The end of the Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924) came when it amalgamated with the Duke of York's Royal Military School. It was a victim of the Geddes Axe, by which the 1920s drive for public economy and retrenchment came to be known. The creation of the Irish Free State was, of course, a contributing factor, but the state of Great Britain's post-War economy was the underlying and convenient reason for closure of the RHMS. Eighty years later, the economy and retrenchment in government expenditure has brought about a similar state of affairs to the Duke of York's School. Thanks, however, to some unsung mandarins of MoD and, perhaps, the Department for Education, the Duke of York's has been given a sporting chance of continued existence.
This assessment of the School's uncertain position is for the benefit not of parents of prospective students, nor the School authorities or the Board of Commissioners each of which has its own agenda. It is written for alumni who have joined the work force and who yet retain an interest in the fortunes of their old school. In this regard, we must face a stark fact. This is that the opinion of those who have left the school is of no interest to the Board of Commissioners, the MoD, the education authorities or Appleyards Ltd., the consultants retained to effect the institution's transition to academy status. This fact is no reason to suppose that ex-Dukies have no interest in the fortunes of their alma mater.
To understand the state of affairs on the eve of the School's projected transformation to an academy (scheduled for September 2010) a quick historical review is well worthwhile. The Royal Military Asylum (RMA) was created by Royal Warrant given at the Court of St. James on 24th June 1801. It opened its doors on 29th August 1803. The PR consultants responsible for the School's ad copy in the Headmaster's Letter (sans apostrophe), has the institution '…founded by Royal Charter in 1803 in Chelsea.' This is incorrect. A Royal Warrant confers no 'separate legal personality' beyond that allowed the Board of Commissioners by the MoD. Also, it can be amended, modified or cancelled at any time at the whim of the Privy Council or other authority such as the MoD. A Royal Charter requires an act of parliament and confers on the recipient a legal identity independent of the crown. Likewise, it needs an act of parliament to cancel the power so conferred.
In 1803, the system of education adopted for use at the RMA was the 'monitorial system' proposed by Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), who so impressed George III that the King recommended its use to his son, Frederick Duke of York and Albany, C in C of the Army. Lancaster's system did not include teaching children the catechism of the Established Church. As a result, within five years, Dr Andrew Bell's almost identical Madras system replaced the Lancaster model.
Thanks to a series of AGOs (Adjutant General Orders), monitorial teaching spread throughout the Army. In 1846, a 'Normal School' (after the French 'Ecole normale') was established at the RMA, Chelsea, for teaching schoolmaster sergeants. The Corps of Army Schoolmasters, which came into existence in 1845, absorbed the existing schoolmaster sergeants and took in the output of the Normal School. In 1920, by Royal Warrant, the CAS became the Army Educational Corps (AEC) with the Royal designation being added in 1946 to form the RAEC. By 1952, the Corps was staffed entirely by commissioned officers.
The changed designation of the Corps to the RAEC in 1946 coincided with reforms at the RMA renamed the Duke of York's School (1892) introduced by ex-Dukie Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Edward Nye whose reorganization transformed the school culture as well as bringing its educational system into line with the national curriculum. The current decision of the MoD to divorce itself from responsibility of funding and managing the School as a dependent institution of the Department was an economic choice and has been three years in the making. The Nye reforms of the 1950s brought a public school atmosphere to the school with housemasters and their assistants replacing the company sergeant majors of a previous era, blazers and grey flannel trousers replaced the khaki uniforms, and fagging was introduced, meaning that junior boys were employed as servants by elder boys.
For many years, the RMA provided an elementary education to children in its care who needed to learn the three Rs. The results were often outstanding as in the case of Ann Vapine, an indentured cotton apprentice of the 1820s who began and managed a successful paying day school. Education has since become a complicated business; many employed in the industry make it more so. They often express themselves in convoluted language, making it far more complicated than it need be. This is what appears to have happened to the status, as well as the standard of, education at the Duke of York's School over the past 50 years. For anyone who hopes to understand the prospects for the institution's continuing existence post-September 2010, an appreciation of the School's development to its present status is necessary.
Having had its status changed to that of a quasi-public school following Nye's post WWII reforms, admission was gradually extended to the children of all personnel of the Armed Services as well as the re-admission of girls in 1994. [In North America, the term 'public school' is used to designate an institution of education funded by the state or province. Fee-paying boarding schools are known as 'private schools'. These are 'public schools' in the U.K. where schools funded from the public purse are 'state schools'.]
