Reassuring values from the past

Photo: Winchester College

The new normal is bringing myriad challenges for schools and pupils – especially those at boarding schools. Tim Hands of Winchester College explores what our future educational provision might learn from the past.

What mighty people they were, those Victorians. Their stern be-whiskered faces gazing down on us from many a school hall or house dining room; their three-volume novels and their even more intimidating two-volume Lives and Letters causing bends in the middle of many a modern bookshelf.

They knew about education, those old Headmasters, and they certainly knew about suffering too; pandemics were well known to them. Archibald Tait, Headmaster of Rugby after Thomas Arnold, had to bury later in life – within weeks – five of his scarlet fever-stricken children. Another Victorian colossus, Edward Thring of Uppingham, lost so many of his pupils to typhoid that he decided to evacuate the school for a year to North Wales.

When, two months ago, a very bright boy wrote to me talking about the unprecedented mental suffering his generation were experiencing as a result of Covid, I looked at my bookshelves with a mixture of embarrassment and regret. Those mighty Victorians – how the devil did they display all that energy, absorb all that suffering and then in addition manage families of ten or more?

Dr Tim Hands, a former Chairman of HMC, is Headmaster of Winchester College.