Eton College was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI. The College originally had 70 King’s Scholars or ‘Collegers’ who lived in the College and were educated free, and a small number of ‘Oppidans’ who lived in the town of Eton and paid for their education.
Today it is a secondary school (a ‘high school’ in the American sense) for approximately 1,290 boys between the ages of 13 and 18, all of whom are boarders.
The Governing Body of Eton College is known as ‘The Provost and Fellows’. It consists of a Provost (appointed by the Crown), a Vice-Provost, and ten other Fellows. Statute VI of the College provides that the Fellows shall be as follows:
• The Provost of King’s College Cambridge [Senior Fellow] (a)
• One Fellow to be elected by the Hebdomadal Council of Oxford University (b)
• One Fellow to be elected by the Council of the Senate of Cambridge University (c)
• One Fellow to be elected by the Council of the Royal Society (d)
• One Fellow to be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice of England (e)
• One Fellow to be elected by the Head Master, Lower Master, and Assistant Masters (f)
• Four members to be elected by the Provost and Fellows themselves (g)
There are now some 1280 boys in the School aged between 13 and 18, most of them resident in the United Kingdom but with some from overseas: rather more than 1200 Oppidans in addition to the 70 Collegers. Almost 20% of the boys in the School receive financial assistance by means of scholarships and bursaries: click here for further details.
Every boy at Eton is a boarder in a House of about 50. Boarding requires a boy to take responsibility for his own life and to get on with a community of other people. It also provides him with a secure base and a focus of loyalty in a very large school, as well as an opportunity for exercising responsibility and leadership in a community.
Each House is presided over by a House Master, who is responsible for the academic and personal welfare of his boys and for dealings with their parents. The House Master is assisted by a ‘Dame’, who looks after the health of the boys and the domestic affairs of the House. Every boy also has an academic ‘Tutor’, whom he sees regularly, and has access to a range of medical, pastoral, and counselling services.
Eton is a religious foundation and religion continues to play a central role in the life of the community.
Although the vast majority of boys belong to the Church of England, boys with many different religious affiliations attend Eton, and wherever possible we provide facilities to allow boys to practise and pursue their own beliefs.
THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE SCHOOL
Worship during a boy’s time in the School is designed to meet his spiritual needs at each stage in his development. As well as the regular Chapel services, there are numerous optional opportunities for worship.
Boys in their first two years worship in Lower Chapel. Boys in their third year have their own assembly, but attend services in College Chapel on some weekdays. Boys in their fourth and fifth years usually have a choice on weekdays between a service in College Chapel and an assembly in School Hall, and on some Sundays, along with boys in their third year, are given a choice between Choral Communion in College Chapel and an address in the Farrer Theatre. Services in both Chapels follow the practice of the Church of England.
Confirmation services are held twice a year, and boys wishing to be confirmed are prepared by the School Chaplains. Roman Catholics have their own Chaplain who offers Mass on Sundays and every weekday evening. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is regularly available and Confirmation is administered once a year. Roman Catholics take part in all daily School services of a non-sacramental nature.
Boys of the Jewish, Islamic and and other faiths are excused Sunday Chapel if their parents wish, but are expected to take part in School services on weekdays. Instruction in the Jewish and Islamic faiths is given during the time of Sunday Chapel by the Jewish and Muslim Tutors.
Not every Etonian would call himself a committed religious believer; many have doubts which they can and do express freely. However, up to two thirds of the boys are confirmed during their time at Eton, and the climate in the School is by and large sympathetic to Christian life and practice.
CHAPEL AT ETON
At the heart of Henry VI’s Foundation was College Chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and begun in 1441. From the start, therefore, regular services have provided the context for the day to day existence and business of the community. The Christian faith on which the College was founded remains the guiding principle for our collective spiritual life. In the 19th century the School became too large to fit into College Chapel and Lower Chapel was built to accommodate the ‘lower’ boys.
Boys attend Lower Chapel during their first two years. Over 500 boys meet there for fifteen minutes on four weekday mornings, and on Sundays for a fuller service of about forty minutes. The services are concise and to the point, very often following a particular theme throughout the half, and the Chaplains strive to make the services varied, relevant, and interesting. There is a lively, cheerful atmosphere in Lower Chapel, and boys sing and listen well.
After their first two years boys attend a mixture of services in College Chapel and assemblies elsewhere. In their third year they go to two weekday services, and in their final years to one or two weekday services and to a fuller service on most Sundays. The aim is to nurture and develop spiritual awareness through mainly traditional forms of service, incorporating talks from a variety of speakers and music of the highest standard. The Choir is internationally renowned and enhances the beauty and devotional intensity of services, but congregational singing is also a most important feature.
The congregations, of up to 500 boys, are characteristically reflective and attentive. For those who wish to take Communion, there are three services of Holy Communion each week in Chapel, and informal ones in boys’ Houses during the course of each half; these are well attended.
Apart from the spiritual value of spending the first fifteen minutes of a hectic day in a quiet, reflective manner, the regular coming together of so many boys — not to mention the many adults who attend the services — helps to create a sense of community in a large and diffuse school.
As boys mature so it is considered appropriate for them to be able to exercise a choice in their religious life. This process begins in the boys’ third year, where a proportion of their weekday meetings will have a general moral, ethical, or spiritual content. On certain Sundays, all boys from their third year onwards have a choice between a Communion service in College Chapel and an Assembly, which in general will be addressed by an outside speaker on an appropriate issue.
On Mondays, alternate Wednesdays, and Saturdays boys in the top two years have a choice between a voluntary service in College Chapel and the Alternative Assembly, where a combination of Masters, boys, and outside speakers produce short programmes on a variety of topics and in a variety of ways, but following the principles mentioned above for boys in their third year.
ENTRY TO ETON
At any one time there are almost 1300 boys in the School, almost all of whom joined the School at age 13. The School’s entry system has evolved significantly during the past few decades. Up until the sixties, virtually every Etonian had been registered at birth on a ‘House List’, which guaranteed him a place in the School so long as he could pass the Common Entrance examination at or around age 13.
In the interests of fairness and likewise of the School, we radically reformed the system. A boy could now be registered on the ‘General List’: if he came through a selection procedure when he was 10 or 11 he had a guaranteed place in the School, so long as he could pass the Common Entrance examination of course. The House List system remained in place, but accounted for only about half of our entrants.
A few years ago, and for the same reasons, we made further radical reforms. A boy who now wishes to join the School at the age of 13 must be registered on the Eton List, must come through a selection procedure when he is about 11, and must subsequently pass the Common Entrance examination.
Throughout these reforms, we have continued to accept Scholars (King’s Scholars, Junior Scholars, Music Scholars) with virtually no preliminary registration. And in recent years we have been accepting a few Sixth Form Entrants with again virtually no preliminary registration.
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