The Duke of York's School was a special case. It existed under the aegis of the MoD, but the education it provided met the National standards and, in all other respects followed the national curriculum. For reasons of economy, the turn of the present century saw the MoD liquidating its assets by selling some major properties and effecting cost-saving efforts to cope with the nation's reduced economy. In effect, diminishing revenues required considerable belt-tightening. For this reason it is speculated that in 2008 or thereabouts, the MoD turned its attention to the operating expense of the Duke of York's School. Already, a fee-paying arrangement had been introduced whereby parents paid an annual fee for their children boarded at the School. The implication of fees structure will be discussed later although it is fair to state that the education system as developed by the turn of the century is the very antithesis of what the original Board of Commissioners intended.
Reflecting on the status of the School as it appears on the eve of its planned transformation, it is fair to state that come September 2010, the MoD will effectively wash its hands of the institution. In effect, the MoD has said to whatever organisation that will assume responsibility for the continuing existence of the School, 'The physical assets are yours to do with as you wish, but the funding must come from elsewhere. The MoD will continue to offer some financial assistance to military families whose children are at or will be at the school in future, but the changeover to a fully financially-supported institution by other sources will be absolute.'
The governing body assuming responsibility must set its sights on where it wishes the School to be in the hierarchy of public schools that populate the United Kingdom. Where it will find its place is a matter of conjecture worth discussing, for the proposal to rename the School an academy is confusing even to the well-informed. The fact is, according to the understanding of this commentator, the Department for Education will offer the same level of funding given to any comprehensive institution. To aspire to some loftier public school standing, the governing body must then set a fee structure that will allow the institution to offer a competitive level of education to whatever the ranking of which it aspires. This involves taking various factors into account.
To analyze the School's situation, the facts to consider can be reduced to three questions to which the answers can form a foundation to plot the institution's future. The questions are: 1. What does the school have to offer? 2. To whom should it proffer those services? and 3. At what cost?
What can the School offer?
The School has a military ethos, which is the shared military experience of every pupil's family. That is, the overwhelming majority of military families live in barracks and, in the same way that a community living around and serving a factory are pro-factory, the School's military ethos is an embodiment of the armed forces. This ethos is a positive quality that fosters team work and a cooperative spirit.
This identity is bound to change if the student population is drawn from society at large, which is a departure from the environment fostered for the past two hundred years. The previous practice of units with their families moving around the world every few years has ceased. Instead, smaller units are posted as needed while their families remain in barrack accommodation. This means that children of military families can attend local state schools and draw on social services and the health care system. As a result, the demand on the DYRMS has decreased.
There is no mistake that the School's military culture is still alive and kicking. It should not be underestimated, for it infects every aspect of the school psyche, routine and rank structure and is very easily apparent as a quality setting Dukies apart from other school children. This, as pointed out, stems from the shared military background, the common parental employer, a shared set of values, the daily routine of its possessive culture, and the twice weekly parading and weekly military instruction. As a result of the team work this produces there is a near absence of the bullying and bogus, pompous and inter-class rivalries of the public school set. This was reported by a former pupil who had also been at a public school. Of the public school persona he wrote: 'Oh, his father only has one Range Rover and a second-hand Porsche, Rupert. Even our maid has a Range Rover! And my mummy has an Aston Martin. His mummy doesn't have a car. As he's poor we'd better bog flush him! And we'll give his friend a clean too, wot? After all, his father has a Ferrari and we all know Italian cars are vulgar! D'you know, Rupert, I think they even went to the Villa d'Este last hols. Everyone knows it's St. Moritz in the Easter!' The ex-Dukie and ex-public school boy asserts that such talk is missing among children of the Duke of York's. However, he also asserts that public schools possess a number of crucial advantages over the Duke of York's. We need not go into them here for they are apparent enough as a consequence of why public schools are the preferred route for the children of the upper classes.
Regarding enlistment statistics, the School no longer supplies significant numbers of its pupils to the armed forces although the numbers entering the Services remain higher than at nearly any other school. These are still not sufficient to justify maintaining the School as a 'military indoctrination' institution, especially because the Army has a college identical in purpose to the former junior leaders' college.
