The world has changed so many times since 1440, when this school was founded by King Henry VI. What about Eton?
Eton has changed too, of course. No great institution survives unless it reinvents itself with each generation. When one visits Eton one is conscious of continuity and history, because of the ancient buildings and the school dress that we wear – but underneath the school is evolving all the time.
Why is this school so famous all over the world? And why is it so difficult to gain admission?
It’s a difficult question. I can tell you why it is a good school. There are four elements: (i) The tradition of Eton. If you live and grow up in a place where for almost 600 years generations of boys have gone on to do interesting things, there is an implicit question asked of the current generation, ‘Why not you?’ So it builds confidence in an individual’s ability to achieve things. (ii) Boys tell me that there is a very strong expectation of excellence from each other. It is interesting because it comes from other boys, not just from the teachers. (iii) There is a culture of being independent minded and standing up for your own beliefs, as well as being part of a community. (iv) When all these elements come together, it encourages young men to be people who want to get things done, dynamic people who believe they can make a difference.
Why only men?
Partly history, but also because there is a recognition that a boys-only school has strengths. One could make a good co-educational school out of Eton, but it would be very different.
But the world has changed and everywhere people want equality between the sexes?
The new schools in New York City, the Eagle Academies, which people are talking about because they are so effective, are boys-only schools.
What about the girls?
There are several excellent girls’ schools, and they tend to be smaller. For example, Wycombe Abbey School, which is girls-only with a very high academic achievement.
Are your academic achievements at Eton very good?
We don’t make our assessment of students coming to Eton only on the basis of academia.
What are your other criteria?
We look for three facets. First, that a boy is going to be able to cope with the academic environment. Second, we expect that boys coming here would have some other skill or enthusiasm which they could share with other boys. For example, it could be playing the clarinet, Egyptian archaeology or football. The point is that if the boy’s only focus is on the academic we don’t think he would make the most of his education here. The third thing, as best we can judge it we would want any boy coming here to have the emotional resilience to cope with the demands of living away from home.