Slavery and the British Public School

Slavery and the British Public School


Richard Ennals

  There are unresolved issues around slavery which are central to the British psyche, at least for the middle classes who see themselves as potentially the ruling classes. 

Public schools have advertised “Be a student here and become a born leader”. Parents still argue the case for sending their children to private education in order to secure them a competitive advantage. In an individualised society, advantage for one is at the expense of others. So much for democracy and equality of opportunity.

 British public schools had the task of preparing students to attend the old universities, and to rule the colonies. The régime of team sports, deferred gratification and cold showers was seen as building the necessary character for future rulers. 

Enduring a period of suffering could be justified if the ends were achieved. Thus students endured bullying, corporal punishment, sexual abuse, and separation from their families in order to make the grade. They were convinced that the experience had done them no harm, and proceeded to inflict it on their children.


Schools funded by donations from public spirited slave traders, in Bristol, Liverpool and London, reflected the aspirations of these determined adventurers that their children should be able to become gentlemen. Attending school was a form of middle passage, a painful but necessary transition.

 British public schools separated children from their parents at an early age, and took on themselves the right to punish, in loco parentis. This separation freed the parents to travel or live as they pleased, but at the expense of fracturing normal family relationships. During their formative years, public school students rarely encountered normal family or interpersonal relations. 

British independent schools still seek to cultivate the illusion of superiority. They preserve the hierarchical model of society which sustained slavery, selling social status at commercial rates.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

One thought on “Slavery and the British Public School

  1. This is the most ridiculous article I have come across in quite a while.

    Having been through the public school system myself I feel I can shead some light upon some of the issues raised.

    “Thus students endured bullying, corporal punishment, sexual abuse, and separation from their families”.

    – Bullying; true enough I guess, we still have fagging and running the gauntlet and the great upper school fights etc. but thats just tradition, the running the gauntlet has been going on in my boarding house along the same corridor every year for 120 years.

    – Corporal Punishment; this does still persist at public schools, though the beaks dont do the traditional caning.

    – Sexual Abuse; what?!?! never happened to me! I dont know where that one comes from!

    – Seperation from our Families; well yes, thats the point of boarding school, and let me tell you, the years that I have spent at boarding school have been the happiest and most exciting of my life.

    Now for the bit about interpersonal relationships; you try living for five years in a house with 70 other people you have never met before and come back and tell me that your social skills havent improved.

    As for the “illusion of superiority”, try comparing the grades, or social skills, or ability and learning in pretty much every single concievable field, and it is obvious, sometimes painfully obvious, that the public schools are far, far superior.

    The issue, or I guess the ‘problem’, is with the class system. People dont like to employ the lower classes for high powered jobs because they are not taken seriously.

    As for the slavery connection, I dont know where that came from, my school was funded by fees not the slave trade…

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