Artillery Row

Eton needs to be led by a headmaster, not a social activist

Simon Henderson’s top-down revolution at Eton has lost the trust of too many parents, staff, and donors for him to remain in place

There is no greater act of trust than for a mother to put her child in the hands of a boarding school. The wrench when you drop them off is bad enough. For days and weeks, a tractor beam of unease follows you everywhere you go. Are they ok? Are they safe? Will they make friends and be happy? Your son’s growing-up is slipping through your fingers. You know that asking for regular updates will only embarrass him. So, you concentrate on managing your own emotions instead. Woman up, you say! Eton knows what it is doing. It trains up a child in the way that he should go forward, so even when he is old he will not depart from it. What could possibly go wrong?

So imagine the lurching concern when the stories start filtering back. At first, you try to suppress it as you suppressed your own maternal worries. But each new report strikes a jarring note: surely this is not what schools allow these days?

We are sending our children away at great expense in order for them to be made dysfunctional

Your son has gone quiet on the family holiday. He asks you for help with his homework. It transpires that, at the age of fourteen, he’s been dispatched to review a novel about incestuous rape and pregnancy. Your son attends a film about “Seahorses” (and which thirteen-year-old wouldn’t)? It turns out to be a graphic account of male pregnancy. The contrast with his expectations is so disorientating that he wants to leave the room but feels he cannot, worrying he will be marked out. As what, exactly? A normal boy.

In second year, your son attends a talk by transsexual author Juno – previously James – Dawson. A quick search revealed her to have written a “trans Alice in Wonderland, full of cocaine, cosmetics and the sexually abusive Tweedle twins” concerning a boarding school pupil with an “an active, app-based sex life with married men from outlying commuter towns”. We were told that the talk encouraged boys to experiment sexually. Books for sale in the foyer afterwards included This Book is Gay, which is basically a sex manual. Parents were not offered an opt-out as it wasn’t “sex education” but “literature”.

Soon the ripples from the pebbles being cast in your son’s imagination become crashing waves. A heavily-promoted event in the school’s history library – billed as a “Creative Pornography Workshop” – is open only to the two youngest years. It is offered by “The School of Sexuality Education” whose “team of unembarrassable facilitators deliver ‘sex positive’ workshops on porn, consent, healthy relationships and sexual pleasure.” How typical of them to know no shame.

My son says pre-pubescent boys are having the main pillar of their identity demolished

The school invites “The Good Lad Initiative” to undertake annual “masculinity” workshops for the younger year groups. These take up time on a Sunday when they could be out doing what they love on the playing fields. In these sessions, your son is made to role play “coming out as straight” – and he then returns to an all-male boarding house co-habiting with 18-year-olds! It’s as if Eton is desperate to reintroduce the very activities which its school rules explicitly forbid. While the existence of these compulsory workshops is not disputed, their content is. Casting doubt upon accounts of them is easy because Eton staff are discouraged from attending alongside the boys. This exclusion is insisted upon on the basis that staff might make the boys “feel uncomfortable”.

Consider the inverted self-serving logic of this movement. Pornography workshops are okay because the facilitators aren’t embarrassed – and it is teachers, not sexualisation campaigners, who might make children feel uncomfortable. “The boys were encouraged to swear with impunity during exercises that included how to recognise signs of toxic masculinity and everyday sexism,” writes one journalist who attended such sessions. “I wondered whether parents were aware that their pubescent sons were being encouraged to see themselves through a prism of toxic masculinity and dysfunction.”

And so we come to the purpose of Head Master, Simon Henderson’s top-down revolution at Eton: we are sending our children away at great expense in order for them to be made dysfunctional. My son says pre-pubescent boys are having the main pillar of their identity demolished, leaving them in a desert. And what do we – the parents and fee payers – know of all this? The answer is: only as little as the school is prepared to reveal.

By law, we are supposed to be provided with an opt-out on such activities – but how can you opt out of something you don’t know about? Much of the current outpouring of parental anger is because things done in darkness are now being brought to light. The standard response of Good Lad Initiative is they’ve never had negative feedback. Why? Because – at least in Eton’s case – the school refuses to anonymise survey responses from boys who remain all-too-aware of the consequences of openly transgressing the new enforced conformity.

Simon Henderson has lost the trust of too many parents, staff, and donors for him to remain in place

And it seems this programme of sexualization is only accelerating: external consultancies linked to the school include Stonewall, Diversity by Design and Engendering Change. One of the goals of Jo Morgan, who runs the latter organisation, is “improving mental health” by “trans* forming [sic] schools”. My son felt that Physical, Social and Health Education – rather than being a discursive course aimed at helping boys cope with the inevitable pressures and temptations of life as a young man – has become the vehicle for radical feminist ideology and transsexual encouragement, where opinions about gender theory are presented as fact. Indeed, it was in an attempt to restore balance to this situation that the teacher William Knowland created his now-infamous video. Parents are now poised to do the due diligence on Eton’s new Relationship and Sex Education curriculum materials which, according to the Government’s own rules, have to be made available for scrutiny.

Eton appears to have become adept at what it is not supposed to do: sexualise boys and undermine their psychological well-being. And what of those things it is supposed to do? Are we reassured that it is safeguarding our sons from actual exploitation? Eton itself provided an answer to this in a letter to parents and old boys dated 27 November, the day after Mr Knowland’s sacking became public. In it, the headmaster admitted that a housemaster [Matthew Mowbray] “believed to be a caring and professional House Master… was a skilful and deceitful manipulator of both young people and adults.” He has just been sentenced to five years.

Here is the real scandal. A massively expanded school bureaucracy is advancing at speed – kept in step by a Head Master continually banging his drum for the progressive march. Yet all this is done at the expense of the basic requirements of school leadership: genuine pastoral care of its pupils.

As the headmaster’s grip has been shaken by uproar against his treatment of Mr Knowland, a large number of frank letters from boys and parents were reportedly submitted to the Vice-Provost. As the judicial process for Mr Knowland moves on – and the Upper Sixth leave next summer – the contents of these letters will be deeply telling: if indeed the school has the courage to release them. The fall-out from the Knowland affair indicates that Simon Henderson has lost the trust of too many parents, staff, and donors for him to remain in place. Eton must now be led by a headmaster, not a social activist.

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