WHAT MAKES ETON SO SPECIAL?
Eton is easily the world’s most famous school. How did Eton achieve this astonishing status and why is it held in such awe? Eton has produced 20 of Britain’s 48 Prime Ministers; Kings of Nepal and Thailand; several Olympic gold medalists; countless bankers; many writers; a bevvy of composers; scores of generals and a handful of film stars.
Amongst the British upper class people used to say ”everyone went to Eton. Except for those who went to Harrow of course.” Eton was THE school for the social elite. But this stellar image is an exaggeration of the reality. Eton is not as socially or financially exclusive as you might imagine. Furthermore, many aristocrats and billionaires attend schools that are much less renowned.
I do not come from an aristocratic family. I am bourgeois. A couple of generations ago we were working class. I am not English either – I am an Irishman. Yet I went to Eton in the 1990s.
Eton is has an aesthetic beauty to its architecture. It is surrounded by hundreds of hectares of beautiful grounds with just the right mix of manicured gardens and wilderness. It is beside the River Thames which is a river that has carried British History more than any other. Eton is 25 km from central London. Eton is almost in the shadow of Windsor Castle. This castle is the British Royal Family’s favourite – so much so that they take their name from it.
Eton was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI. The king named the school ”The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor.” No one calls it by its lengthy official name. The school was endowed with fragments of wood that were believed to come from the True Cross. The school was allowed to grant indulgences (guaranteed entry to heaven) on the Feast of the Assumption). The school’s coat of arms show the white lily of the Virgin Mary, a gold lion passant of England and a gold fleur-de-lys of France on a midnight blue field. This is because Henry VI was King of France as well as England. He was the last king of England to rule France in fact as well as in title. Henry VI was 18 years old when he set up the school. He was exceptionally devout even for a deeply religious age. Education was almost incidental to the school’s foundation. Henry VI founded the school as a prayer factory. The boys were to pray in Latin for the souls of Henry VI’s parents forever. In fact this custom ceased in the 1970s.
Originally there were 70 poor scholars at the school. The school was run by a Head Master. Note that this is two words at Eton. At every other school it is a compound word – headmaster. This is just one of numberless Etonian quirks. The scholars are known as KSs or King’s Scholars. They even add the letters KS behind their names as in Pummell KS. The KSs lived in a boarding house called College. Gradually boys from wealth families came to attend the school and pay fees to do so. Those who paid fees lived in the town or ”oppidum” in Latin. They became known as Oppidans – derived from ”oppidum.” Over time the Oppidans became far more numerous than the King’s Scholars. Now the school contains 70 KSs and about 1 200 Oppidans.
Henry VI was religious to the point of insanity. Some people say his devoutness has been overplayed by his partisans. When the king was too depressed to get out of bed for days or so raving made that his courtiers thought it better not to let him out of his apartment in the palace an explanation was needed. Ambassadors and other dignitaries were told the king is at prayer. It was a means of trying to hide his mental illness.
Henry VI was overthrown, restored and then overthrown again. This was all part of the Wars of the Roses between two factions of the English Royal House: Lancastrians and Yorkists. Henry VI was a Lancastrian and their symbol was the red rose. Yorkists were his foes and their emblem was a white rose. He was stabbed to death in the Tower of London on 21 1471. Every 21st of May, the anniversary of his death, a ceremony takes place in the chapel to commemorate the founder’s murder. In memory of Henry VI a rose is laid – a red rose of Lancaster. Roses are laid in Eton College Chapel and also at the Tower of London where His Majesty was ”most foully done to death.” The Provost of Eton also lays lily flowers. The lily is one of the emblems of Eton as it alludes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lily white signifies her purity.
Boys usually came to Eton aged 9 and left aged 14. One boy came to Eton at the age of 6! Some ‘boys’ stayed on until the age of 20.
The Oppidans lived in houses run by middle aged or elderly women. These women had to be widows or spinsters. They were known as ‘dames’. The dames could not be too young or else the boys might take a shine to them! These women could not be married because otherwise they would not be totally dedicated to looking after the boys in their house.
