Gordonstoun: When heads gather in Edinburgh for the IAPS/HMC Annual Conference this week there is one person I will be particularly interested to meet: the co-founder of Netflix, Marc Randolph, who will be speaking about how the streaming giant became part of everyday life.
Netflix changed my life, and not just by filling my Friday nights. Without Netflix we would not have The Crown, and The Crown – as I’m sure you know – is a completely accurate and historically precise documentary about the Royal Family which has no dramatic interpretation whatsoever….
When the press come to Gordonstoun and ask to see “the gatepost that Prince Philip built” I have to inform them that, unfortunately, such a gatepost does not exist and never has done. Similarly, not only is there no longer a “Gordonstoun challenge”, there never was one. Journalists are also surprised when I show them King Charles’ old boarding house, brand new at the time of his arrival, complete with central heating. It is somewhat different to the draughty old hall with snow blowing in, as depicted in Season 2.
“When the press comes to Gordonstoun and ask to see ‘the gatepost that Prince Philip built’ I have to inform them it does not exist.”
So, my relationship with The Crown is a complex one. My frustration is perhaps not just with the creators of the drama but also the lack of healthy scepticism amongst its audience; a willingness to cling onto myth in the face of fact.
The greatest misnomer arising from The Crown and still persisting to this day is that Gordonstoun was a harsh and disciplined school (and remains so). Delegates at the IAPS/HMC conference are being invited to try out cold water swimming yet the cold showers of old at Gordonstoun are still depicted as a punishment.
Their health benefits and the fact that they were always preceded by a hot shower is, of course, never mentioned. The so-called “disciplined environment” included regular quiet reading time and asking pupils to go for a reflective walk in lieu of more traditional punishments. Our founder was a visionary educator and yet a three-word phrase, the origins of which are genuinely unknown, pervades.
“My frustration is with the willingness of the audience to cling onto myth in the face of fact.”
Far from being “Colditz in Kilts”, Gordonstoun is actually a pioneer in the field of pupil wellbeing. Described as sector leading since the mid 90s, for nearly a decade we have been using a purpose-built MIS which allows us to track the wellbeing of all students and spot changes in behaviour which might indicate an underlying problem; long gone are the days of relying on a chance conversation in the staff room.
We are also still leading the way in character education, showing young people that they are not defined by exam results and helping them to build resilience in order to face life’s ups and downs. King Charles himself said that he is always “astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient clichés to describe it.” He said, “It taught me to accept challenges and take the initiative.”
Gordonstoun is proud of its links with the Royal family and this is something the sector as a whole should celebrate. King Charles is the first King in British history to be educated in a school rather than by private tutors.
“Far from being ‘Colditz in Kilts’, Gordonstoun is actually a pioneer in the field of pupil wellbeing.”
I’ve heard that, in the days following the death of Queen Elizabeth, there was an 800 per cent surge in viewers watching The Crown. If you ask me what I think about the series I will tell you that it’s really great drama.
But, I’ll expect a lot more questions about gateposts and, as Oscar Wilde said, there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. If you are one of The Crown’s new viewers please remember that the only person who really knows what life was like at school for King Charles is King Charles and he said “I’m glad I went to Gordonstoun”.