A letter to the Duchess of Cambridge

Boarding schools for children as young as eight have no place in the 21st century, writes one mother to another. We may only be talking about a small elite, but that elite has an outsized influence.

Sally Fraser
29 October 2014

Dear Catherine,

I am writing to you, as one mother to another, to ask you if you would consider refusing to send your son to boarding school at a young age. I believe that you have an incredible opportunity to show that a certain way of treating children belongs in the past, and to make a change that will have a transformative influence on your family and on society as a whole.

I understand that there is a strong tradition of boarding in your husband's family. But you have already made encouraging breaks with the past in not taking on a full-time nanny for your child. This week I read that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, regrets sending her children to boarding school, and also that your husband’s late mother was reluctant to make that choice for her own sons. I would agree with Tom Parker Bowles, that such places are “a hotbed of all the sorts of things that are coming out now”. I'd like to suggest that boarding school for young children has no place in the 21st century, and you could set a powerful example to people who remain stuck in the past.

Eton boys.jpg

(Sludge G/Flickr, some rights reserved)

Maybe these schools are what built the empire, maybe battles were won on the playing fields of Eton, but those days are over. Maybe we as mothers should start having a say in doing things differently. If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, I can’t help feeling that the best way to keep us women in our place has been to stop us rocking the cradle.

I really do believe that for too long people of a certain class have been sold a lie, and that they have sacrificed time with their children according to a myth that these children need to be toughened up and taught grit and independence. Eight year old boys do not need to be independent, they need their mums. Childhood is a valuable and magical time; there is no need to rush through it. Your children have a right to enjoy it and so do you. Moreover, I believe that so much of the maturing and character-building that such institutions are known for is illusory. When children are forced to grow up too soon, certain parts of them can stay eight years old forever. Many people who, like me, are married to ex-boarders know this, and maybe you do too.

And it’s not just what I think. There are now a lot of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists warning that boarding is harmful to children, that the need for secure attachments goes beyond infancy; that institutions cannot take the place of homes. You know what is best for your child. If your heart and your conscience tell you he should go to prep school then I would not for one second question your right to do your best by him. But if you have even the slightest doubt, I urge you stand firm against tradition or external pressures and hold fast to your instincts as a mother. There may be others desperate to follow their hearts who will be grateful for the precedent you set.

Wishing you all the best as you enjoy your journey as a parent,


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