ELEVEN pupils have been suspended from a Catholic school for vandalising a staff room, apparently in protest against plans to transform their house into a boarding house for girls.
The sixth-formers from Downside had spent the evening drinking in woods close to the school to celebrate an 18th birthday, but when they returned to their dormitories they smeared dog excrement into a staff room carpet and removed pictures from corridor walls.
The headmaster, Dom Leo Maidlow Davis, denied that the incident, which took place last month, had anything to do with the school’s decision to become co-educational, but sources close to the school have suggested that some boys are angry about plans to transform Caverel house into the first boarding house for girls.
The 11 boys, who include four prefects and the head boy, are believed to belong to Caverel and, while the majority of students are thought to welcome Downside’s decision to admit girls from September, some boys are angry about losing one of the 400-year-old school’s most prestigious houses to the newcomers.
A spokeswoman for the school, which is run by the Benedictines, downplayed the incident. “As far as we are concerned it has been dealt with. This had nothing to do with the fact that girls will be admitted. The incident was more of a case of teenage boys being teenage boys,” she said.
The headmaster added: “They celebrated a birthday party in a nearby wood and took alcohol with them. Subsequently they came into the school and took down from the corridors framed photographs of the school’s sporting, musical and curricular life. These were put in a skip and a nearby flower bed.
“During the night someone smeared dog excrement on the staff room carpet. After investigations, 11 boys were disciplined. One has been sent on extended study leave until his A-levels and another has been internally gated [banned from leaving school premises].” The other students were given suspensions of between three days and a week.
Former Downside headmaster Dom Anthony Sutch declined to comment on the incident but is believed to regret the decision to admit girls to the school.
Work on converting Caverel into a girls’ house for 13to 18-year-olds starts next month as part of substantial renovations to the school, which include the development of an arts and theatre centre and the construction of new classrooms.
Downside, in Stratton-onthe-Fosse, Somerset, is the last all-boys Catholic boarding school in Britain. When Caverel accepts its first intake of girls in September it will be the culmination of a decade-long trend among Catholic private schools to become co-educational.
Schools have sought to increase their intake partly in order to raise funds Downside charges almost £19,000 a year for full-time boarders – but also to reflect modern trends in education.
Several Catholic boarding schools have accepted the occasional girl in the past, many for as long as 20 or 30 years. But over the last 10 years, all have established houses specifically for girls.
Ampleforth, another Benedictine school near York, started accepting girls into the sixth form in September 2001 and opened a new house for them in 2002. It turned fully co-educational in 2004. Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school in Lancashire, began taking girls from age 13 in 1998.
No one at Downside school was available for comment.