On Sunday a group of us went to “Fettes Open Day” to see the inside of the school that inspired J. K. Rowling in her depiction of Hogwarts. Now, just to be clear, an “Open Day” at Fettes is intended for prospective students and their families but I had called and asked if it was OK to come and see the school and they said it was. I don’t know if they assumed that I would be seeing the school as a prospective customer, but we decided to give it a go and got together a good-sized group. Luckily we did have three children in our group which gave us an whiff of credibility… although the fact that we were all very casually dressed probably diminished the affect.
Anyway, Fettes is well-known and probably one of the most prestigious schools in Scotland. It has “day students” as well as boarders and is spread over 100 acres of beautiful property. In an ironic twist it was founded by Sir Fettes for the education of “poor children and orphans.” With tuition between £18,000 for a day student and £24,000 for a boarder, that aspect of the legacy seems to have been lost. Fettes boasts such famous alumni as Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, and Ian Flemming, author of the James Bond novels (who wrote into Bond’s backstory that his most famous character was a Fettes grad).
As Americans the concept of being sent off to boarding school is mostly foreign – an idea one encounters in books, so the tour was very interesting to me. Our tour-guide, in his last year at Fettes, was sent there as a boarder when he was 9! Can you imagine? He said it was a difficult adjustment but he soon felt alright about it all. Fettes takes boarders as young a seven. 7! Yes, 7. And the thing that got all the women in our group was that the teachers read these little children bedtime stories each night. How terribly sad is that?
Fettes does have a tradition for getting its students into good universities – between 13-18 go off to Oxford or Cambridge each year but when a former teacher came into the bookstore the other day, he had other things to say. He said that it was for “thick, rich kids who aren’t too bright. Fettes will get them into a university where they will fail. But that doesn’t really matter because most then just get jobs in the family business.” Our tour guide seemed to play along the stereotype as he’s a boarder but “my parent’s bought me a house in Edinburgh, so I can go hang out there when I want to.” As far as plans for the future? This young man wasn’t sure. He would apply to university but wasn’t sure if it was something he wanted to do. Can you imagine spending over £250,000 on a child’s elementary and high school education, only to have him tell you he didn’t think university was in his future?
Anyway, the tour was fascinating. The best parts of the building are the chapel and the library – both gorgeous and what you would expect from a Victorian school. But, all in all, I think it’s a very sad place. I definitely think that there is a place for boarding schools in society and I’m sure that former students have fond memories of their years here – it’s just not a place I would have liked as a child or a place I could ever envision sending my children…but that’s probably the former homeschooler in me talking.