Gordonstoun turns back clock to a golden age of cold showers (but would Prince Charles agree?)

IF A shiver went up the spine of our future king's back yesterday, it was due to one of the least favourite parts of his life being re-enacted.

For one day only, the character-forming cold shower and early-morning run, so long part of the rite of passage at Gordonstoun School, were back on the curriculum.

The young Prince of Wales hated the spartan regime at the Moray institution, which was also attended by his brothers Andrew and Edward and their father, the Duke of Edinburgh, though the loneliness and alleged bullying were also factors in him regarding his time as "absolute Hell".

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Yesterday, the classes of 2009 donned 1930s-style shorts and grey shirts to undertake military style exercises as part of events to mark the school's 75th anniversary. The Gordonstoun experience has long changed, but for the occasion, the 1934 timetable was followed to give today's pupils a taste of what their predecessors went through.

The cold shower was switched on at 6:45am and pupils had to complete a half-mile run and the first lesson of the day before breakfast.

Later, all 600 pupils gathered on the front lawn for physical exercises, before more lessons and the less strenuous occupation of lying flat on their backs while a teacher read Shakespeare.

The Gordonstoun ethos was devised by Dr Kurt Hahn, formerly headmaster of Salem School in Germany, who fled Germany in 1933 under threat from the Nazis, largely because of his Jewish background.

Perceiving decay in the society of the day, he aimed to foster in young people the qualities of skill, compassion, honesty, initiative, adventure and a sense of service to their fellow beings.

His philosophy was based on encouraging young people to develop both as individuals and within communities which is emphasised in the Gordonstoun motto Plus est en vous – More is in you. Dr Hahn placed a high emphasis on militaristic discipline and physical education, particularly outdoor activities such as sailing and hill walking.

Mark Pyper, principal of Gordonstoun, where fees are up to 23,000 a year, said: "The school has changed tremendously in the way it does things but the messages and principles are just the same."

The cold showers were phased out in the 1960s and 1970s. Mr Pyper said they were not peculiar to Gordonstoun at the time: "It was a conventional part of the regime, particularly young men, went through at the time as part of the toughening up process but it became part of the notoriety of Gordonstoun."

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He said an element from Dr Hahn's time now absent from school which he misses is periods of silence built into the timetable.

He said: "We rush around, very busy people, and we don't allow time to sit down and say 'what are we doing?', 'why did we do that?' and 'what are we going to do next? I think a little bit more of training our young people to do that, rather than just rushing to the next thing, would be a very good thing."

Katie Mcdonald-Meyer, 18, the school's head girl or "guardian", said yesterday's events were a great insight to the past.

"The ethos of how the school was run 75 years ago are still here today, just in a modernised version," she said.

"Although we don't have the cold showers and morning run today, the ideals and pillars of the school are still there."

So would some educationalists like to see a return to a more tradition teaching regime (albeit without the cold showers)?

Eleanor Coner information officer with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "It's a huge issue, it's not just about schools but about society and the ways different generations interact.

"Previously children did not have the freedoms they do today, freedom to express yourself, to have opinions. I don't want to go back to that. But where it maybe has gone wrong is we have not given (them] boundaries."

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She added: "When we had stricter discipline in schools we had less freedom and we have got to find a way to give young people freedom to express themselves but at the same time to have respect for others."

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: "Gordonstoun seems to show you don't need the harshness of the past in order to maintain successful learning and experiences.

"It's about respect and concern for others in society and there is no need to go back to the old days to get that."


ONE of Gordonstoun's first pupils was the Duke of Edinburgh. Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward followed but not Princess Anne as girls were not accepted until 1972.

If a cricketer hits the ball over G House everyone gets a half-day off.

The school's guardians (head boy and head girl) are named after Plato's Republic where senior people were guardians of state.

The ashes of former Gordonstoun pupil Roy Williamson, writer of Flower of Scotland, were scattered on a lake within the grounds of the school.

The school's founder Kurt Hahn banned boys from cycling uphill as he believed it was bad for their hearts.

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The school has its own fire brigade, coastguard station and mountain rescue team.

A curriculum and motto to deliver strong men

COLONEL Ben Arkle attended Gordonstoun from the age of 13 between 1938 and 1943. The former Parachute Regiment officer said the school's founder, Kurt Hahn, was an excellent headmaster.

"His ideas of making young boys into strong men were fostered into his curriculum. He had three foundational ideas: to ensure character, intelligence and knowledge. He brought all of his boys up on this philosophy very successfully.

"He had strong ideas to bring us up to be healthy, strong and ready for service, whether it be in the army, navy or air force. There is no doubt he was a strong disciplinarian, but if you knew to respect the rules you had a great life there."

He said Mr Hahn had a zero tolerance policy on bullying and was also against drinking and smoking.

He added: "Although Kurt Hahn resorted to corporal punishment, I can confidently say it did me no damage at all. It taught me a good lesson, and since then I have been a disciplinarian.

"My experiences at Gordonstoun stood me in good stead. I believe the discipline and attitude I was shown helped me rise to the level of colonel.

"When I first got to the school and was told I would endure a two-mile run each morning in only pants and gym shoes, that came as a bit of a shock, especially as we had to finish on a cold shower," Col Arkle said. "But since I have left school I've had a cold shower every morning. It wakes you up, keeps you healthy and you can't feel the cold outside nearly as much.

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"I've heard that isn't a part of the new curriculum any more, but I don't think it would do any harm."