There’s no doubt that Eton College is one of the most prestigious schools in the UK. Founded in 1440, the boarding school has educated some of the nation’s most influential public figures. So, it may not come as a surprise that the all-male boarding school has encountered quite a few controversies since it first opened its doors all those years ago.
Eton Got Its First Taste Of Controversy In 1928
If you’re scouring public records for controversies surrounding Eton College, you’ll likely come across the story of Tallulah Bankhead. According to The Guardian, Bankhead was a popular American actress in the 1920s who frequently starred on London’s West End.
The actress was caught in an unexpected scandal when MI5 (the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency) was called to investigate her alleged involvement with the boys of Eton.
Bankhead was allegedly seducing Eton students, but the headmaster of the school refused to cooperate with the investigation. It’s said the scandal was handled internally so as to not draw public attention, and the story stayed buried for decades.
Eton College caught its next major wave of negative attention in 1995 when the National Lottery granted the school £3 million for a new sports complex (per the Independent). Many criticized the use of public funds, insisting the money could have gone towards a sports complex for the community.
Similarly, The Guardian reported that in 2005, the school received £2,652 in farm subsidies despite having no agricultural need.
Eton College Has Been Accused Of Special Treatment
One of the biggest scandals to rock Eton College actually involved Prince Harry while he was a student. The Telegraph reported that in 2004, art teacher Sarah Forsyth claimed she was unfairly dismissed after she was bullied by a senior staff member.
Most shockingly, she claimed someone asked her to complete some of Prince Harry’s coursework for him so he could pass the class.
To bolster her claims, she recorded a conversation with the young Prince Harry, although this decision was heavily criticized as a breach of teacher-student confidentiality.
Forsyth went on to claim that Harry was a weak student and that there was a conspiracy in place for the staff to help him cheat on his exams. These claims were never substantiated, although it certainly made the public wary.
The public’s unease only grew in 2010 when The Daily Telegraph revealed that 37 applicants from Eton were accepted into Oxford that year while the university routinely rejected students from other schools despite their nationally-ranking exam scores.
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Finally, in 2020, the school came under international scrutiny after it dismissed a teacher for allegedly including a misogynistic video in his lesson plan.
According to The Telegraph, the school accused him of gross misconduct since he repeatedly refused to remove the video from the lesson. The whole ordeal launched a nationwide debate over what qualifies as free speech.
Eton College’s prestigious status means its controversies will inevitably be picked apart by the media. At the end of the day, it’s no surprise that a school so old and prominent has had its fair share of scandals.