Most students at the School are the children of warrant and commissioned officers. Many of the commissioned officers were promoted from the ranks. A smaller number of pupils are children of junior NCOs who spent short periods in the armed services, and a smaller number still whose parents are senior officers.
In sum, the school offers students a military ethos, excellent recreational activities, an educational curriculum that will gain them entry into institutions of higher learning, and an environment that fosters team work.
The facilities, amenities and level of education offered bears comparison with what competitive institutions have to offer bearing in mind that the School is very different from the purpose for which originally intended; but this is the case for so many old schools. For example, Rugby School, itself one of the most prestigious public schools, was originally intended for the use of local poor children. Yet during the nineteenth century Rugby School created the very model of public school education. Yet to this day Rugby maintains a strong philanthropic interest in the form of bursaries set down by the school's founder 500 years ago and still paid for by his trust. About half Rugby's pupils either have bursaries or their fees are waived entirely. There are other examples of changed purposes besides this, so the Duke of York's is in this respect not exceptional.
Conversely, there are differences in the quality of education the Duke of York's offers. First, its academic results are better than those of state comprehensive schools, which get 50% pupils with 5 General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSE) at A-C, meaning 75% of grades gained are D OR E. Results of the DYRMS are exactly the same as any lesser-independent day school. These independent day schools, or lesser independents as they are more commonly known, follow the state curriculum, but have better behaviour and grades and cost about £7,500 per annum. Leading public schools are in a decidedly higher league. For example, 90% of Dukies get 5 GCSEs at A to C while the best public schools get 80% to 98% of pupils with 10 A grades. Further, public schools cost £25,000 PA.
As for higher education: the majority of Dukies go on to new universities (formerly called polytechnics) with less than 1% going up to Oxbridge. (One year was exceptional with three sixth form leavers going to Cambridge and one to Oxford, although two of these four applied to Oxbridge after leaving the School.). In contrast, at the best public schools between 10% and 50% of pupils go up to Oxbridge year on year. This is in part a result of nearly every sixth former at a top public school being encouraged to submit an Oxbridge application, quite in contrast to the practices at the Duke of York's.
Then we must consider what Dukies do with themselves for a career.
If one takes those Dukies with a background in the intelligence services (we know of half a dozen in forty years, though there may be more), the best public schools provide a practically unlimited number. An in-service joke is that MI6 and MI5 are the old boys' associations for Sherborne School.
Many more pupils from the DYRMS have served in the armed forces than from Eton or Harrow, yet statistically Eton and Harrow alumni in the armed forces have a vastly greater chance of receiving awards for gallantry. The reason for this difference probably stems from the individualism encouraged in those schools, as in others in the best league: notions of 'act this day' and 'prove yourself' are the watchwords. The Duke of York's School focuses more on team work and discourages prima donnas to the point of disliking them.
It is also telling that pupils of public schools can take for granted a salubrious career as either a doctor, a broker, a lawyer, a farmer or an entrepreneur. Pupils from the Duke of York's have rarely broken this glass ceiling.
What is its market?
In considering what the School has to offer one has to take account of the strata of society in the United Kingdom. Having catered to the children of the armed services for some years, but predominantly those of the Army for the greater part of two centuries, the School's environment is unquestionably military and its population drawn therefore from the working class and lower middle class. If an academy is planned beginning September 2010, the doors will have to be opened to civilian as well as military students in the expectation of attracting a higher fee-paying student than is possible from a school population drawn entirely from the armed services. What sections of society would the School hope to attract? The answer is, obviously, the professional class: the higher income earning cross-section of society; academics, doctors, lawyers, bankers, brokers, etc.
The annual total costs per pupil at the moment are in the order of £18,000 per annum, though parents pay a maximum of £10,500 and in most cases this is further lessened by the MoD's continuity of education (CEA) allowance. Bearing in mind that warrant officers and commissioned officers do not earn sufficient incomes to pay the fees for public schools it is obvious why the Duke of York's has been a popular choice. From a financial point of view, the future looks uncertain. Why? Because in a few short months the in-flow of children from relatively impoverished military families will dry up. Considering the substantial difference between the Duke of York's and public schools at large, and particularly paying note to the different culture of the School, one cannot expect to see a queue forming. This means that the Duke of York's senior staff will have to consider its future fees and marketing with careful thought.