Henry VI also founded King’s College, Cambridge. Initially KSs from Eton went on to King’s College, Cambridge. Nowadays very few boys from Eton go on to that particular College in Cambridge. Many go to other Colleges in Cambridge or Oxford.
There were only two teachers at first. The Head Master taught the older boys in a building called Upper School. The Lower Master taught the younger boys in Lower School. Classes were very big. There were easily over 100 boys in each class! Lessons were very unimaginative. Latin and Greek were read aloud and boys had to simultaneously translate. In time more and more masters were added to the staff. Classes were made smaller and more subjects were added.
Lower School is a classroom that still exists. It is the oldest classroom in the world that is still used for its original purpose.
There were initially two terms in the school year. One ran from the start of August to mid December. The other ran from mid January to the end of May. June and July were holidays. Therefore the two terms were the two halves of the year. There were no half terms. There are now three terms but neverheless a term is still called a ‘half’. It is one of many examples of delightful Etonian anachronistic illogic. Perhaps Eton is so fantastic that is packs one and a half years of learning into each year!
There was a curious tradition of August ramming. A ram was kept in Weston’s Yard. The ram was released in August and all the boys would chase it and beat it to death with their clubs.
Eton College was a Roman Catholic school because the state religion was Roman Catholicism at the time. In the 1530s England set up the Church of England. Eton therefore became a Church of England school. Henry VIII thought that Eton was a monastery and he considerd dissolving it. Eton was a monastery inasmuch as there were a few monks. He was dissuaded from closing Eton because Eton was mainly a school and the monks were merely incidental. The monks were laicized but the school was permitted to continue. It was Eton’s first narrow escape!
The wood from the supposed True Cross was destroyed as an example of ‘Romish Superstition’. Images of the Blessed Virgin and other saints in the College Chapel were painted over in the 1540s. There was even an attempt to burn the Eton Choir Book. Luckily, the men taking it away to be burnt accidentally dropped it as they rode away. The priceless handwritten tome was recovered and hidden for decades until it was safe to bring out.
The curriculum at Eton was very narrow in the early days. Boys learnt Latin, Ancient Greek and sometimes Hebrew so they could read the Bible in the original language. They sometimes learnt foreign languages such as French and Italian. They learnt a little History and Geography. They did almost no Maths or Science. Only in the late 19th century did Maths become a major part of the timetable. This was because the Head Master at the time had a brother who was a mathematician. The brother persuaded the Head Master to lay greater emphasis on the subject. People sometimes learned a few musical instruments. There was a choir. They boys had a lot of free time to play sports.The Oppidans lives well. They all had their own rooms. The dames set boarding fees. Some houses were more opulent than others. The quality of the food also varied depending on how expensive the house was.
Edward IV, who overthrew Henry VI, considered closing the school. He was dissuaded by his mistress Jane Shore. There is a society for the women of the Eton community called the Jane Shore Society. The name honours her as the saviour of the school. The Jane Shore Society is for women who work at the school or are married to those who work there.
The King’s Scholars lived in woeful conditions. One 18th century chronicler recorded, ”the inmates or a prison or a workhouse do not suffer the privations of the scholars of Eton.’‘ The boys were locked in at night. Thank goodness there was never a fire! They had no adult supervision at all. They lived in one very large dormitory called Long Chamber. It was said to be the scene of horrific bullying. On one occasion the boys managed to steal a sow and smuggle her into Long Chamber in the daytime. The aim was to slaughter the pig eat her at night. Before they could take a knife to the beast she gave birth to a litter of piglets. The boy consumed her farrow before later eating the swine herself.
