events such as barbeques or football games over the summer for the boys joining the new term in September, which leads to an easier time for new boys to adjust to their new house.
Eton town, as a place, welcomes the presence of the college, and hardly anyone, other than tourists or prospective students visiting, gives a second glance to the boys and teachers (affectionately called “beaks”) walking around the town.
The town also offers a number of facilities that cater to the college as well as the tourists that visit the charming Thameside town. Three art galleries, a gunsmith, no less than four gentlemen’s outfitters, and a fair number of restaurants and cafes populate the streets of the town.
Pastoral care, wellbeing, and discipline
With almost 1,300 boys at a time and only that many teachers to go around, it is almost guaranteed that there would be some concern as to whether any boy would be overlooked, or fall through the cracks. However, Eton answers this with its house and tutor system. With 50 boys in each house, this means that there are only 10 in each year group.
Boys are encouraged to not only discuss any social or physical health issues they are having, but mental health as well. This is supported by the dame of each house being able to deal with minor medical problems, with support from the school’s three doctors, two psychologists, the psychiatrist, and the counselor. Even though the school is traditionally Anglican, it features a multi-denominational chaplaincy team to answer to any religious needs. In some houses, sixth form boys are also assigned to look after the younger boys.
Eton stands as a demanding school, pursuing excellence in every field. However, the school is also noted for choosing boys who will thrive in that atmosphere, what they call “robust self-starters who want to take every opportunity offered”. This puts a lot of trust in the boys and treats them as adults from the very beginning. The school is also noted as not placing a lot of emphasis on small items such as hair, but word is that if a student were to come up against the system, it can be rather inflexible.
One thing about Eton is that it has an especially broad extracurricular programme, bolstered by the school’s desire to foster and support its boys in whatever interest or ambition they so choose. This is not restricted to academic endeavours, but covers the extracurricular as well. One particular example is how the school supports its budding musicians, with performance opportunities for its musically-inclined boys, who may not be at a concert level yet. There’s also the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), community service, and over 50 societies, of which nearly all are established and run by boys, and include activities such as debating, comedy, Orwell, cheese, and wine. Meetings, many with visiting speakers, take place in the evenings.
The school playing fields are used for football and rugby in the Michaelmas term, with rugby and hockey during the Lent term, and the summer sees the fields used for cricket and athletics. Even the least sporty boys will play in house and inter-house competitions. On match days there can be up to 40 teams competing. Eton also has its own unique version of football, called the “field game”, which are entirely home affairs since no one else plays it. Other sports include rowing, sailing, golf, shooting, and sailing, with thriving polo and eventing teams as well.
On the musical side, over 1,000 individual music lessons are held a week, with facilities to support teaching and concerts, along with a hierarchy of orchestras for the classically-inclined. Smaller groups such as piano trios, quartets, jazz bands and rock bands are able to perform at events organised by the school, the houses, or even the boys themselves. Theatre and drama are also strong at Eton, with whole school plays, house plays, and productions written, produced, and directed by the boys themselves being shown at three venues at the school.