Come September 2010, the school will of necessity open its doors to civilian as well as military families. Personnel of the armed forces who qualify will be eligible to claim a CEA allowance against the full cost of the fees. In its prospectus, the basic fee is expected not to exceed £10,500 per annum. The CEA will reduce this further but not entirely. Given that the running costs per pupil at £18,000 per annum this means the Board of Commissioners have to find a source of funds to make up the £7,500 per pupil shortfall; hence academy status and the attached £7,500 pa per pupil that comes from the Department for Education as the basic state suplicancy part of the academy deal.
How much will it cost?
The purpose of seeking academy status is to receive an increase of funding above the basic allowance of £7,500 PA granted to all U.K. schools. Academies receive additional funding for re-development from financial sponsors (in the case of the DYRMS this figure is £23M) and are exempt from some aspects of the normal Department for Education oversight. However, with such reliance on the State an academy is not an entirely independent school.
The academy concept was created under Prime Minister Tony Blair as a way for schools to increase their income by obtaining outside financial sponsorship from banks, financial institutions, industry and private enterprise to fund raising their standards. Sponsors are able to use their donations as a tax break. The School can use its academy status as a means of achieving full independence, which is often the case with institutions gaining academy status. In the case of the Duke of York's, academy status will place it outside of the public school fraternity and will require the School to accept non-military children, non-prejudicial entry being a requirement of academy status. Taken all round, the school will have a tough marketing programme to make the school attractive enough to appeal to non-military parents.
For readers to whom examination results are a mystery, GCSE examinations are sat at age 16 at the end of the fifth form - commonly referred to as Year 11 since ex-PM John Major instigated the National Curriculum in the early 1990s. (Public schools still follow their own varying references to year groups). Able students sit 10 GCSEs. A Levels have recently been revised: there are now AS exams sat at age 17/lower sixth form (Year 12), and usually in four subjects; then at age 18/upper sixth (Year 13) there are 3 A2 exams. This is supposed to allow pupils to explore learning and find their best subjects.
Under PM Blair's New Labour government it became common practice, especially at comprehensive schools, for pupils to study mediocre and undemanding subjects such as Enterprise, Expressive and Citizenship or else to study subjects normally reserved for post-graduate study (e.g. sociology or philosophy). This was done to raise the grade performance of comprehensive schools, but in fact nothing changed; comprehensive schools still show poor results - and perhaps are the worse for not teaching an adequate level of mathematics, English, science and foreign languages.
Public schools responded to this lessening in English education by improving their standards. For instance, it used to be said that Eton College was a comprehensive school for the upper classes, but it is now effectively an academically selective and very expensive grammar school. Public schools gain examination results that bear no statistical comparison to comprehensive schools. For example, public schools continue to offer classical civilisation, Latin, Greek, modern languages and the sciences as well as carpentry, equine studies and photography for pupils disinterested in academia, and still manage to completely out perform state comprehensives in examination results.
While an average child at a comprehensive school will gain 7 D or E grades and 3 grades between A-C at GCSE, an average child at the best public schools (most of which do not have selective entry) will gain 10 As at GCSE. This difference is repeated at A Level standard. As is expected, there is consequently a huge difference in the quality of university education.
We should conjecture that the current staff of the Duke of York's may very well be battling to prevent the school from being fully absorbed by the state structure. The school has quite often - at the annual review - been mentioned in Parliamentary debate, usually by Labour MPs calling it the ultimate example of what state funding can achieve, but sometimes by Tory MPs citing it as an example of the importance of retaining the basic state funding for independent schools. Either way, with the MoD ending its support of the School, it may well be a case of the DYRMS staff being concerned with the Government's intervention and plans for its change of status this coming September.
Indeed, the School could find itself in a difficult situation because it lacks sufficient wealthy alumni to cover its liabilities and, additionally, has insufficient prestige to attract the upper classes. Its fees will be beyond the financial reach of most families, military or civilian.