By the 18th century Eton had established itself as the premier school for the British upper class. Henry VI had donated a lot of land to the school. The school rented this land out and used the extra income for more buildings and so on. The aristocrats who attended the school often made munificent donation to the school. Some past pupils went into banking or became highly successful lawyers and more than a few of them gave generously to their old school. Eton produced so many politicians partly because the upper orders dominated politics but also because there were so many debating societies. Boys became well versed in political matters and also grew accustomed to speaking in public. Boys had plenty of time to spend on their hobbies because lessons and homework were not time-consuming or demanding. Eton was almost like two schools. The King’s Scholars who were middle class or working class boys selected for their phenomenal intellects were radically different from the Oppidans who were drawn from the most privileged classes. A few Oppidans were bright and hard-working but most were not. Oppidans did not need to worry about passing exams since they came from wealthy families and their futures were assured.
In the 18th century boys would process from the school to St Catherine’s Hill in Slough which was several miles distant. This ceremony was called a Montem. Many people came to watch them. The crowds became huge in the 1840s due to the advent of the railway. The school ceased to do montems.
In the 18th century some Americans started to attend the school. Among them were Thomas Lynch and Thomas Nelson. Both of them signed the Declaration of Independence.
Boys started to row on the Thames. The Thames was much wider and wilder back then because there were few locks or dams. The river was liable to flood. There were many water rats that carried diseases. Many boys could not swim. Because of all these factors rowing was dangerous. Rowing was forbidden but many boys did it. They hid their boats or hired boats from local people. Only in the 19th century was rowing allowed and regulated.
King George III reigned 1760-1820. He was a great fan of the school. He gave gold coins to schoolboys. He spent much of his time just across the river from Eton in Windsor Castle. When he died in 1820 the school went into mourning. Eton tailsuits are black. People say this is in mourning for George III. That is not so since a painting several years after George III’s death depicts boys in coats of many different hues. Nonetheless the uniform is black.
George III’s birthday was 4th June. Eton’s main festive day is the Fourth of June. This event is almost never celebrated on the actual 4th of June. It is usually the Wednesday before. This is like an open day or an exhibition. There are displays of art and sports. There are informal concerts. People picnic on the lawns. The highlight is the Procession of Boats. Boys in 19th century sailors’ uniforms row along the river in old fashioned heavy rowing boats. They stand up and hold their oars upright. They wear straw boater hats decked in flowers. They shake their flowers out onto the river in salute.
In the reign of George III an Irish boy named Arthur Wellesely attended Eton. This boy was to become known to the world as the Duke of Wellington. The Duke of Wellington won his fame for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo and becoming Prime Minister. The duke supposedly said, ”the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” This apocryphal quotation is probably bogus since the duke only attended Eton for a year. He despised the school so much that he moved to another school – in France!
Boys were not allowed to leave the school grounds. They did so more and more. The school unofficially adopted a policy of turning Nelson’s eye to this. If a boy was in the nearby town of Windsor and he saw a master the boy would turn his face to the wall and the master would pretend not to see him. Then the school decided this was ridiculous. There was a total volte face. Boys were allowed to go to town on certain days. If a boy saw a beak he was to take of his hat to him. The beak would do likewise. Boys wore top hats back then. This doffing a topper with a flourish degenerated into less and less energetic removal of hats down to tipping the hat. Top hats have long since been abolished. Boys still raise their index finger to the height of their right eyebrow to tip an imaginary hat.
Eton in the late 18th and early 19th century was a shockingly disorderly place. Attendance at lessons was more or less voluntary. There was no legal minimum age for drinking. The Thames water was too foul to drink. Boys drank small beer even at breakfast. This was beer with a very low alcohol content because brewing water cleansed it. One house is called the Hopgarden since hops for beer were grown there. Boys frequented taverns and often got themselves into a crapulous state. One barmaid had to take a lawsuit out against a boy who had sired a child by her.
An inspirational head master in the early 19th century was Dr John Keate. He was an Old Etonian himself. Dr Keate at pains to modernise the school and improved discipline. To this end he was an inveterate beater of boys’ behinds. Notice that this John Keate is not the poet John Keats whose lifetime overlapped with the head master of a very similar name.
