English public schools in World War Two: relying on the old boys' network? - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2016

English public schools in World War Two: relying on the old boys' network?

Clémence Pillot
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In 1941 Wellington master T. C. Worsley wrote in his critical account of public school education that ' Public schools foster an intense loyalty to a small group, first the team, then the house, then the school. Theoretically [...] loyalty naturally progresses to the nation. In practice this does not occur. [...] But the loyalty does extend - it extends to the whole group of public school men.' T. C. Worsley's statement probably goes too far for the death toll taken by the two wars on public school-educated young men suggests that their loyalty did extend to the nation. However, it is quite clear that these schools have helped create, with each generation, powerful old boys networks. This public school connection has therefore been singled out, alongside an education to leadership, to explain the high number of public-school educated people at high status positions and indeed the smooth transition from educational to social elites. In the late 1920s, economic historian R. H. Tawney had shown that out of a sample of 210 Home Civil Servants, 72% had attended a public school; in the early 1960s, social researcher Richard Titmuss suggested that 33% of the 133 directors of five selected banks had received their education at Eton College only; finally in 2012, a survey by the British educational charity The Sutton Trust found that 12% of 8,000 leading Britons had been educated in some ten major public schools. The old school tie and its role in elite reproduction has therefore become a staple of public schools studies in the past fifty years. This paper will focus more specifically on the old school tie during World War Two in the nine best-known English public schools singled out by the 1861 Clarendon Commission. We will try and assess to what extent the schools did rely on the old school tie when faced with war-related disruptions including falls in numbers, the enlistment of masters and boys, bombing, requisition and evacuation; as one reviewer suggested, as institutions often seen as static caught in a period of flux and change. We will dwell on the strengthening of the old tie as public school communities closed ranks when faced with the hardships of the war; move on to the renewed solidarity between the schools in the context of national emergency and the specific example of evacuation made possible by the existing old boys network; we will finally address the question of a possible loosening of the old tie in relation to the educational reforms of the mid-1940s like the 1942 Fleming Report.
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hal-03682140 , version 1 (30-05-2022)


  • HAL Id : hal-03682140 , version 1


Clémence Pillot. English public schools in World War Two: relying on the old boys' network?. History of Education Society Symposium, Nov 2016, Providence, United States. ⟨hal-03682140⟩
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