One must hope that the academy deal with whomever it has been done, works out and that the School finds its niche. The Duke of York's has promised that fees will not exceed £10,500 per annum. Whether this promise can be maintained is a different matter - and one specific to the School's future performance as an academy. Whatever the final figure may be, it might also require a higher standard of teaching - and therefore teachers - than it presently provides. It is noted the present total annual running costs per pupil estimate of £18,000 is at the tail end of the boarding school market. It is also worth mentioning that boarding schools charging £18K+ PA also receive the standard state subsistence, which means the true cost is £25K+ PA. Schools in the same league as Eton have a true cost of £32K+ PA.
In conclusion, the Duke of York's has always produced a different quality of graduate than that of most public schools. It has a lower middle class bent and changing this over the next two years will be crucial to the school's survival because lower middle class families will simply not be able to afford the fees without subsistence from the State - whether MoD or Department for Education. Whoever directs the institution during the coming decisive period of transformation to an academy and, in a sense, independence will have to aim higher than the independent day schools the academic achievements of which are virtually on a par with the comprehensives. The fees of those schools are in the order of £7,500 PA, so the DYRMS is already beyond that league.
To attract a more affluent clientele, the Duke of York's will require marketing expertise of a quality equal to the agency that transformed Wellington College from an expensive holding nursery to a high performance institution that rivals Eton. The fact is public schools have an extremely high regard for their pupils. This is understandable when their parents are in the highest echelon of the United Kingdom's class structure. However, the Duke of York's has not previously assumed such indulgent attitudes towards its pupils.
This means that in re-branding the school, the leadership team at the Duke of York's must fashion the School's facilities, its environment and educational standards alongside those of the nation's leading public schools: Kings College Canterbury, Harrow, Eton, Sherborne, Winchester, Oundle, Rugby, St. Edward's Oxford, Millfield, Uppingham, Oakham, Wycombe Abbey, Cheltenham Ladies' College and St. Pauls School for Girls.
Of course, the Duke of York's is as well as being an independent school also a state boarding school. Most state boarding schools are referred to as 'Blue Coats' schools. However, comparison with the blue coats schools does not allow for any excuses, as the famous blue coats schools have for a century been entirely comparable to the best public schools. Indeed, many blue coats schools even attract the very same parents, achieve the same grade performances and university destinations, and even play the greatest public schools at sport.
If any strategy should emerge from the School's change to academy status, it must be to direct its appeal to the new entrepreneurial financial class of the country: the bankers, brokers,
doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, managers and industrialists. They may be of an entirely different kettle to the traditional Dukie parent, but it is they alone who can offer the Duke of York's a viable future.
[This article was co-authored with Ben Childs (Wy 1993-1997)]
(To answer questions asked by Chris in the 'DYRMS History blog', Ben Childs provides this response.)
DYRMS Fees: Yes, the DYRMS will list its fees as boarding costs. State boarding schools do this, but the DYRMS will have to be careful given that oversight will transfer from the MOD to the Department for Education and Local Education Authority. Moreover, Academy status clearly states no fees: how DYRMS will get by this remains to be seen. Ofsted will inspect after 2 years; thereafter another 2 years will pass. This takes the DYRMS Academy to 2014, which, coincidentally, is when the initial redevelopment contract expires.
Unit Locations: The armed forces, MOD and the Defence Select Committee were worried at the large numbers of experienced senior NCOs and experienced junior officers leaving the armed forces - especially from the Army and the Royal Marines. The most common cited reason for leaving the forces was the extremely poor social services accessibility available to military families when they were regularly changing locations. These soldiers tended also to be sergeants and captains. The solution is permanent locations, which of course does not bode well for the DYRMS. The change is very popular among military families and gives units a genuinely long standing local role. Regardless, it does mean that a number of pupils who would have been enrolled at the DYRMS will instead be enrolled at their local state comprehensive schools.
When pupils leave The DYRMS: When I was at DYRMS (1993-1997) the majority of pupils left at the end of their GCSEs (like O Levels but much easier - that's progress!) when they were sixteen. They didn't like the discipline, the responsibility of the 6th form and the limited subjects available at A Level. A sizeable number still leave at age 16; this too needs to change in order for the school to be successful as an Academy and is stated as an aim of the DYRMS Academy.