Eton was a fairly rough place in the 19th century. Sports did not have many rules. Boys invented their own manly sports such as the Wall Game and the Field Game. The Wall Game is a scrum beside a wall for an hour. The Field Games is a curious mixture of rugby and football. Boys fought duels – mercifully it was with their fists and not swords or pistols. But in one such duel two brothers fought each other and one of them Francis Ashley ended up killing his younger sibling Wood Ashley.
Bullying was widespread. Older boys would oblige younger boys to carry out menial tasks for them. The school decided this could not be extirpated so ought to be regulated. A system called fagging was created. A fag was a younger boy who was a servant. As the pupils were mostly upper class it made them empathise with the working class. They would then know what it is like to perform chores. They would learn to receive orders as well as give them.
In the late 19th century sports codified by other bodies started to be played at Eton. Among these is football. Because the Football Association drew up the rules the 1st XI at Eton is called the Association.
By that time Harrow School and Winchester College were regarded as Eton’s main rivals. Eton, Harrow and Winchester played cricket against each other at Lord’s: the main cricket stadium at the time. It was a three day event and a red letter day in the social calendar. One year the Wykehamists (boys from Winchester) behaved so atrociously that Winchester was no longer allowed to play at Lords. Well over 100 years later the ban still stands! The Wykehamists sniffily named their main cricket pitch ‘Lords’. The Eton-Winchester match is the most important day in Winchester’s summer term.
The Eton-Harrow match still takes place at Lords. However, it is not the ‘must be seen’ event it once was. Both sides are desperate not too lose and adopt a very cautious strategy. This usually results in a draw.
In the 1860s Napoleon III was ruling France. People feared he might try to invade the United Kingdom. The school founded the Officer Training Corps. This provided army training to boys. This is now called the CCF – Combined Cadet Force. It is CCF because it combines the army and the air force. There was a naval section but not since the 1980s.
A high majority of the boys came from London or southern England. in the early days. Soon the upper class from the whole of Great Britain looked to Eton as the most desirable school. So many Scottish noble families had their sons at Eton that in the 19th century the Prime Minister Gladstone decided to found a school in Scotland to be Eton;s equaivaent. It is called Glenalmond and it was established to prevent Scotland losing so many of its sons to Eton. This effort met with only limited success. The British Flag was planted on every continent. Colonial governors of the largest colonies were usually Old Etonians. Eton’s glory was soon known throughout the British Empire. In the 1880s the first Indian boys attended the school – they were all sons of Maharajahs.
In the late 19th century Maths and Science became a larger part of the curriculum. This was in no small measure because one head master had a brother who was a mathematician. The mathematical brother convinced the head master that Maths ought to assume a much larger role in the boys’ schooling. Eton remained a Church of England school but Roman Catholics were readmitted for the first time in 320 years. Jewish boys were then also allowed into the school.
In the late 19th century it was decided that dames should no longer run houses on their own. It was difficult for an elderly woman to control 50 boys especially as some of these boys were aged 18. Therefore in the 1890s Eton started to buy houses from dames and build more houses. A man, called a housemaster, was placed in charge of each house. The dame was still there as a matron. But she was ancillary to the housemaster. The idle dame was the widow of an army officer. She could have children but they needed to be grown up and therefore not in need of much motherly care. The dame was to provide the feminine touch to the house.
In the late 19th century Eton was perhaps at the peak of its political dominance. But even in the mid 20th century three Prime Ministers in a row attended the school: Eden, Macmillan and Douglas-Home.
Eton welcomed some very high profile visitors. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany visisted Eton just before the First World War. He inspected the CCF. One boy fired a blank from his rifle to startle the emperor’s horse. The boy was soundly thrashed for it at the time. When the First World War began the boy was feted for exposing the cowardice of the enemy supremo.
During the First World War some Belgian boys were temporarily admitted to the school. The school was deeply affected by the war suffering hundreds of deaths of old boys.
After the war Eton established some scholarships for the orphans of war dead. Eton College also forged links with a town in France that happened to be named Eton. Eton College built a school in that town. Everyone in the school was required to join the CCF during the war.
After the First World War Emperor Hirohito of Japan visited the school.