Size of the DYRMS: The school has shrunk by nearly 30% in less than ten years (in Parliamentary debates Ministers have said the greatest part of the decline was more recent): it's due to a rise in the standard of state education, the limited subjects available at DYRMS, and particularly the poor accommodation and resources. In comparison, there are now heaps of modernised comprehensives, new sixth form colleges and new further education colleges with all mod cons and every subject under the sun. The DYRMS just hasn't kept up to date and has ignored trends in education. Most importantly, it seems pupils and their parents are losing interest in the school. Consequently its income has decreased and the facilities have fallen into extremely poor repair.
The DYRMS Academy application states a need and aim to increase enrolment to either 700 or 750 if I remember correctly. There are currently 500 pupils. It's a very tall order to achieve a 50% growth within 4 years in the face of the school's recent track record.
Leadership and culture at the DYRMS: As for the DYRMS senior management: I used to be taught by both of the current deputy headmasters and many of the current staff. One of the deputy heads was a proficient teacher, though nothing more, but he was a good man and universally popular. He is now the senior manager. The other deputy head is an enigma: when I was at the school we pupils and our parents were told he would be sacked for one case of severe bullying (though there were many other incidents) and for repeatedly stealing from pupils' pocket money accounts. He also rarely attended lessons: in two years I had just a few hours tuition with him. Yet he was clearly never sacked and has become the most senior teacher. Of the staff generally, I knew only four good teachers: three in history: one is now a deputy head; the other was ex-staff college; the other ex-public school; and one in French who had previously taught diplomats at the FCO. There were a small number of other good teachers though I was not taught by them; one was apparently excellent, but she left to teach at a public school. Most staff were lack lustre: acceptable if you were lucky enough to not need teaching by rote, but useless for those actually needing to be taught. The collective staff attitude was that pupils were lazy, stupid or 'squaddies'. It's an attitude that's quite obviously dependent on the DYRMS. I've seen enough of schools to know that only teachers and school management are to blame for poor grades. With hindsight, what shocks me the most is the bullying: only a very small number of staff were bullies; but they were known by all pupils and all staff and yet they remained in employment. I think that is something specific to the culture of the DYRMS - at least in the 1990s. More generally on bullying, the culture pre-girls was utterly bizarre and extremely homo-erotic. Bullying was common place and the pupils behaved in a manner that did not engender them to the locals. Pupils changed quite rapidly once girls were re-admitted, though the attitude toward girls was still deplorable when I left the school. However, as girls extended into all year groups the bullying disappeared almost completely and relations with Dover locals improved markedly.
Academic Content At DYRMS: I'm impressed that DYRMS used to offer classics; but saddened that this is no longer the case. I can understand the DYRMS staff having avoided many faddish subjects - if they were avoided for academic reasons rather than staff merely being unable to teach them - but I have to ask, 'Why didn't the school seek to extend the foreign language provision, or extend into classics, and classical civilisation, or economics, or engineering, or philosophy, or law, or drama?' Of course, classics plus classical civilisation is now a safe route into a top class university, so if offered it would reap great benefits. On top of this and bearing in mind internationally regarded schools such as Oundle and Stowe offer non-academic subjects, I also wonder, 'Why no photography, no construction, no carpentry?' There was a master carpenter teaching technology at the DYRMS when I was there. His skill with wood was astounding; while his ability to teach standard technology was really quite poor, but surely if he had been used to teach carpentry he would have been extremely successful. What a waste of his skill and potential!
Leadership at the DYRMS: Regarding headmasters, the last of the Headmaster Colonels ran the school while I was there. I was taught briefly by his replacement, who started as a deputy headmaster coming from a school in Folkestone. The Headmaster Colonel had an affair with a teacher whose husband also worked at the school. This didn't do the Headmaster Colonel, nor the other members of staff much good; but I have no idea if the consequences were an earlier than expected departure of the last Headmaster Colonel. Also, as a point of interest, the Headmaster Colonel had his driving licence suspended following a drunk-driving incident. The replacement headmaster (the first ever civilian Headmaster of DYRMS) was only at the school for a short time. Teaching is a profession where staff, especially head teachers, usually spend many years in the job, so a short tenure is remarkable in itself for being suggestive of other problems.
The second civilian Headmaster is now in the job.
What about failings at the school? I have only the evidence of what I've seen in Parliamentary debates and what is stated in the DYRMS Academy application; though these are utterly and completely damning in themselves; and moreover are the basis for the Ministry of Defence dropping DYRMS.
Ben Childs, (WY 1993-1997)