Up until the 1920s the King’s Scholarship was only in Latin and Greek. Thereafter it included all subjects.
It is to Eton’s great chagrin that Winston Churchill did not go to Eton. He attended Eton’s main rival Harrow. Sir Winston Churchill’s father Lord Randolph Churchill had been at Eton and loathed it which is why he had Winston go to Harrow. Winston detested Harrow and had his son go to Eton. The Churchill’s have been to Eton in every generation since.
In the Second World War a comedy was made by Hollywood entitled ‘A Yank at Eton.’ In this Mickey Rooney plays an American boy who has enrolled at Eton. The message is that although the British and Americans have some minor cultural differences deep down the two nations are very similar and can be dearest friends. The opening credits feature the Eton Boating Song sung at a very fast tempo.
The in the 1940s the Vice Provost was Sir Henry Marten. Sir Henry started tutoring a girl who lived just across the river. She was Princess Elizabeth – who is now the queen. As Elizabeth II came to the Vice Provost’s Lodgings for her tutorial she is almost an Old Etonian.
As travel became easier matches against other schools became more frequent. Rugby and football were played more. The field game, Eton Fives and the wall game were played less.
Until the 1960s Eton was not difficult to get into. It required good connections rather than intelligence. Nor was Eton especially expensive. It cost the modern equivalent of GBP 10 000 a year – rather less than schools which did not have such a good reputation. The great majority of Etonians were the sons of old boys of the school.
In the 1960s a new headmaster changed this. Anthony Chenevix-Trench became the head master. The first part of his surname is pronounced ”SHEN – e – wick”. Chenevix Trench had served in the British Army in the Second World War. He had been captured by the Japanese and forced to be a slave on the Burma Railway. He witnessed horrors there with many fellow Prisoners of War dying of malnutrition, disease, insanitation, overwork, lack of medicine and savage beatings. Chenevix-Trench attempted to preserve his sanity be translating A E Housman’s series of poems ”A Shropshire Lad” into Latin rhyming couplets. Chenevix-Trench was successful in construing the poesy into beautiful Latin but less successful in maintaining his mental health.
The former head master Robert Birley remained on as Provost. That is the live-in chairman of the board of governors. This was supposed to provide stability but perhaps it divided loyalties. Some beaks refused to forgive Chenevix-Trench for being neither an Etonian nor having been a master at the school. They looked to Birley as the king over the water.
It was the 60s and change was in the air. Should Chenevix- Trench change or resist change? Either policy would cause friction. Chenevix-Trench was in most respects a reformer. He was adamant that school uniform must be abolished. This provoked the wrath of conservative minded beaks. He backed down on that on.
Housemasters had a very wide degree of autonomy. They controlled admissions to all houses besides college. Chenevix-Trench felt that it was wrong that rules were so divergent in different houses. He wishes to allow housemasters a modicum of independence but insisted that overall the school was united. Moreover, he aimed to centralise admissions and raise standards in Common Entrance. Housemasters guarded their independence jealously. They disliked losing their ability to accept and reject boys. Some old boys guffawed at Common Entrance standards being raised considerably. Their sons were no longer almost guaranteed a place at the school. Mr Chenevix-Trench wanted to make the school a place for go getters. There were always high fliers at Eton but until his time there were also a lot of dolts. He said he would not longer let idlers in nor allow any who had slipped through the net to remain.
In those days not everyone began in the Michaelmas of F Block. Some boys started the school in E Block or even D Block. Not everyone started at the age of 13 as they virtually all do no. Some started at 12, some at 14 or 15. Some started in the Lent Half and some in the summer. The head master regularised things. With a very few exceptions everyone now starts in September at the age of 13. Back then there was an A Block. Those wishing to apply to Oxford or Cambridge had to stay on an extra year at school. This was later reduced to one term and finally abolished altogether.
Mr Chenevix-Trench was a bizarre mixture of severity and laxity. Sometimes he would cane boys for trifling offences. Yet he was very slack about appearance and did not object to boys with long hair or who wore boots with their uniform so long as the boots were black. He did not expel boys for first time possession of drugs. If a boy ran away from school Chenevix-Trench would take pity on him and ask him what the matter was. There was no punishment. Some beaks demanded that running away from school be punished with a severe beating if not expulsion.
In an era when corporal punishment was widely used he had a reputation for being worryingly enthusiastic about caning boys. Chenevix-Trench raised the admission standards. A boy was not longer virtually guaranteed a place just because his father has attended the school. There were howls of protest from Old Etonians but Chenevix Trench pressed ahead with the reforms. He also raised the fees and used the money to greatly improve the facilities.Mr Chenevix-Trench was a physically unprepossessing figure. He was very short and was often mistaken for a butler. It is a minor miracle that he landed the job at all. The trauma he had experienced as a prisoner of the Japanese Army had turned him into a dypsomaniac. After only six years the Fellows pressurised him into leaving. It was one of the briefest ever term served by a head master. He went on to run Fettes College in Edinburgh. One of his pupils there was a certain Tony Blair!
In 1967 the first black boy started at Eton. His name was Dilibie Onyeama – the son of a Nigerian judge at the International Court in the Hague. He later recorded his unhappy experiences in a memoir entitled ”Nigger at Eton.” Onyeama was often verbally abused but never suffered any violence. Onyeama became an outspoken critic of imperialism and its after effects.
In the 1960s the Labour Government flirted with the notion of closing down public schools. They believed that the existence of public schools was pernicious and inegalitarian. Eton made contingency plans to relocate in the event of Labour forbidding independent education. Eton scouted two possible sites. One was in France and one was in the Republic of Ireland. Both would be close enough to the United Kingdom and both would offer sufficient scope for all the facilities that Eton required. In the end this plan did not need to be executed.
From the 1970s an increasing number of British Indians and Hong Kong Chinese attended the school. Eton briefly flirted with the idea of going mixed with was en vogue at the time. Master’s daughters were allowed to attend the school for the last two years of their schooling. Among 250 people in a year group there might be 5 girls. As you can imagine these ladies were very, very popular indeed! The trouble was if a girl even spoke to a boy a rumour would go around that she was in a relationship with him. Many boys’ schools in financial difficulties went mixed. Eton eventually set its face against that and remains resolutely all boys. There are some social events with girls schools such as St George’s Ascot and Wycombe Abbey.
Moreover, many public schools decided to take day pupils. Eton is for boarders only. Even the teachers’ sons must be boarders.
Fagging was abolished in the 1970s.
In the 1980s Eton was given its first Catholic chaplain since 1558. His name was Fr Peter Knott, SJ. The head master who arranged this was Dr Eric Anderson. At least 15% of the school was Roman Catholic.
Caning was abolished in 1988.
The Head Master of Eton from 2002 to 2014 was Tony Little. Mr Little was the first Old Etonian to head the school for decades. Mr Little noted that he was as working class as they come. His father was a baggage handler at Heathrow and Tony was the first man in his family to be educated beyond the age of 14. Tony Little was a brainy boy with a voice. He was given a scholarship to Eton Choir School which no longer exists. This school was for boys under the age of 13 and provided choristers for the College Chapel. From there he won a scholarship to Eton itself. Even in the 60s there were people like Tony Little at Eton. Admittedly there were very few working class boys like himself at the school.
There are some Russians at Eton. These are virtually all Muscovites. In the 1990s the soi-disant Russians were descendants of White Russians who had fled at the time of the October Revolution (like Dmitri Tolstoy the great grand nephew of the illustrious author). Otherwise they were else the progeny of marriages between British men and Soviet women. Now there are Russians who live in Russia.
Eton has a superb theatre which is comparable with a professional theatre in London’s West End. There are dozens of sports fields. Some of them are astro turf. There is an athletics track and even an indoor athletics stadium. There is a gymnasium, scores of squash courts and fives courts. There is a half Olympic sized indoor pool and there is an enormous outdoor pool open in the summer. There are three boat houses for rowing. Eton has a purpose-built rowing lake which was used in the Olympics.
Some of the buildings date to the 15th century but all are in good repair. There is a large concert hall, a marvelous music department and a stunning art department.
Eton’s fees are about GBP 35 000. This is not high by the standards of British public schools. There are many schools which are much less illustrious that charge higher fees. Many boys pay reduce fees owing to their financial circumstances. Although plenty Etonians are billionaires by no means all boys at the school come from super rich families. Having said that few of the scholarship boys are really working class.
There are dozens of activities going on from chess to sailing. There are several plays on each year as well as many concerts. There is a CCF – Combined Cadet Force. It is called ‘combined’ because it combines the army and air force. There was a naval section long ago. On one weekend exercise the navy had to play prisoners of war waiting to be rescued. The trouble was the side that was supposed to rescue them was no use and the sailor were never rescued so they remained POWs for the whole weekend! The CCF provides military training one afternoon a week and a few weekends year. Joining it is entirely voluntary. In fact only about 25% of boys enlist. These days very few go on to the armed forces afterwards.
The chapel is one of the most gorgeous and historic buildings in the school. Boys attend obligatory chapel most morning. The choir is magnificent and has recorded many albums.
Practically all the teachers are graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. Most have First class degrees and quite a few have doctorates. There is a very low staff turnover at Eton. Once someone gets a job he tends to stay for the rest of his career. This is a problem since too many of the staff are old. The school therefore offers younger teachers a two year probation. Only superb ones are kept on beyond that. People often take demotions to come to Eton because teaching there is the ultimate accolade.
About 40% of Etonians are the sons of Old Etonians and many have other relatives who attended the school. Only about 10% of the pupils come from visible ethnic minorities. A high majority of the boys are British citizens. Those who live abroad are usually British expatriates. Besides Russians the other nationalities in significant numbers are American and German. Eton is less international than many other British public schools.
There is some resentment against Eton. Left wing politicians denounce Eton as being a baleful influence. It is surprising that Cameron managed to become Prime Minister. Some people felt it was a retrograde step. Cameron’s Eton education is often used against him by the Labour Party. Some working class British people resent Etonians and are delighted to see Etonians fail. Some people are envious and spiteful. Eton is not an automatic passport to a good job because some people discriminate against Etonians. Many people have an outdated image of Eton and assume all its past pupils come from upper class families are and immensely affluent.
Eton’s academic results are outstanding. GCSEs and A levels are not challenging for Etonians. About 25% of Etonians go to Oxford or Cambridge. Compare that to 0.3% of the overall population who go on to one of those universities. The other universities that Etonians study at include Durham, Edinburgh, Bristol and Imperial College London. An increasing number of boys go to study in the United States.
Everyone must learn Latin and French for the first two years. Most boys have studied Latin and French for a couple of years before they arrive at the school. The cleverer boys also do Ancient Greek. There are many more languages offered besides these ones. The additional foreign languages are Russian, Spanish, German. Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Arabic. Those who are not good at languages need do only French and Latin. Everyone does Maths and Sciences for at least three years.
Sport is a major part of Eton life. To be a talented sportsman is to be popular. The houses compete against each other in sports. The school also plays against other schools in many sports. But if a boy is no good at sports this will be difficult for him.
Many boys become lawyers or bankers. Quite a few go into acting or the arts. Quite a few are in the diplomatic service or politics. Eton is still prominent in the Conservative Party. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is an Old Etonian. Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London) is also an old boy of the school. About a quarter of the British Cabinet are Old Etonians. The Prime Minister of Thailand also went to Eton.
Eton is unique in terms of its history; its wealth; its built heritage; its peerless facilities; its cachet and its social connections. What qualities does Eton imbue people with? Etonians are said to be very self-assured and even arrogant. Etonians are inspired. They have seen countless boys from their school succeed and they believe that they too can succeed. Etonians are thought to belong to the best club in the world. They go on to know the top people in the United Kingdom.